Use Three Fingers And Revolutionize Using Your Mac [OS X Tips]



If your Mac has a multitouch trackpad, there’s a simple but amazing tweak you can make that could revolutionize the way you use your computer.

This is another great tip from Mac Kung Fu, a new book full of over 300 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X. The perfect Christmas present for the Mac-lover!

Open System Preferences (Apple menu->System Preferences), click the Trackpad icon, make sure the Point & Click tab is selected, then put a check next to Three Finger Drag.

Doing so activates the best-kept secret for Macs with a trackpad. Ignore the simple description: “Move with three fingers.” That’s the least of the productivity benefits this tweak can bring. Here are the rest:

  • Coasting windows: Place three fingers on the trackpad when the mouse cursor is over a title bar and move it a little. Then leave one finger permanently on the trackpad and flick with a neighboring finger—the window will “coast” for a while (think of a puck on an Air Hockey board or of flicking within a list on an iPhone/iPad screen). Note that this doesn’t work so well with apps like Google Chrome, that store tabs in the titlebar area. But such apps are few and far between.
  • Copying files: In Finder windows, if you position the mouse cursor over a file or folder and drag with three fingers, you can copy it to a new location instantly (hit Esc to cancel if you change your mind midway through). To drag long distances, lift one finger so that two still touch the trackpad and flick that finger to “coast” (try it and see).
  • Downloading web images: When viewing web pages, position the mouse over an image, drag with three fingers on a picture, and copy it to the desktop or to a Finder window.
  • Moving windows: As System Preferences indicates, you can move windows by positioning the mouse cursor over the title bar and dragging three fingers on the trackpad.
  • Selecting text: You can select text by positioning the mouse cursor over a sentence in a paragraph, putting three fingers on the trackpad and dragging (double-click the first word, then drag with three fingers to highlight only whole words).
  • Selecting within a list: Drag three fingers across a file listing and you can rubber-band-select them. The same applies to dragging three fingers within any other list within OS X, such as the Inbox in Mail.

There might be other benefits I’ve not spotted. If so, add them to the comments below.

You can select multiple entries in a list using three fingers and a touchpad

Note that when the three-finger drag is activated, the three-finger gesture is switched to four fingers—swiping four fingers left or right will switch spaces, and swiping four fingers up will activate Mission Control.

  • Harry Stevens

    Just noticed if you double tap (with 3 fingers) over any word, the word will be looked up on the on-board dictionary.

  • FriarNurgle

    That’s what she said.

  • da_vaibhav

    couldn’t make it , is this lion only tip ? i have snow leopard

  • KeirThomas

    I think it’s Lion-only. Sorry!

  • KeirThomas

    That’s the case anyway, Harry, even if the three-finger drag option isn’t activated. 

  • Harry Stevens

    Oh yeah sorry buddy! Whoops! Follow me on twitter harrystevens1

  • apluralist

    Wait, this is another tip from that great book that the article author wrote? Oh jesus. I hate the Age of Self Promotion…

  • KeirThomas

    It’s a tip from my new book Mac Kung Fu, available from Amazon and all good bookstores. 

    Not so much self-promotion, Rob, as making a living. 

    • Nicolas B.

      You forgot to state the price and the number of pages.

  • Shannon Fluellen

    i have an early 2008 15 inch MBP with Lion installed and I do not have the option to select this feature. It does not show up in the trackpad preferences. It is a multitouch trackpad though!

  • AdamFC

    AKA with this setting activated, 3-finger dragging will do anything that you could previously do by clicking and dragging. There we go, saved a lot of reading and self-promotion.

  • KeirThomas

    Wow, so you could coast windows by clicking and dragging with a standard mouse button?

  • apluralist

    When you are promoting your own stuff, you should say so, rather than make it seem to the reader that someone else is saying your book is good.

  • Saldin2

    For dragging long distances you can actually lift your fingers from the trackpad when you reach one end, reposition them at the other end of the trackpad and keep dragging. Apple does sweat the little details!

  • djgrahamj

    I noticed this too – the option is available on my 2011 MBP but not my 2008 one. Both support up to 5-finger gestures so I’m not sure why it seems to be limited to my new one.

  • Kristerpher Henderson

    Lion Only.

  • Joe

    For all those people who were dying to “coast” windows…

  • joebella

    This tip makes the lower right corner of a window particularly useful. If you position your mouse cursor just left of the resize area in the lower right corner of a window, you can put down 3 fingers and drag the window around your screen. THen if you can lift 2 fingers.. move the mouse cursor a few millimeters to the right so that it is in the resize area, then put two fingers down and you can resize the window. This makes the move and resize operation a little bit less painful.

  • KeirThomas

    I’ll never write in the third person again. 

  • KeirThomas

    Indeed, great tip!

  • chabig

    I like tap and drag, saving three fingers for swipe gestures.

  • danwarne

    I personally set my three finger downward swipe to close windows (CMD+W) which I find to be a massive time saver. You have to use BetterTouchTool to do this.

  • SkolVikes88

    Option-Three Finger Drag a file in Finder to copy to new place.

  • Jonas Thulin

    Three Fingers also works really well for re-sizing windows. Especially with Lion giving you the ability to use any window edge for re-sizing.

  • da_vaibhav

    i think you could/should have mentioned this is for “lion only tip” in title or in the article !! copied &pasted extract from book ?? #suggestion