Top 10 Tweaks for the MacBook

Post by Joseph Purcell on January 15, 2013

There are several things that I always like to have when I setup a new MacBook and I always forget, so I will note them here.

1. Screen Saver Keyboard Shortcut

I like being able to hit a keyboard combination and to start the screensaver when I get up from my desk, as opposed to putting it to sleep. Unfortunately, you cannot make a shortcut for this without creating an AppleScript app. A blog post by Chris Seelus on Imeos explains how to make the application. I diverged and created an application myself (download from GitHub) and use QuickSilver for making the shortcut. I have my shortcut set to "CMD+OPT+`".

2. Maximize Window Keyboard Shortcut

I could not live without being able to maximize a window using a shortcut. This is an operating system must-have and I will reject any that prevent me from being able to do this, even if it is OS X. Fortunately, after scouring the internet I found a post by Jeremy Clark that shows how to make a shortcut, and it's super simple. (There is also a post on StackExchange.)

  1. System Preferences => Keyboard => Keyboard Shortcuts => Application Shortcuts
  2. Click the plus sign
  3. Enter "Zoom" for the menu title
  4. Enter "CMD+SHIFT++" for the shortcut

Now, anytime you hit "CMD+SHIFT++"  it will maximize the active window, for most applications.

3. Enable Tab Focus All Controls

By default, OS X only lets you tab through text boxes and lists (whatever that means). This skips a lot of options, specifically, it skips being able to tab over secondary buttons.

  1. System Preferences => Keyboard => Keyboard Shortcuts
  2. At the bottom under "Full Keyboard Access" select "All controls"

Now, when you hit table you will see the focus land on all secondary buttons as well, such as "Cancel" and "Stay on this Page".

4. Change Display Settings

When I use a computer I use a computer. Then, when I'm done I turn it off, or put it to sleep. A novel concept, but by default OS X assumes you won't do this, and it drives me nuts. So, I change these settings:

  • System Preferences => Energy Saver => Battery
    1. uncheck "Slightly dim the display while on battery power"
    2. set "Computer sleep" to never
    3. set "Display sleep" to never
  • System Preferences => Energy Saver => Power Adapter
    1. set "Computer sleep" to never
    2. set "Display sleep" to never

5. Speed Up Mission Control

Subtle animations are great, but when you notice them they are most likely a hinderance. I found a great LifeHacker article that links to an article on OSX Daily that explains how to speed up mission control. My setting is set to:

$ defaults write com.apple.dock expose-animation-duration -float 0.07 killall Dock

To see what your setting is set to, you can run:

$ open Library/Preferences/com.apple.dock.plist

6. Speed Up Keyboard

Another annoyance of mine is a slow "Key Repeat" and "Delay Until Repeat" setting. I set mine to as fast as it can go:

  • System Preferences => Keyboard => Keyboard
    1. set "Key Repeat" to "Fast"
    2. set "Delay Until Repeat" to "Short"

Now, when you press a key it won't take as long to start repeating and it will repeat faster. This setting is mainly because I use Vim where I like to have quick key interactions.

UPDATE: I have found the holy grail of keyboard speed! You can make "Key Repeat" and "Delay Until Repeat" even FASTER (thanks to Google and a post by IvanQ on Mac OS X Hints) by running the following two commands:

$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain KeyRepeat -int 0
$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain InitialKeyRepeat -int 10

Now, you can burn the plastic off those keys! The fastest the System Preferences lets you set them is 2 for KeyRepeat and 15 for InitialKeyRepeat. I found 0 for KeyRepeat to be perfect, and I found 5 to be way too fast for InitialKeyRepeat (even 10 is pretty fast). To check what the settings are currently at, open up the ".GlobalPreferences.plist" file:

$ open ~/Library/Preferences/.GlobalPreferences.plist

You can set these values back within the range of the system by just changing them again in System Preferences.

UPDATE 2: You may also want to turn off the character accent menu when you press and hold a character:

$ defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false

7. Add Your User to the "wheel" Group

I can't remember why I do this, but I believe it has to do with some application or directory I wanted access to:

$ sudo dscl . append /Groups/wheel GroupMembership george

Replace "george" with your username, and you can find your username by running "whoami".

8. Revert F4 Back to Dashboard

I really like being able to access the Dashboard for the date, weather, and dictionary. With OS X 10.8 the shortcut is no longer F4. However, with Kevin Gessner's "Function Flip" you can give that key back to whom it belongs!

  1. Install Function Flip
  2. System Preferences => Function Flip, and check the box for F4
  3. System Preferences => Mission Control, and set the "Show Dashboard" shortcut to F4

9. Keyboard Shortcut for Moving Windows Between Monitors

There is no way to make a keyboard shortcut for moving windows between screens (i.e. to and from an external monitor) without using an application. The best application I have found is SizeUp ($13). (If you like mouse gestures instead, check out Cinch ($7) or Divvy ($14).) Now, when I hit "CMD+SHIFT+LEFT" or "CMD+SHIFT+RIGHT" I can move a window between monitors.

10. Keyboard Shortcut for Moving Windows Between Spaces

There is no way to move windows between spaces apart from using an application. The best application I found, again, is  SizeUp ($13). Now, when I hit "OPT+CMD+LEFT" or "OPT+CMD+RIGHT" I can move a window between spaces.

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