Two tips for Tabbing your way through a Mac

When I switched to Mac from Windows I had an adjustment period. The window model is a bit different, the menu is in a different location, the Dock Bar != the Start menu, etc. Those all took a little adjustment period but I quickly overcame them as obstacles to productivity. By far the longest adjustment period involved the use of the keyboard and more specifically the use of the Tab key.

For all of the keyboard power of a Mac (shortcuts are virtually everywhere) the Tab key seems to be forgotten on most Mac keyboards, yet that is probably the most used navigation key on Windows. Here are a couple of tips for making your Mac keyboard experience leverage the Tab key:

Enabling Tabbing
The first thing you will want to do is to enable tabbing in dialog/pop-up windows. For some reason Apple decided to make that an option you need to manually enable in order to tab your way through all of the controls on a modal dialog. You can change this by going to System Preferences / Keyboard & Mouse / Keyboard Shortcuts and enabling full keyboard access:


This means that when a pop-up dialog is presented you can hit Tab and Shift-Tab to quickly navigate the controls. When a button is highlighted you can hit Space to activate (or click) that button. The alternative is that not every control is a Tab stop.

Safari Tabbing
Again, unlike other applications (Firefox on Mac for example), Apple does not think all of the items on a web page should be a tab stop in Safari. Hyperlinks as an example—which are often used as buttons in some web page designs—are passed right over by default.

You can change that behavior in Safari by going to Preferences / Advanced and checking on the Universal Access setting for the Tab key:


This will allow you to tab through all of the elements on a web page, much like most of the other web browsers out there.

Given the keyboard power that Macs have—something I found quite surprising after I switched—I’m not sure I understand why the Tab key has been relegated to "optional" status by Apple in these cases. For people switching to Mac from Windows it’s a really good idea to make these two setting the default option; it sure would help with the adjustment period.

Got a tip for enhancing the keyboard experience of Mac users? Please drop a note in the comments!

 

Visit DavidAlison.com