Better keyboard shortcuts on a Mac
July 12, 2013 6:05 AM   Subscribe

I finally switch back to Macs a couple years ago after a long time using mainly Windows, and I really miss Windows-style keyboard shortcuts, particularly the multi-part type with trigger letters. Are there utilities or settings I'm unaware of that can duplicate this on a Mac?

For example, in Windows you could hit Alt to highlight the menu bar, F to open the file menu, then another letter to select a menu item and sometimes a third to select a submenu item, e.g. print -> preview.

On a mac, as best I can tell, I have to hit control-F2 (already more difficult than just Alt) to highlight the menu bar, start typing the word File until that menu is highlighted, THEN press the down arrow to actually open it, then start typing the name of the menu item, then hit the right arrow to actually expand the submenu if necessary, then make a further selection and then hit enter. It takes ten seconds to do what would literally take half a second in Windows (once you've memorized the sequence). Using the mouse is much faster, so that's what I wind up doing.

And there are some cases, like dialog boxes, where even this "start typing the word" nonsense doesn't work and you literally have no choice but to use the arrow keys. Something like Paste Special > Values > Transpose in Excel is incredibly clumsy.

Surely I'm not the only ex-windows user who misses being able to do almost everything from the keyboard? What's the best way to get this kind of functionality on a mac?
posted by pete_22 to Technology (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Installing Alfred would be a good place to start. If you purchase the Powerpack, you can create custom keyboard workflows that would probably be able to replicate your experience on Windows.
posted by rensar at 6:18 AM on July 12, 2013

I'm a Mac user, and I touch the mouse as little as possible when doing certain kinds of work. Part of this is using programs that have substantial keyboard shortcuts built in. Luckily, it looks like Excel is one of these:

You can really, really easily set keyboard shortcuts from the Keyboard menu. Here's Apple's support document for it. It's easier than they make it sound though. While you're in the Keyboard menu, you might want to turn Full Keyboard Access to All controls.

You might also enjoy Alfred and Shortcat. I sure do!
posted by Magnakai at 6:22 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

In fact, I think Shortcat will be exactly what you're after.
posted by Magnakai at 6:23 AM on July 12, 2013

Something else you might be interested in: quicksilver. This will not help with internal shortcuts, but it makes launching an application from the keyboard painless and easy. It does lots of other stuff too, but makes you much less dependent on the mouse when you are in the finder.
posted by Hactar at 7:13 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use Keyboard Maestro as my all-around keyboard, key command, shortcut extender program. You can assign keyboard commands to just about anything.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another yes to Keyboard Maestro - it also does so much more than keyboard shortcuts. It is fab, and I am a picky mofo.
posted by thatone at 9:28 AM on July 12, 2013

Keyboard Maestro and Alfred.
posted by Silvertree at 1:30 PM on July 12, 2013

BetterTouchTool! I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's free, and it's awesome.

- Keyboard shortcuts!
- Mouse custom actions.
- Trackpad custom functions - really superb trackpad functionality!
- Got an Apple Mouse? It'll do custom functions for that too.
- and more!

But here's where it gets crazy good: there's an iPhone/iPad app too, and it syncs, meaning you can program shortcuts and functions for your Mac that you can trigger from your iPhone or iPad.

...did I mention that it's free? I'm in no way affiliated with this app. I've never even met the developer... I'm just a huge fan.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:33 PM on July 12, 2013

CheatSheet will run in the background and pop up a list of the current app's keyboard shortcuts when you hold down ⌘.

This doesn't solve the problem of menu items that don't have a shortcut defined at all, but it does save you a trip to the mouse when you know there was a shortcut for something but don't recall what it was.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 2:34 PM on July 12, 2013

OK, just for anyone else who comes across this question, I'm pretty sure the answer is "no."

I appreciate these suggestions and I've tried them all, but none of them seem to do what I was talking about.

To clarify exactly what I mean, take a simple action like "Paste values" in Excel. In Windows it's alt-e, then s, then v, and you can make those three keypresses as fast as possible in sequence.

On a mac, as far as I can tell, the closest you could get is with Shortcat, and it would go like this: command-control V (to bring up the paste special dialogue box), then shift-command spacebar (to bring up shortcat), then start typing "Values" and wait for it to be highlighted in green, then hit enter, then hit enter again.

I realize I can assign custom keyboard shortcuts to any menu item, but this isn't a first level menu item so that doesn't help. I also realize I could essentially record a macro for every multi-step command like this, and assign some finger-contorting complex keyboard shortcut to each one, but that's also far more clumsy than the simple hotkey sequence built into the Windows interface.

Sadly there appears to be no way around this. But if anyone has further suggestions they would of course be welcome.
posted by pete_22 at 7:00 AM on September 2, 2013

If you are using the combo quite frequently, I still think it would be worth your time to build a Keyboard Maestro macro to trigger it. If you are worried about "finger-contorting complex keyboard shortcut" keyboard shortcuts, remap your Capslock key to something useful.
posted by Silvertree at 12:12 PM on September 6, 2013

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