Cool things on Mac

Dictionary has been part of Mac OS X  since 10.4 and there is a feature that not many Mac users know about.

When you are in any of Cocoa (Mac native) applications you can hover your mouse above a word and press Ctrl-Cmd-D on your keyboard. You will get the Dictionary description for that word. Just move your mouse over to any other word and the Dictionary description for that word is displayed instantly.

You don’t need to have the Dictionary open at all.

A few examples where this works are; Safari,, MacJournal, TextEdit, Text Wrangler, Comic Life, iWeb, etc.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work with any of the Mozilla applications, including Firefox, Camino and Flock.

Invert screen

Another function that not many Mac users know is “Invert screen”. Just press Ctrl-Option-Cmd-8 on your keyboard and see your Mac invert its colours.

One could ask – Why would you ever want to do this? It comes very handy when your eyes are tired and some genius has been experimenting with background and text colours on his or her website … MySpace anyone?

It is also irreplaceable tool in photography, during the post production editing. If you have a large, bright picture and you are trying to locate any dark spots that you need to clone out (e.g. sensor dust, birds in the sky, etc.) it gets really tough on your eyes after a few minutes. Reverse colours and look for bright spots on the dark background – they stand out like Christmas lights at night.

It would be funny if you did this in Apple store and watched the salesperson freaking out.


Slow motion

When you want to minimise a window,  simply click on the yellow button in the top left corner. The window quickly goes down to the right end of your dock using either scaled or genie effect.

But  if you hold down the shift key while clicking  the window will minimise in slow motion, approximately five times slower than the normal speed.

Text clipping

I love telling this to my friends Windows users. I ask them how would they save a piece of text from the document they are viewing at the moment, for example a web page.

Their answer is usually something like: “Oh, easy. You select the text, right click and copy. Then you go to the desktop, right click and select New | Text file, give the file some name and click away. Now you double click the file to open it, paste the text in there and save it. Simple, isn’t it?”

Then I show them how to do it on Mac. I select the text and drag it to the desktop and that’s it. Dropped jaws everywhere.

If you want to include this text somewhere, say in an email, you simply drag the file into your composed email. Simple as that.


Screen capturing

This is my favourite of the Mac goodies. There are few ways to capture the screen on Mac.

Firstly, you can capture the whole screen. Simply press Cmd-Shift-3 on your keyboard and the screen will be captured in a PNG file and saved on your desktop as something like Picture 1.png.  As of Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) this file is named Screenshot-<date>-<time>.png.

Picture 9.png

You can also capture a selection, just press Cmd-Shift-4 on your keyboard and you will see a small cross hair selector on your screen.

Select the area you want to capture and let go, the file will be saved on your desktop, again something like Picture 1.png. As of Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) you also get the infomration on the picture size (in pixels) which changes as you move the crosshair.

And finally you can capture the active window. Simply follow the steps above and once you see the cross hair, press the space bar and you will get a camera icon. Hover the camera above any window and the window will get the gray overlay indicating it’s in hot-spot. You can even capture the window that is in the background, as long as a part of it visible and allows you enough room to hover the camera icon over it.  Click on it and the window will be captured.


Again, the file will be safely placed on your desktop as … good guess, Screenshot-<date>-<time>.png

However, if you’d like to capture the screen (or part of it) to the clipboard rather than to desktop, simply hold the Control key down while capturing, i.e. Shift-Ctrl-Cmd-4.

This is very handy when you need to paste it straight into an email or any other document.


38 thoughts on “Cool things on Mac

  1. Pier Kuipers says:

    My 5 year old daughter discovered the “invert screen” trick while she was harmlessly hammering away at the keyboard. I can’t remember how long it took me to figure out what had happened 😀

  2. nic mitham says:

    i know someone else has commented on this, but the invert screen command has been bugging me for about 6 weeks, ever since i let my 5 year old loose on my old PB. i searched and searched for a way to correct it – and now i have!

  3. tom says:

    Thanks, Have bookmarked the keyboard shortcuts, I keep telling mysef to use them more often.
    Can’t wait to invert the screen on my son’s computer. A small revenge on the kids:)

  4. tintin says:

    Trying Taylor’s tip above I discovered that clicking on the title of a webpage in Safari while holding down command displays a complete file directory back to the root directory (not sure if my terminology is right).

    Useful if you’re digging through a file structure I guess. I’m just amazed at the number of these little productivity and fun tips which keep surfacing.

  5. ROF says:

    I just ran into this screen inversion tip this evening & I’ve found a use for it beyond playing w/ the local dealer’s head.

    Far too many blogs like extreme contrast, esp. black or very dark backgrounds & “white” print. All that I visited in my evening blog visit routine w/ high contrast were “inverted” & reading them was finally possible w/out undue eye strain.

    Thank you.

    My pass along tip that all of you may already know is that “spell check” (that I only used in Mail previous to trying it today like this) works even here on Safari in the comment fill blocks: Command-Shift-Colon.

  6. lyg says:

    love the color inversion thing and the text save! one of the “mac secrets” i use most often though is the “save current web page as PDF” option (and I dont even have adobe installed on my computer!

  7. juhuacha says:

    ohmygod, I am going to have SO much fun with this 🙂

    (there is a new apple resaler in my building and I *know* that they have never seen the invert screen before, hahahhaha)

    by the way: *mwa* you are wonderful, thanks for writing these up!

  8. theMacpenguin says:

    Hehe, I just tried the inverse color trick, and the picture you have of it on the website turns to normal, pretty neat. Must be a algorithm they use to turn certain colors into others. Just FYI, I thought it was neat :D.

  9. k says:

    when I invert the screen (Ctrl-Option-Cmd-8) the screen does not actually invert its colors- it just turns to black and white- the light colors are black and the dark colors are white. Whats going on?!

  10. miria says:

    Hey my 3 year old lilly went to my computer and took of the bottons…
    I hate that after that my husband came and hit my doggie on her but

  11. mikey says:


    sounds like you’re running OS X 10.3, Ctrl-Option-Cmd-8 only inverses colours on 10.4 systems. On 10.3 systems it turns it to black and white, but not inverse.

    All these shortcuts and secrets are really cool tho!!!

  12. jason says:

    I’m running Jaguar, and the invert colors worked fine until a few weeks ago, when my mac started doing some weird things that led up to my first and only kernel panic. Now, it just turns black and white, and makes Firefox 2 completely unreadable even after I switch back. Drop Drawers usually ends up quitting shortly after, too. And oddly enough, the hard drive icon on the desktop no longer has a “Free Space” thing beneath the drive size like it used to. How weird is that?

  13. Andy says:

    For the screen captures: add the control key to the mix and the snaphot goes to the clipboard rather than the desktop. It’s quite a funky chord for one-handing but it skips the step of dragging from the desktop to an e-mail or blog post. I use it to blow the minds of my “switchees” when teaching them via e-mail.

    Ctrl-Cmd-Shift-4 = selection to clipboard
    Ctrl-Cmd-Shift-3 = whole screen to clipboard


  14. CrimsonCrow says:

    tintin said: “clicking on the title of a webpage in Safari while holding down command displays a complete file directory back to the root directory.”

    Thought you might like to know that this is not just true in Safari but true of any open window. Has been for as long as I can remember, all the way back since I started using MAC in OS VI. 🙂

    PS Great site Mike!

  15. Ormo says:

    Windows 95 had the text clip thing. You could drag some text to the desktop and it would make a scrap. Whats more it didn’t just work for text, you could drag anything draggable in any application that is OLE compatible and it would create a scrap for you. Then when you opened it it would fire up the relevant application and open the document you selected it from. Along with the OLE reference the selection itself was stored in the scrap and the scrap could be dragged into another document or application and the data from the scrap was loaded into the application.

    It was dropped in Windows 98 due to obvious security issues and microsoft received no feedback asking about it.

  16. Omni says:

    The window-screen capture is amazing. I just wish I’d known about it years ago. As a graphic designer, every time we need to make a presentation on a Web Design, we add a “dummy” browser window around the Design, but we always had to “Photoshop” the rounded corners on the top. With this tool we just take the snapshot and voila!

  17. Mankaiii says:

    try to hold down ctrl en zoom in with the mighty mouse
    neat trick because now you can zoom in and out on your screen

  18. Kyle says:

    Hold command and move your two scrolling fingers on the tracking pad and it zooms in on the screen (need to activate it in system prefs.) same thing as the mighty mouse. Neat-o! No more eye-strain for little details on photoshop!

  19. Sarah says:

    Re: Screen Capture
    Shift-Cmd-4 will give you crosshairs to select your capture area with, but if you hit the space bar, the crosshairs will become a camera that will capture the entire window.

    I find this screen capture stuff very helpful!
    Thanks for the inverted color tip! Talk about a sight for sore eyes!

  20. Jules says:

    Just a comment for k and others on the invert colour trick only producing B&W on OS 10.3.x.

    It’s not that Panther isn’t cabable of doing the colour inversion, it’s that the system just is set to jump to invert/grayscale with the shortcut.

    You can get the inverted colours by going to Universal Access in System Preferences. Click on “display in grayscale” and it will actually make it inverted colour. It’s supposed to say “display in colour”, but because you used the kb shortcut, the button didn’t get toggled, but it will still do what you need it to do. Now if you do the shortcut trick again, it will bring it back to white on black, then once again to bring it to normal.

    Or, you can simply do it all from the UA prefs pane. Your choice. It’s easy to have all the options there, since it just takes a command+tab press to toggle between any app and the pane.

    Hope that helps. Great site… loved learning about the shift slo-mo trick. Apparently this will also work on other graphical OS fx as well, like selecting your user name on the login screen.

  21. Adam says:

    Hi, i didnt know about the minimizing slowly thing. Thanks. I cant believe some of these people didnt know about the inverting colors! My whole skool knows how to do it. its a pain in the ass though. One thing i do hate about macs is the fact that when you press alt tab it will only cycle through the apps and not all of the windows. Also if you are using a mac that is a work one or a school one and you cant get into system preferences there are two things u can do: 1. go into i photo and get a picture and choose “set as background” Or 2. Go into Safari and go “Safari” – “Preferences” – and then “Connection settings”. This should get you into access some of sys preferences. bt not all.


  22. Enci says:

    I’d like to ask a really basic question: what are the cmd, opt and shift buttons- i can’t find any keys with these symbols on them! I’m ages behind anyhone else in here, it seems, but I must start somewhere… Thanks

  23. Simon Jackson says:

    I’d like to recommend a cool screen measure tool on Mac – Onde Rulers for Mac.
    It’s so convenient and absolutely well worth using.
    If you want to measure something on screen under Mac OS,have a try.It will not let you down

  24. Ancy says:

    Thank you for your nice post ,Now I like Mac much better .Because you made me get more about the function of mac . Because this beautiful system ,there are so many nice program ,just like the video converter for mac,
    Thanks again .

  25. God of Entropy says:

    The Macintosh line of computers suck.

    Other gadgets by Apple are cool like iPhone, iPad, etc.

    But the Mac sucks big time.

    The way I observe it, the Mac seems to be designed for people who don’t know their way around computer technology. If that is the case then I understand. The Mac seems to be for noobs.

    However, I can’t accept the fact that I paid good money for something that kept me at 50% of my former creativity.

    There are some things that the Mac is good for like printscreening into a .png on your desktop.

    However, there is a hundred other things only a Windows-based computer can do. If you are a noob or Mac zealot, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.

    No amount of advertising can cover up for this irritation. It doesn’t accelerate your growth. It stunts it.

    No wonder the Mac can’t go beyond 30% of the computer OS market.

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