How to Open Files in OS X Mavericks - dummies

How to Open Files in OS X Mavericks

By Bob LeVitus

Using OS X Mavericks you can open any icon in the Finder — whether it’s a file or a folder — in at least six ways. Anyway, here are the ways:

  • Click the icon once to select it and choose File→Open.

  • Click the icon twice in rapid succession.

    If the icon doesn’t open, you double-clicked too slowly. You can test (and adjust) your mouse’s sensitivity to double-click speed in the Mouse (or Trackpad) System Preference pane, which you can access by launching the System Preferences application (from the Applications folder, the Dock, or the App menu) and then clicking the Mouse (or Trackpad) icon.

  • Select the icon and then press either Command+O or Command+down-arrow.

  • Right-click or Control-click it and then choose Open from the contextual menu.

  • If the icon is a document, drag it onto the application icon (or the Dock icon of an application) that can open that type of document.

  • If the icon is a document, right-click or Control-click it and choose an application from the Open With submenu of the contextual menu.

You can also open any document icon from within an application, of course. Here’s how that works:

  1. Just launch your favorite program, and choose File→Open (or press Command+O, which works in most Mac programs).

    An Open dialog appears.


    When you use a program’s Open dialog, only files that the program knows how to open appear enabled (in black rather than light gray) in the file list. In effect, the program filters out the files it can’t open, so you barely see them in the Open dialog.

    This method of selectively displaying certain items in Open dialogs is a feature of most applications. Therefore, when you’re using TextEdit, its Open dialog dims all your spreadsheet files (because TextEdit can open only text, Rich Text Format, Microsoft Word, and some picture files).

  2. In the dialog, simply navigate to the file you want to open (using the same techniques you use in a Save sheet).

    Click a favorite folder in the Sidebar or use Spotlight if you can’t remember where the file resides.

  3. Select your file and click the Open button.

For what it’s worth, some applications allow you to select multiple files in their Open dialogs by holding down either Shift (for contiguous selections) or Command (for noncontiguous selections). If you need to open several files, it’s worth a try; the worst thing that could happen is that it won’t work and you’ll have to open the items one at a time.

Some programs, including Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop, have a Show or Format menu in their Open dialogs. This menu lets you specify the type(s) of files you want to see as available in the Open dialog. You can often open a file that appears dimmed by choosing All Documents from the Show or Format menu (in those applications with Open dialogs that offer such a menu).

How to use drag-and-drop in OS X Mavericks

Macintosh drag-and-drop is usually all about dragging text and graphics from one place to another. But there’s another angle to drag-and-drop — one that has to do with files and icons.

You can open a document by dragging its icon onto that of the proper application. You can open a document created with Microsoft Word, for example, by dragging the document icon onto the Microsoft Word application’s icon.

The Word icon highlights, and the document launches. Usually, of course, it’s easier to double-click a document’s icon to open it; the proper application opens automatically when you do — or at least, it does most of the time.

How to use Quick Look in OS X Mavericks

To use the Quick Look command to peek at the contents of most files in Open dialogs, right-click or Control-click the file and choose Quick Look, or use its easy-to-remember shortcut: Press the spacebar. Whichever way, you’ll soon see the contents of that file in a floating window without launching another application.

The Quick Look window shows you the contents of many types of files.


Sometimes Quick Look even works on files the current application can’t open. For the most part, if a file can be selected in an Open dialog, you can probably view its contents with Quick Look. Quick Look is so wonderful it’s also available for icons in the Finder.

When your Mac can’t open a file in OS X Mavericks

If you try to open a file, but OS X can’t find a program to open that file, OS X prompts you with an alert window.


Click Cancel to abort the attempt to open the file, or click the Choose Application or Search App Store button to select another application to open this file.

If you click the Choose Application button, a dialog appears. Applications that OS X doesn’t think can be used to open the file are dimmed. For a wider choice of applications, choose All Applications (instead of Recommended Applications) from the Enable pop-up menu.


You can’t open every file with every program. If you try to open an MP3 (audio) file with Microsoft Excel (a spreadsheet), for example, it just won’t work; you get an error message or a screen full of gibberish. Sometimes, you just have to keep trying until you find the right program; at other times, you don’t have a program that can open the file.

When in doubt, Google the file extension. You’ll usually find out more than you need to know about what application(s) create files with that extension.