Five Unexpected Uses for the Control Key

If you're like me, you've nearly worn out your Mac's Control key (often labeled CTRL), using it to open contextual menus. It's true that Control-clicking on anything from a Finder icon to a window's title is an amazingly handy way to access a pop-up menu of targeted options. But you can also add Control to common key combinations for variations on the original functions.

1. Open a folder in a new window

Set your Finder Preferences (Finder -> Preferences) to Always Open Folders In A New Window, and each double-click on a folder opens a new window, cluttering even a big screen in short order. With the option unchecked (as it is by default), a double-clicked folder shows its content in the current window (replacing whatever was displayed in the window before). This is the better default setup because it cuts down on clutter. You can always Command-double-click on a folder those times when you want to see its contents in a new window.

But what about us keyboard junkies? I select a folder by typing, and open it by pressing Command-O or Command-Down Arrow. I'd have to reach for the mouse to use the Command-double-click method. So when I want to open a folder in a new window, I add the Control key: Command-Control-O or Command-Control-Down Arrow opens a folder into a new window.

Note that the Control key effectively reverses your Preferences setting. If you use the Always Open Folders In A New Window option, a Command-double-click or Command-Control-O will display the folder's contents in the current window instead.

2. Open a new window for the enclosing folder

When you're looking at the contents of a folder in the Finder, pressing Command-Up Arrow opens the enclosing, or "parent," folder. So, for instance, if you're in a subfolder in your Documents folder, you can easily move up to the Documents folder and see its other subfolders. With the preferred Finder preference setting of Always Open Folders In A New Window checked off, however, moving up in the hierarchy means the contents of your window changes. What if you want that subfolder window to remain open? Add Control to the keyboard command: Command-Control-Up Arrow opens a new window for the enclosing folder.

As with the basic Command-O for opening a window, the Control key reverses the preference setting. So, if you have Always Open Folders In A New Window checked on, Command-Control-Up Arrow opens the parent folder in the same window.

3. Get a summary of info

Select an item in the Finder, press Command-I, and its Info window opens replete with both basic and "meta" information such as how many pages are in a PDF document. Start with two or three items selected, and you get two or three Info windows. Want the total size of all the files? Add up the numbers in the Info windows. Or, select multiple icons and press Command-Control-I for a single window, labeled Multiple Items Info; this Multiple Item Info window gives you the total of the files' sizes. (Previous to Snow Leopard, doing a standard Get Info on more than ten selected files automatically opened Multiple Item Info, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.)

Using the Inspector window (Command-Option-I) for multiple files also gives the total file size, but there are some key differences between a Summary window and the Inspector. There's only one Inspector window, and it's "live": Change the selection and the information in the Inspector changes to reflect the new combined information. The Summary window, in contrast, stays "locked" on the selection you made when you opened it. You can select other items and open a Summary window for them; the Summary window for the original selection remains open and unchanged (handy when you want to compare two groups of files).

4. Access a restart, sleep, and shutdown shortcut

You can restart, sleep, or shut down your Mac using the commands in the Apple menu, or you can just press Control-Eject to open a Restart/Shutdown dialog box. You can then use a single key to indicate your button choice: R for Restart; S for Sleep; C (or Esc, or Command-period) for Cancel; or Return/Enter for Shut Down.

5. Jump to the Spotlight Preferences command

Your Spotlight menu is open, showing hits for your search term, but you're tired of its including, say, five e-mail messages, which limits the number of documents it can list. You need a trip to Spotlight Preferences to change the Search Results parameters, and there's a quick way to get there. When the menu is open with anything listed in it (that is, when more than just the Search field is showing), press Control-Down Arrow to select the last item-Spotlight Preferences-and then press Return. Control-Up Arrow always selects the first item, Show All, which opens a Finder window with the search results in it.

Beware: the Control key plus arrow keys are also default shortcuts for moving around in Spaces. If you've enabled Spaces and left these shortcuts active, they'll take precedence over the Spotlight menu shortcuts.

Sharon Zardetto's latest ebook is the Snow Leopard edition of 33 Things to Customize in Mac OS X.

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