Keyboard Control

The novelty of operating a computer using a mouse, trackpad or trackball soon wears off. Having become familiar with the machine you’ll soon want more control from the keyboard.


The keyboard on a modern Apple Mac computer is connected via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, although older types need a machine with an Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) port.

Keyboards come in different sizes with a varying numbers of keys. However, smaller keyboards don’t provide instant access to every keyboard character, although these can often be actuated by using other key combinations or by employing a macro utility such as QuicKeys or KeyQuencer.

Older Macs have a ‘standard keyboard’ with the usual QWERTY keys plus the Command key, the latter marked with an Apple icon and/or a (clover-leaf) symbol. Modern machines have an extended keyboard, with 101, 104 or 105 keys, including twelve or more function keys. Fortunately, such keyboards have the keys required for PC emulation. The following table shows the keys that are basically equivalent between the Mac OS and Windows systems:-

Mac OSWindows
Ctrl (Control)
OptionAlt (Alternative)

This means that pressing similar key combinations can have much the same effect. For example, pressing -C in the Mac OS gives the same result as pressing Ctrl-C in Windows.

PowerBooks and iBooks have special keyboard arrangements to suit the size of machine, although later models provide access to all possible keys by means of special key combinations.

The Keyboard Control Panel

The behaviour of the keyboard is set by the Keyboard control panel, as shown below:-

Each item in the Keyboard Layouts list can be used to match your Mac’s software your country’s physical keyboard layout: if you pick the wrong one you’ll get incorrect characters. The layouts in this list are provided by the corresponding keyboard layout files that reside in the System file. If one of these is missing the layout won’t appear in the panel.

The Key Repeat Rate and Delay Until Repeat settings should be adjusted to suit your own typing technique or ability.

Within Options you can choose to use -Option-Space to rotate through keyboard layouts. Although useful for switching between layouts, you’ll have to first remove any unwanted layout files from the System file. Don’t enable this box if you need to employ this key combination for use in games or other special software.

Further details concerning the Function Keys dialogue are given in the next section.

Special Keys

An expanded keyboard has the additional keys as shown in the table below. The following sections give further details concerning these keys.

(Power) ​Machine ​control
Function ​(F1, ​F2 ​…)Special ​and ​user-defined ​purposes
EscCancel ​dialogues ​or ​reverts ​to ​default
DelDeletes ​text ​right ​of ​cursor ​(opposite ​to ​Delete)
Home, ​Page ​Up, ​Page ​Down, ​EndWindow ​navigation
HelpFast ​access ​to ​an ​application’s ​help ​facility
Numeric ​(1, ​2 ​…)Calculations ​and ​rapid ​numeric ​entries
FnModifies ​actions ​of ​other ​keys ​on ​portables
Not provided on some models

Power Key

This key, when fitted on older keyboards, lets you turn the computer on or off. If you don’t have a Power key, usually marked as , you must press a special button on the computer itself to start it up. Some USB keyboards also have a key, although this only turns off the computer.


Pressing - creates an interrupt, which presents the programmer’s window or activates MacsBug, should it be installed. This key combination has the same effect as the Interrupt button, as fitted to the rear of many older machines. In some situations, you may be able to use this to escape from what appears to be an impossible situation. Having pressed this key combination you should press G followed by the Return key. With any luck you should return to the Finder. Once you’ve done this you must select Special ➡ Restart at the earliest opportunity.


Pressing -Ctrl- provides a reset, which usually provides an emergency restart, although on some PowerBook models you must press Shift-fn-Ctrl-, whilst you must use -Shift-Option- on an iMac. Whatever keys are employed, they work in the same way as the external Reset button fitted on some machines and identified by a triangular symbol.

Function Keys

Full-sized keyboards have fifteen function or F keys, numbered from F1 to F15, although some PowerBook and iBook models only have the first 12 keys. These shouldn’t be confused with the Fn key, also found on such portable machines, or FKEY resources (see below). Unfortunately, all three unrelated manifestations are known as function keys.

Modern PowerBook and iBook models often assign the following F keys as shown below:-

F1Brightness Down
F2Brightness Up
F3Volume Down
F4Volume Up
F5Number Lock
F6Sound Mute
F12Eject CD/DVD •
This function accommodated by separate button on some machines

For these keys to behave ‘normally’, you must press Option as well as an F key, although on some machines the behaviour can be modified by pressing Fn at the same time. Since the F keys were originally designed as function keys, this way of working appears to be a retrograde step.

Hot Function Keys

In Mac OS 9.1 and later systems you can modify the behaviour of all the F keys from the Function Keys section in the Keyboard control panel, as shown here:-

This lets you activate a desktop item using a hot function key, which works by pressing an F key on its own. To use this feature, simply drag the icon of the required item into the appropriate box.

If you do happen to press an unassigned F key, a dialogue appears, letting you choose a favourite application, document or disk to activate with the key.

Applications and Standard Function Keys

Unless otherwise defined, each F key can also be used by a frontmost application, although they’re rarely used this way and aren’t always shown in pull-down menus. Keys can also be programmed by means of a macro. However, the following keys are set by older versions of the Classic Mac OS:-


Numeric Keys

This part of a keyboard, when provided, is designed for entering numbers during calculations. Although most of these keys have counterparts on the main keyboard they’re not always treated the same by an application. If you don’t have an numeric section on your keyboard you may have to use macros to simulate the keys. PowerBook models don’t come with a numeric area, although part of the main keyboard can be used for this purpose in conjunction with the Fn key (see below).


The Shift key operates in exactly the same way as it does on an old-fashioned typewriter. However, the operation of ‘shifting’ letters and numbers can be confusing to an inexperienced typist. Apparently, some applications let you uncouple the left-hand Shift key from its right-hand counterpart, releasing one of the keys for alternative purposes.


With suitable software, the Fn (function) key, as found on portable machines, can change the action of other keys, making it possible to simulate all 105 keys. Typically, it modifies the F keys as follows:-

KeyOperation with Fn
F5Num Lock
F8Delete (Forward) •
F9Print Screen
F10Scroll Lock
This function works without any special software

In addition, it modifies the arrow keys as follows, without requiring any extra software:-

KeyOperation with Fn
Page Up
Page Down

By pressing Fn and F5 together you can switch the keyboard into Number Lock or Num Lock mode. This modifies the alphanumeric part of a keyboard to work as follows :-

7 8 9 0 -7 8 9 / =
U I O P4 5 6 *
J K L ;1 2 3 -
M , . /0 . +

In this mode all other keys are locked out of action, but can be temporarily restored by pressing any such key at the same time as the Fn key.

Ctrl (Control)

The Ctrl key is often used for Ctrl-clicking, which brings up a contextual menu, in the same way as the right hand button on a two-button mouse. You can also add special software to your machine that enables contextual menus to appear automatically after a set period of time.


The Option key is normally used to generate characters that aren’t provided by other keys, either on their own or in combination with the Shift key. Any character produced by using Option in combination with other keys is outside the range of normal ASCII characters.


This key is identified by an Apple icon and/or (clover-leaf) symbol. When pressed in combination with another key it sends a command to your current application.

Other Keys

The effect of pressing Return or Enter is often the same, since both keys usually actuate the default button in a dialogue box. However, in dialogues that also let you to enter text the Return key should only insert a CR (Carriage Return or new line) character whilst Enter should activate the button. Inevitably, the role of these keys varies between applications: for example, pressing the Enter button is the usual means of confirming the data that you’ve typed into a calculator application.

Older PowerBook models have extra buttons that can disable the loudspeaker, increase or decrease the sound volume and adjust the screen brightness. Recent designs use the F keys for this purpose, requiring you to press Fn to get the normal function key to operate (see above).

Keyboard Symbols

Keyboards and menus with keyboard equivalents usually use symbols for modifier keys, including , Shift, Control, Option and other special keys.

The standard symbols are shown here:-


By pressing -Shift in combination with a specified number key you can launch a special kind of mini-application known as an FKEY. This is really a kind of function key that was invented prior to the introduction of real function keys on Macintosh keyboards. Like real keys, FKEYs can be used at any time, no matter what application is running.

Standard FKEYs

The following FKEYs are built into the standard System file:-

-Shift-1Ejects ​diskette ​in ​drive ​1 ​(usually ​internal)
-Shift-2Ejects ​diskette ​in ​drive ​2 ​(usually ​external)
-Shift-3Saves ​desktop ​image ​in ​a ​SimpleText ​PICT ​file
-Shift-Ctrl-3Copies ​desktop ​image ​to ​Clipboard
-Shift-4Saves ​selected ​part ​of ​desktop ​in ​a ​SimpleText ​PICT ​file
-Shift-Ctrl-4Copies ​selected ​part ​of ​desktop ​to ​Clipboard

In the latter of these, an area is selected by clicking and dragging and can be constrained to a square by pressing Shift whilst dragging. There’s also another FKEY, activated by pressing -Caps Lock-Shift-4, which creates a SimpleText PICT image file of a selected window. The bulls-eye that appears should be dragged into the required window and clicked. If you press Control as well, or continue to hold this key down whilst clicking in the window, the image is copied to the clipboard.

Should you use ResEdit to look inside the System file you’ll discover that the first two of the FKEYs listed above aren’t actually kept as FKEY resources, whilst the other four actions are in just two FKEY resources, known as FKEY 3 and FKEY 4, since keys 3 and 4 are used to activate them.

Adding FKEYs to your System

An FKEY can be installed in one of three ways:-

  1. By adding it to the System file’s resources by means of special application or control panel. This is slightly risky as it can damage your system.
  2. By modifying the file containing the FKEY so that it looks like a font suitcase file. It can then be placed in the Fonts folder, inside the System Folder and should then be recognised by the system. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work with all versions of the Mac OS.
  3. By launching a ResEdit version of the FKEY file from a utility such as OtherMenu.

Keyboard Speed

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) used for modern keyboard connections shouldn’t suffer from speed problems unless you have another device on the bus handling large amounts of data.

Older Mac keyboards are connected via a serial ADB bus. Since only one bit of data can pass along the bus at any time it’s speed is limited. The ADB interface uses an event queue shared by all devices on the bus, including a mouse, trackpad or trackball. This queue holds up to 20 key presses or mouse events at any time, which works well if you hold down two keys, plus modifier keys, at once. However, if you press three or more together it only responds to two of the keys.

For really fast access, necessary for games, you should consider using a special games controller.

Keyboard Control during Startup

By holding down specific keys during startup you can change your Mac’s behaviour. The most common key combinations are as follows:-

Startup without RAM Doubler ~ or Esc

Startup without extensions or files in Startup Items Shift

Startup without extensions except RAM Doubler Shift-Option

Startup without extensions and rebuild desktop -Shift-Option

Startup from an alternative drive -Shift-Option-Delete

Clear Parameter RAM (PRAM) -Shift-P-R

Clean desktop Option

Rebuild desktop -Option

Force Quadra to start with TV as screen -Option-T-V

Startup without Virtual Memory

Startup from CD-ROM -C

Startup in Target Mode -T

Startup with Extensions Manager Space

Startup after ejecting diskette Mouse button

Finder Shortcuts

Common Finder shortcuts are listed below. Variations on these commands, actuated by pressing modifier keys, such as Option or Shift at the same time, are also shown. These also operate when you select the equivalent item in the Finder’s menu bar. Generally speaking, Option makes a current item disappear or close when you select something new. For example, if you click on an application in the Application Switcher whilst holding down Option all other application windows are hidden.


In older versions of the Finder an ejected diskette normally remains on the desktop in shaded form. Under these circumstances the Finder may ask you repeatedly to reinsert the disk. If you suffer from this problem you should select Put Away instead of Eject.

Mount disk without showing contents Option

Eject selected disk -E

Eject selected disk and unmount (Put Away) -Y

Eject drive 1 -Shift-1

Eject drive 2 -Shift-2

Erase disk on insertion -Tab-Option

Files and Folders

To use the following commands you must first select the items to be processed:-

Duplicate -D

Get Info -I

Make Alias -M

Open -O

Print -P

Find Original -R

Put Away -Y

Move to Trash -Delete

Move to new location Drag the items

Confirm modified name Return

Clear name whilst editing Delete


Finding your way around a window of icons is tedious. The following keyboard commands will give your mouse a rest:-

…in Any View

Select item by position , , ,

Move to selected item’s parent folder or disk -⇡

Move into selected folder or open selected item -O or -⇣

Select All items -A

New folder -N

Find -F

…in List View

Expand selected folder -⇢

Collapse selected folder -⇠

Select next item Tab

Select previous item Shift-Tab

Select item whose name begins with specific letters Type the letters

Select first item by name Space

Select last item by name Option-K

…in Button View

Move a button Click on the name and drag


The following shortcuts are used when working with a Finder window:-

Close -W

Move a window Drag the window

Move up one step in window’s hierarchy -⇡

Move upwards through window’s hierarchy -click window’s folder icon

Move within a window -click, hold and move mouse

Dialogue Shortcuts

The operation of dialogues varies between applications. In some instances the key, used in combination with a letter, activates the item that begins with a matching character. A rather dated control panel called Keys! (Stefan Kurth) lets you use -letter combinations in any dialogue. Unfortunately it doesn’t work for applications that employ non-standard dialogues.

Open and Save Dialogues

Most applications let you open and save files using file dialogues. The traditional Save dialogue usually shows all the items in a folder, although some can be greyed out. An Open dialogue is usually more selective in what appears, but can include items that are invisible in the Finder. However, a utility application, such as ResEdit can open such files and always shows them in dialogues.

In older applications, file dialogues stop you doing anything else, although OtherMenu (James W Walker) lets you use a hierarchical menu to reach other items. Alternative system additions, such as Action Files, add more features to file dialogues, whilst Dialog View (also James W Walker) lets you expand the size of such windows and customise the presentation of file lists.

Later applications use file dialogues that work with Navigation Services. This provides extra pop-up menus for Favorites and recently opened files or folders. In addition, this type of dialogue lets you move to the Finder or perform other tasks whilst the dialogue remains in position. Unfortunately, this change in behaviour can cause complications with macros created in KeyQuencer.

With Navigation Services, it may seem impossible to choose Desktop in a Select Folder dialogue. To do this, move up to the desktop as usual (by pressing -D or a similar action) and then press Shift and click on the one highlighted item. Finally click on Select.

Dialogue Navigation

The following shortcuts can help you move around the elements in a dialogue:-

Move forwards through dialogue panes, tabs or text boxes Tab

Move backwards through dialogue panes, tabs or text boxes Shift-Tab

Clear highlighted text Delete

Confirm entered text or select default button Return or Enter

Cancel dialogue or process -. or Escape

Other Dialogue Shortcuts

The following commands often work from within a standard file Open or Save dialogue:-

Select item starting with specific letters Type the letters

Select first item in list Space

Select last item in list Option-K

Move through list or

Rotate through disks -⇠ or -⇢

Eject removable disk -E, -Shift-1 or -Shift-2

Move to item’s parent folder or disk drive -⇡

Move up to Desktop -D

Move down into folder or open a file -O or -⇣

New Folder -N

The following shortcuts only work in applications that employ Navigation Services:-

Expand folder -⇢

Collapse folder -⇠

View contents of any folder Drag folder icon from Finder into dialogue window

Add item in dialogue to Favorites Drag item onto Favorites button

General Shortcuts

The shortcuts shown below work in the Finder and in most other applications:-


The following are used by most applications for selecting text styles:-

Bold -B

Italic -I

Plain -T

Underline -U

The following shortcuts are generally available for editing text:-

Undo an operation -Z

Cut selection and place in Clipboard -X

Copy selection and place in Clipboard -C

Paste Clipboard’s contents, leaving it in Clipboard -V

Clear selection Delete

Move selection Click and drag

whilst the following can be used for navigating around a document:-

Move to start of highlighted text or

Move to end of highlighted text or

Move to start of entire text -⇡, Home or Fn-⇠

Move to end of entire text -⇣, End or Fn-⇢

Move up one page Page Up or Fn-⇡

Move down one page Page Dn or Fn-⇣

Some applications provide special features. For example, AppleWorks, formerly known as ClarisWorks, lets you press Ctrl-⇡ or Ctrl-⇣ to move the current paragraph up or down one paragraph. Similarly, you can press Ctrl-⇢ or Ctrl-⇠ to increase or reduce the current line’s indent by half an inch.

Other Shortcuts

Print -PPage Setup -Shift-P

Save -SSave as -Shift-S

Close -W

Undo -Z

Cancel current operation -. or Esc

Force application to quit -Option-Esc

Activate application window and hide other applications Option-click on a window

Set Page Setup Defaults Hold down Option whilst clicking OK in Page Step window.

Easy Access

Easy Access is designed for those who have difficulties with a keyboard, although it also includes features that anyone can use. It’s supplied as an optional control panel provided by the Mac OS Installer and looks like this:-

Mouse Keys lets you use the numeric keys to move the mouse in one-pixel increments as shown below:-

Note that the keys 8, 6, 4 and 2 also operate in this way on some types of PC.

Slow Keys is for slow typists. To switch it on or off hold down Return for two seconds and you should then hear a burst of rapid bleeps.

Sticky Keys can produce (for example) -W if you press followed by W. To activate it press Shift five times without moving the mouse. Confirmation is given by an icon at the top right-hand corner of the screen and the sound of an ascending scale. To disable it press Shift five times again and you’ll hear a descending scale.

Keyboard Codes in Detail

The keyboard in most computers actually generate two codes. The scan code indicates the physical key that has been pressed whilst a second code conveys its meaning with normal coding. Hence the = key on the main part of keyboard generates a different scan code to the = key on the numeric section, although both produce the number 61 (hex 3D), as used to represent the equals sign. This mechanism allows different applications to use these keys in different ways.

The code generated by a key changes with a modifier key, such as Shift, Control, Option or Command. The effect of a toggle key, such as Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock and Ins is similar, although the key must to be pressed again to cancel its effect. And although such key combinations produce a specific scan code they don’t always generate a character code.

Not all keyboards can produce every code. For example, a standard Mac keyboard can’t generate the numbers 252 to 255, whilst those above 218 are ignored by some computers. Codes that don’t represent a character are often shown in text as a (missing character box).

The Mac OS accommodates several different physical keyboard layouts and uses a keyboard map to assign a specific character to each key. The character produced by each code can vary with the font. You can check the characters in your font by means of KeyCaps, a desk accessory that usually appears under the Apple menu. To find out which keys to press you can use PopChar (Uni Software), a control panel that shows all available characters via a special menu in the menubar.

©Ray White 2004.