How do I move the focus to a popup dialog in OS X – using the keyboard? [Updated!]

Just can’t get there with the keyboard!
Ahrg – just can’t get there!

Update 11/11/07:
Previously, I posted that I couldn’t get to all dialogs using the keyboard (read more for details). Thanks to Archie on the Apple Discussions forum, I have now learned a workaround.

The VoiceOver utility has a function called Window Chooser. By turning on VoiceOver (in Universal Access), you can get to Window Chooser by pressing Ctrl+Option and hitting F2 twice. Cumbersome – but it works. Another workaround is to enable Mouse Keys and navigate the mouse cursor using the keyboard.

Of course, both of these solutions are rather hopeless – this is one of those keyboard accessability things Apple should just fix, for instance by including all windows spawned by an application in the Command+> sequence.

This is the scenario: I am installing something on my Mac that requires administrator privilegies, and I am doing it with my keyboard only. After agreeing to terms and conditions, a popup window comes up, asking me to verify that I am an administrator.

Accidentally, I task-switch to a different application.

Now – how do I get back to the Authenticate dialog, using the keyboard?

The popup dialog can’t be reached via command+tab, is not visible via Expose, and is not a sub-window of the installer process that spawned it, so I cannot get there with command+>. Seems to me like a good example of poor usability in OS X.

I haven’t been able to figure this out – I would be very grateful for any ideas!

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7 Responses to “How do I move the focus to a popup dialog in OS X – using the keyboard? [Updated!]”

  1. jakajancar Says:

    This is, unfortunately, not a surprise, since OS X sucks big time when it comes to using only a keyboard for navigation.

    I’ve been disappointed by this since day 1 of my switch to OS X. Eventually, I got used to it and have changed my habits (less menus, more shortcuts).

    Just a couple of days ago, I wanted to get focus on the menu-bar icons on the right (“tray”) using only a keyboard, but I couldn’t. I’m not saying there isn’t a way, there just isn’t a very intuitive way to do it.

    Another thing that annoys me _CONSTANTLY_ is that when you’re moving focus on a form using TAB, the checkboxes are just skipped.

    I think Apple will fix this at the same time they add “Cut” to Finder, that is, a week after the hell freezes over.

  2. Are Wold Says:

    Good to hear from you!

    I can inform you that, happily, you can move to the “tray” with CTRL+F8. Hooray.

    The keyboard issue – not having great support for keyboard navigation – is something I just don’t understand. It’s not like the keys are being used for other things.

    My favourite gripe is navigating in large directories in Finder, which is such a pain compared to Explorer, and particularly highlighting files. Whereas you can do CTRL+Space to and then arrow keys to move around and select several files, you have to select adjacent files only in Finder. At least as far as I know.

    And, yep, cut and paste. What’s up with not having that?

    Lets not get started on maximizing windows…

    Apple should just swallow their pride and fix these things – or at the very least let the user choose to have proper maximizing and cut’n paste and mouse acceleration and…

  3. Jaka Jančar Says:

    Well, maximizing windows is another thing. As far as I can understand, in OS X, the green button doesn’t Maximize, but rather changes the size to “best fit” the contents. It’s true, though, that many applications consider that the whole screen the best fit :)

    I got used to this, and I like it. It makes no sense to maximize most applications, especially not if you’re using a large display.

    Selecting in Finder is, indeed, also bad. You can’t select multiple “ranges” at all. For example, in Windows, if you have:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    You could click 1, shift-click 3 (which would select 1-3) and then ctrl-click 6 (which would select 1-3 and 6) and then ctrl-shift click 8, which would select (1-3 and 6-8; basically, it would continue the last “range” from the last clicked item). In Finder, if you did the last step, you would get 1-8 all selected. :/

  4. AndrewGS Says:

    Hi Are,
    Unfortunately I use a Mac at work and I recently had a similar problem – a GTK application that started with its titlebar underneath the finder. It turns out that there is no way to move a window with clicking on…. the titlebar! At least, no way that I found. In the end I followed a friends suggestion and found that changing the screen resolution reset the windows position.

    While there are some elements of the Mac’s windowing system that I do like (I miss expose whenever I go back to my WinXP box at home, for exaple) I’m finding that, overall, the much vaunted OS X ‘experience’ is akin to repeatedly banging one’s head against a padded wall.

  5. Are Wold Says:

    Hi there Andrew!

    There should definitely be a way to move a window around without using the keyboard. Tried googling a bit now though (like you probably just did) and no luck. Maybe I’ll try the Apple forums again.

    With regards to “keyboard usability”, Windows XP is unfortunately definitely superior to OS X. There are a few exceptions – for instance how you can close applications from the Alt+Tab menu by pressing Q when an application is highlighted there – but the general picture is clear…

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