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5th April

Want to use keyboard accelerators to drive dialogues etc. in Mac OS X? Here’s how.

written by Mark Wheadon

The need

Coming from the Windows to Mac OS, I missed being able to interact with dialog boxes etc. without having to use the mouse. There are times, especially with the MacBook, where clicking on an option is fiddly and error prone (in bed with a cup of tea for example 🙂 ) and it would be much better if I could use the keyboard…

without-full-keyboard-accessHere’s an example: here I am quitting from Safari. As is often the case, the dialog has reminded me that I don’t actually want to quit as I have multiple tabs, so I want to cancel the operation. Pressing return will close Safari, but how do I select Cancel? (Yes, I know you can press esc to cancel a dialog, but bear with me — the following solution works for all dialog selections and menus, not just Cancel).

The solution

The answer is to select All controls in Full keyboard access in Settings->Keyboard & Mouse->Keyboard Shortcuts:


Or, much easier 🙂 , type ctrl+F7.

with-full-keyboard-accessNow when that dialog pops up it looks different. Notice that Cancel is surrounded by a blue glow — that’s the dialog option that currently has keyboard focus, and pressing the space bar will select it.

Now you can navigate the dialog box using the keyboard: tab and shift-tab change the currently selected option, space selects that option, and return will always select the solid-blue default option.

So in this example, space will cancel the dialog and return will do the default action (close Safari in this case).

So you can now navigate dialog boxes on a MacBook, in bed, armed with a cup of tea — and I hear tell this even works with coffee, at a pinch 🙂


  1. Jon

    thanks! I’m new to Mac and was finding not being able to tab to buttons really annoying. Time to get that cup of coffee…

  2. 20/08/2009

    You are a genius, sir. Thanks for posting that nugget. You’ve saved me literally hours of jumping down to the trackpad and back up again. Allow you to give me one internets.

  3. seb

    just use +. to cancel any dialog box. sytem wide.

  4. 11/01/2010

    This stopped working for me when I upgraded to 10.6 – toggling to “text boxes..” then back to “all controls” seemed to fix some programs but not others – odd.

  5. Suman Chitturi

    Better but still not as friendly as windows where I could respond to the dialog with single keystroke and without messing with tabs. Usually just ‘Y’ or Alt+Y to respond Yes and so on.

  6. Santhip

    Thanks! The tip was helpful! It was getting to the point of irritation!

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