Mac Tips: Control-Click, Your Secret Weapon

Here's a powerful, untapped function that Macs have had for years (since OS 8). It's simple: hold down the "Control" key when you click on anything. Anywhere.

That's it, "Control-Click"! OK, goodnight! Thank You! You've been a great audience! ...What? Oh... right... What does it DO?

You've seen this comment from thick-headed websites: "PC users right-click, but I don't know how Mac users can do it," as if there was no such thing as a two-button Mac mouse. Granted, Apple has stubbornly stuck to elegant yet buttonless mice. Many of us learned the joys of better mice from the hockey-puck days, but even the button-challenged have control. Control-click, that is.

Control-Click brings up the "Contextual Menu." This menu offers direct access to the most popular functions for that type of item. It is "contextual" because the menu options depend on what you have clicked and the application that you are in at the time. It is equivalent to the "right-click" in Windows, and a feature consistently overlooked in OS comparisons.

When you hold down control (the Control Key), your pointer gains a little "menu" icon: pointer

When you CONTROL-CLICK-AND-HOLD on anything, the "Contextual Menu" pops up.


For example: in the Finder (your desktop and hard drive), Control-Click on a file. A menu pops up that gives you direct access to a bunch of functions: to move the file to the trash, get info about it, duplicate it, make an alias of it, etc. (This screenshot is from OS 9.)

OK. Now click in the empty area of a window. This time, you get the options to create a new folder, close the window, rearrange the view, etc.

Now, go to a webpage in your web browser application (Explorer, Netscape etc.). Control-Click on a link, and you get a menu of ways to open that link. Control-Click in another part of the page that is not a link. Now try it on a graphic.

(Actually, even when you just do a regular click-and-hold in these browsers, these menus come up after a second. But Control-Click is instant and universal.)

Almost every application supports the Contextual Menu. (A notable exception was Microsoft Word 98.) Try it everywhere, and if you have a two-button mouse, set the other button to perform a Control-Click.

and there's more...

It's also easy to add extra functions to the contextual menu, with CM plug-ins:

.There are Contextual Menu plug-ins (aka CM Plugins) that invoke functions in many applications and utilities: AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), QuicKeys, Virex, AutoTextTyper, URL Manager, DiskImage, FileTyper, Hippo, MindExpander, MP3 Menu, and UDF Bridge. A few of my favorites:

Often when you open a file, it doesn't open in the application you want. The "OpenUsing" contextual menu plug-in puts a choice of applications at the bottom of the contextual menu. Then you can open any file with any app. Download it here:

"A Better Finder" is a series of applications and CM plug-ins that add features to the Finder. My favorite is "A Better Finder Rename," which allows you to rename batches of files at a time. Check it out at software.

You can add more Finder CM functions: turn a file invisible/visible, find similar items, folder actions, etc. Search the web for more. OS X users, check out Contextual Menu Workshop. (Or search at to find most of these.)

For some more advanced CM functions check out Apple's Data Detectors; and how to add a Dictionary and Thesaurus to any program at

(Plug-ins require that the SOMobjects™ for Mac OS extension is NOT disabled.)

So now you have a secret weapon to make everything you do on the Mac faster and easier. Stay tuned for more tips from Silent Way...

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Also see: Silent Way Macintosh Systems Consulting

And: Silent Way's Mac Links List

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