Five Unexpected Uses for the Spacebar

Ancient Greek and Latin writings had no spaces between words; you just had to be familiar with where words started and stopped in order to read textlikethis. But we should be grateful to the spacebar for more than just its sacred word-separation calling, because it can also perform quite a few tricks in various environments.

1. Play and pause

In any application that provides Play and Pause controls, you can use the spacebar to alternately play and pause the content. This includes movies and slideshows, as well as audio-only files such as those you play in Apple iTunes and GarageBand.

2. Open spring-loaded folders instantly

Spring-loaded folders are one of OS X's most-overlooked timesavers. In the Finder, drag an item, hover over a folder, and after a brief pause (so the Mac knows you're not simply hesitating before dropping the item in) a Finder window springs open, revealing the folder's contents. This makes it easy to see that you're moving or copying an item into the correct place if your folder names are less than descriptive. It also simplifies getting into subfolders.

You set the length of the spring-open delay in the General pane of Finder -> Preferences. Or, avoid the delay altogether by pressing the spacebar to open a hovered-over folder instantly.

Even if you turn off the spring-loaded folders feature by going to Finder -> Preferences and deselecting the Spring-loaded Folders And Windows setting, pressing the spacebar still opens a folder when you hover over it holding an item to drop into it.

Spring-loaded folders work from the Dock, too. Press the spacebar to open a folder in the Dock without waiting, whether or not spring-loading is turned on in the Finder's preferences.

3. Access screenshot options

When you need to document some aspect of your Mac's behavior, a screenshot of the full screen is seldom necessary. Sure, you can press Command-Shift-4 to select an area to capture to the Clipboard (or Command-Shift-3 to save it as a file on the Desktop), but if you add the spacebar you'll access more options.

Pressing the spacebar before you drag across an area to capture it changes your cursor to a camera and lets you select an entire window (or a dialog box, or a menu without its title) by clicking on it. Pressing the spacebar after you've dragged a selection rectangle--but before you let it go--allows you to move the selection rectangle around on the screen to adjust its position before capturing the shot; let go of the spacebar with the mouse button still down if you want to adjust the size of the rectangle after you've moved it.

4. Zoom in on windows in Exposé

One of the more clever feature tweaks in Snow Leopard involves the space bar. When you invoke Exposé, Mac OS X displays your open windows in a grid on your screen, at a substantially reduced size. Sometimes it's hard to recognize which window is which when you're in this view, and the window's title isn't always a good enough clue. Now you can use your space bar to zoom in and preview your Exposé windows. Just move your cursor over a window and press the spacebar. If it's the window you want, press Return. If not, you can press the spacebar again to zoom back out.

5. "Click" on items using the keyboard

Prefer to move around in dialog boxes or Web pages using the keyboard instead of the mouse? Select All Controls under Full Keyboard Access in the Keyboard Shortcuts preference pane (in Leopard's Keyboard & Mouse preferences, or Snow Leopard's Keyboard preferences). With All Controls active, a press of the Tab key selects, in turn, every component of whatever you're working in--a dialog box, for example. Once you've selected a component, press the spacebar in lieu of clicking the mouse.

So, for instance, with All Controls on, tabbing around on a Web page includes not only the search and other text fields on a form, but all its clickable spots, and the spacebar "clicks" the selected item.

Sharon Zardetto has been writing Mac tips since the Mac was born. One of her current ebooks is Minifesto: Time Machine.

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