How many ways can you overload a Function Key?

by Fraser Speirs

I loves me some keyboard shortcuts! I'm sure you do too. Here's how I set up my machine.

We're blessed with at least 12 function keys on most Mac keyboards, and I like to try and get the most out of them. I haven't found a use for every single key yet, but I'm working on it!


F1-F4 are reserved for Exposé and Dashboard. I like to use Exposé to uncover windows while dragging, so I moved these functions to Function keys which are easier to reach with my left hand as I use the mouse.

F1 - All Applications
F2 - Application Windows
F3 - Desktop
F4 - Dashboard

Quicksilver Triggers

I recently started using Quicksilver triggers to directly open certain applications. The following unmodified Function keys open these applications:

F5 - Safari
F6 -
F7 - NetNewsWire
F8 - Yojimbo
F9 - iTunes
F10 - iCal


Yojimbo from Bare Bones Software is one of my latest must-run-24x7 applications. I have F8 bound to a Quicksilver trigger to open the app, but Yojimbo can also use hot keys to perform various functions. I use F8 as my "Yojimbo Key" and add different combinations of modifiers to make different things happen.

As mentioned, F8 will open Yojimbo
Cmd-F8 will open Yojimbo's Quick Input Panel
Cmd-Opt-F8 opens Yojimbo with the search field focused (this is the "Find in Library" option in Preferences).
Cmd-Shift-F8 opens and closes Yojimbo's Drop Dock


I love Synergy for controlling iTunes with hot keys. Quicksilver can also do this. I have these keys set up for iTunes:

Cmd-F9 - Play/Pause iTunes
Cmd-F10 - Show Synegy's floating Window
Cmd-F11 - Previous Track
Cmd-F12 - Next Track
Cmd-Ctrl-F{1-5} - Set current song's rating to 1-5.

In addition to all of this, since I'm using a PowerBook, I also have the "fn" key to give me access to the brightness, volume, screen mode and keyboard functions that are added to F Keys on Apple portables.

So, I'm curious - what functions do you find so useful that you bind them to keyboard shortcuts?


2006-02-08 06:58:40
Fraser, it sounds like you need a function key overlay like we used to use back in the WordPerfect 5.1 days!
2006-02-08 07:13:17
I use SizzlingKeys to control iTunes via function keys. Specifically,

F5 - play/pause iTunes
F7 - iTunes volume (not system volume) down
F8 - iTunes volume up

Armin Briegel
2006-02-08 09:53:23
Mouseposé! it belongs right next to Exposé.
2006-02-08 10:06:10
I prefer Menuet. Nice and simple.
2006-02-08 13:43:23
At work, we disable all of the Mac Function keys, and even the Revert in Photoshop, as they are all set up for actions. (We don't use Dashboard at all, and Expose, for those like myself who want it, we use a combination of keys unattainable from PS CS/CS2.)

I really hate that Apple has usurped the last three function keys for themselves, without giving us the option to turn it on or off. (This holds especially true for those of us unlucky enough to not have Apple Monitors - those keys don't control jack and ____.)

2006-02-08 14:45:54
I use function keys for Copy, for Paste, in Finder I like to map the Delete key to the "Move to Trash" item, and I really think the "Screensaver / Lock Screen" is good to have mapped to one of the keys (usually, CTRL-(any Function key) to make it easy to do or remember). I like the fact that Screen Shot functions are mapped to keys (like, Command Option 3 and 4 et cetera).

Controlling iTunes is rather secondary because I just let it run with the minimized windows set to 'stay on top' or 'float'.

I have the Expose "all windows" mapped to the middle mouse button (and not to a function key), because usually I navigate the mouse anyway when I require a hidden window or when I am not sure where the window was that I wanted.

I don't like Dashboard because it takes ages to load even on a G5 dual processor Powermac; so I don't use it at all any more; but I do have a (real) Filofax agenda and a (real) remote controlled 'wave-receptor' digital clock on the wall which is far cooler than these computer-desktop ones. I use a Razer Copperhead mouse that's so light to push around that I forget I'm actually using an impediment to electronic decisions, so I am faster pulling up an application from the dock than to deal with keyboard stuff, and I am really fast using anything else that can be reached with the mouse pointer.

I agree with the previous poster, in that the 3 last function keys should be freely available to the user, rather than being tied to some Apple monitor functions. After all, you can also set the monitor to the wrong resolution, restart the computer and be in trouble - so these keys don't 'prevent' anything.

What I really miss in OS X is that there's no built-in desktop manager like in some Unix/Linux desktop managers (CDE, Gnome and KDE have these); the OS X third party add-on applications are no acceptable alternatives after you've been spoiled by a good desktop manager.

2006-02-08 14:53:45
I use Control+Option+Command+F as a shortcut for "Open Page With Firefox" from Safari's Debug menu. Whenever I come across a site that doesn't work right in Safari, Firefox is just a Hotkey away.
2006-02-08 23:15:33
F12 - LaunchBar

F11 - Expose All Applications
F10 - Expose Application Windows
F9 - Expose Desktop
F8 - Spotlight
F7 - Dictionary Popup Window
F6 - Windowshade Minimize-in-place

The F1 - F5 keys are reserved for application specific shortcuts controlled by QuicKeys.

(Personally, I'm baffled how any customizability freak could NOT be running QuicKeys...)

2006-02-09 00:04:33
"What I really miss in OS X is that there's no built-in desktop manager like in some Unix/Linux desktop managers (CDE, Gnome and KDE have these); the OS X third party add-on applications are no acceptable alternatives after you've been spoiled by a good desktop manager."

The Codetek virtual desktop add-on does the job adequately well.

2006-02-09 05:23:47

To reassign system-occupied function keys, maybe this helps.

2006-02-09 16:32:00
I'm curious as to how you run Yojimbo 24x7 when it seems to crash constantly, at least for me. What PDFs I have that don't crash it immediately on import are often corrupted. Luckily I kept the originals...
2006-02-09 20:54:36
F1-F9: Switch to desktop N in CodeTek VirtualDesktop

The remainder are currently unassigned; I use hot corners to activate Exposé and Dashboard. F10-F12 used to switch virtual desktops but I dropped a row after upgrading to Tiger.

I've never understood the point of using function keys for app launching. Or at least that seems something for novices more than sophisticated users. I'd rather use other methods for app launching and have the fn keys available for other purposes.

I wish third party apps didn't assign fn keys by default since they'll often have conflicts (i.e. the "overload" mentioned in the article's title). It bothers me less that Apple does it but better if they didn't (uhh, hadn't) either. Ideally (IMO), function keys should be left free to be user-defined.

2006-02-10 12:33:00
Hmm, most of my F-Keys aren't yet bound. *omg* How could that happen? :-) I'm 100% PowerBook addicted so I'm not using a mouse at all, hence moving from trackpad to keys and back has gotta be fast for me. I try to use keys for as much as possible.

I'm using iMote to control my iTunes anytime from any app.
I've set control-option-command as modifiers and user the space key to play/pause, left- and right-arrow keys for forward and rewind as well as the up- and down-arrows to control iTunes' volume seperate from system volume. The modifier keys can be pressed very conveniently at the same time.

For Virtual Desktops nothing comes close to Desktop Manager. CodeTek's has some nice things, but it severely lacks keyboard control which makes it unuseable for me. I use command-alt and the numbers 1-9 (except for the 8) to switch between desktops. Codetek will not allow you to use command-alt (which is rediculous) as well as absolutely no support for the fn key found on Apple's portable computers. I mostly switch directly to the targeted desktop, though I occasionally use to slide from one to the next by pressing fn-command and the left- and right-arrow keys.

For application launching and Addressbook digging, and network location switching and a billion things more nothing beats LaunchBar 4 for me.Some might argue that QuickSilver (or Butler) are great alternatives and they surely are, but not for me. I like the "lack of user interface" that makes LaunchBar go out of my way unless explicitly summoned by command-space. One has to learn what LaunchBar has to offer besides simple (but incredibly fast) app launching. 5-Star recommendation!

For the rare times I use spotlight Ctrl-space is what I use. Though, most of the time Spotlight is useless to me, as It's terrible inability to be used with fileservers and it's annoying slowness in searching for filenames still makes it a great technology, but one of the worst user interfaces of all times seen in an Apple product.

As I am learning japanese, switching between keyboard input methods is important to me. Command-option-space to switch between the last two used methods and command-option-shift space to cycle through all activated input methods is my preferred setting.

I do use my F-keys for the usual stuff like system volume and display brightness control. I've turned off keyboard illumination, hence no need to control it's bightness since I can touch type. A huge time saver! Go, learn to type properly and check out the incredible fast DVORAK or DVORAK QUERTY-command Layouts, they rock. (But might take some time to get used to...)

I have bound F9 to F11 to Exposé, but I use screencorners to control Exposé. That works very well, even when dragging items. I actually use F12 to activate Dashboard.

I'd really like to use Keyboard Shortcuts from the "Keyboard & Mouse" PrefPanel, but I've never gotten ANY shortcut I added there to actually work which is terribly annoying. There are so many apps that lack keyboard commands (even Apple's) that I'd really like to use this function. I don't know what keeps it from working, as I've given up by now after unsuccessfully playing with it for several days.

In general I wish the fn key was better supported by apps. Most of them don't even reconize it at all or just get it completely wrong. Space for improvement!


2006-02-10 15:48:35
@Pepi: Your comments about the lack of keyboard control in CodeTek VirtualDesktop are incorrect, unless that's a limitation of the non-Pro version (which I use, with several customized shortcuts).
2006-02-10 15:51:35
Whoops, I use CTVD Pro, not the non-Pro version.
2006-02-11 04:25:55
Slightly OT, but the mighty mouse nipple as the application expose has change my life. With the 'press' as the system expose. The press is not that easy to do, but here it's an advantage because you can't do it by mistake.
Lorin Rivers
2006-02-14 14:27:32
unseelie, you should definitely contact Bare Bones support. I don't think Yojimbo has EVER crashed for me and I was on the early-early beta...

2006-04-09 23:11:49
cmd-alt-ctrl-F8……funny for a while, but i can't figure out how to get it back so it's annoying as hell now!