Written by: hexley on Monday February 25th 2008, 1:01 AM
We are taking a one day break on the Safari tutorials. Don’t worry, we will be back on schedule tomorrow.
I find the Application Switcher to be a pretty handy tool of OS X, which I use now without even thinking about it. It’s not a complex application, but it can make navigating your computer a breeze.
The Application Switcher allows you to easily toggle through all programs you have open, hidden or not, in a clear and rapid manner. For instance, you are copying and pasting from your email program into Word. Instead of using your mouse to move between the two, which can take time, especially on a laptop, a simple keyboard command will bring the other program up in a flash.
By pressing Command + tab, a translucent window appears in the middle of your screen displaying the icons of the applications that are currently running. You will notice the icon of the last application you used will be highlighted and have a white box around it.
The icon of the application you are currently using will appear first, the next icon will be of the application used just before that, and so on. So as you use different applications, the order will then be rearranged.
There are several ways to move through the applications. The one I use, and in my opinion, the easiest, is to continue pressing the tab key while holding down the Command key. You will see it move to the right and then wrap around back to the beginning.
Simply letting go of the tab key while the desired application is highlighted will bring that application to the front.
If you are only toggling between two applications, which is where I find the Application Switcher most helpful, simply pressing Command + tab once, will bring the other application to the front.
There are a couple other ways to move between the applications. I don’t find myself using them, but I will mention them because you may find one you like better depending on your computer setup.
To move through the applications in the reverse order, is to hold down Command + shift and press the tab key. Or by pressing Command + back tick (button above the tab key) will do the same thing.
Another way to toggle through applications is by using the scroll wheel or trackball on your mouse, or the track pad on your laptop. You can also simply use your mouse to click on the desired application. You may even use the left and right arrows on your keyboard. Give each method of toggling a try and stick with whatever feels most comfortable to you.
If you are in the Application Switcher and want to escape without choosing an application, you simply press the Esc key, or the period key, while holding down Command, and the Application Switcher will disappear.
A couple extra features to the Application Switcher are that you can quit and hide programs. To quit a program you simply toggle to the desired application and press “Q”. If you’d like to hide an application, press “H”.
One last feature I would like to point out is the drag and drop feature. You can drag an item from your desktop, say a text document, and while dragging with your mouse, open the Application Switcher and drop the document onto a program like TextEdit or Word. Simply release the mouse while the desired application is highlighted and your document will open in that program.
I tend to use the dock for something like this, since the program I need may not be open, but the Application Switcher is capable of doing this as well, just as long as the program is open.
Play around with the different ways of toggling through programs and see what feels most comfortable to you. I think you’ll find that once you get used to it, it’s quite a quick and convenient way to move around.
Another fairly new Mac user here… One way I was shown to see all open applications is to press the “fn” key and then the “F7″ key. You still have to then mouse over to the app you want on top, but it’s handy sometimes to see them all that way.Comment by David 02.25.08 @ 8:17 AM
I believe that that is Expose. It’s a great piece of software to do a very similar thing, especially when you have multiple windows for the same program. Instead of Command+Tabbing to the program and then Command+’ ing to the window you want, you bring up Expose and it shows all your windows. Then select the one you want.
A nice way to quit multiple applications is to open the App Switcher with Command+Tab, and while the Command key is down, type Q. The selected application quits and the App Switcher stays open, so you can quit of a bunch of applications very quickly.Comment by Scott Thiessen 02.25.08 @ 2:37 PM
I never knew about app switcher. I have a hot corner for “expose” and another hot corner for “all windows” so between those I get everything shown, BUT it I didn’t have any open windows I’d still have to head to the dock for an open app.
And the “Q” quit will be a great way to shut them all off.
Thanks for the tipComment by JimB 02.25.08 @ 3:43 PM
Again, this doesn’t seem to work for me. It shows four apps (Safari, Mail, Address Book and Finder) when I hold the Command Key and then press the Tab key. When I then tap the Tab Key to cycle through the apps, it will only bring Safari or Mail to the front, when I release the Command key, not Finder or Address Book. I use a MacBook Pro with Leopard…What am I missing here?….JimComment by Jim Hamm 02.26.08 @ 9:07 AM
O.K. you guys….I don’t see a “command” key on my keyboard??Comment by Lauren 02.26.08 @ 4:01 PM
Hey Lauren, the Command key is the key with a apple logo and a little squiggly celtic-knot on it, to the left of the spacebar. More info here:Comment by Drakfyre 02.26.08 @ 4:26 PM
Thanks Drakfyre. I just always called it my “Apple” key.Comment by Lauren 02.26.08 @ 4:44 PM
@Jim, in the case of Address Book, are you sure you have the main Address Book window open? If it is closed, it will bring the Application forward, but not the window. As for the Finder, the Finder does not have much to bring forward, there is no real window to bring forward.
I would suspect that Address Book is just open, but the data window is closed. Go to the Window menu in Address Book and down to “Address Book”, this should show you your entire address book, then you can use command-tab to move to Safari, and back to Address Book.Comment by Scott Haneda 02.26.08 @ 7:09 PM
@Lauren, Apple is moving away from calling it the Apple Key, and even removing said branding from the key, so from this point on, more and more will know it as the command key.Comment by Scott Haneda 02.26.08 @ 7:10 PM
So how to bring up an app that’s in the dock?
@Todd, If you mean what I think you mean, you just click on the item in the dock with your mouse. If you mean an item that has been minimized to the Dock, I would like to know that myself
If I am off base here, reply with more detail about what your specific question is.Comment by Scott Haneda 02.26.08 @ 7:13 PM
@Scott Yeah, how to bring up an app that’s minimized to the dock in the alt-tab sequence. My contention is that minimized apps should automatically be brought out of the dock and given focus. You can access the dock with ctrl-F3, but it seems silly to have to switch to another key command once I realize the app I want is minimized.
OK, I know I can cmd-h to hide windows and then they’ll appear in an alt-tab sequence, but sometimes minimizing is more convenient to get a window out of the way.Comment by todd 02.26.08 @ 7:27 PM
Okay, I finally got it!…Duh!…The window must be open and not minimized, then one can cycle through Cmd + Tab to put the focus on an open app that has not been minimized. Doesn’t work on Finder, though— too bad. However, after trying it a few times I like Expose better. with my Mighty Mouse, I merely push the button, then click on the app I want. Quicker for me. Thanks, Scott, for bringing this tip to us. I’ve enjoyed, and learned, from all your tutorials. Thanks, again, for bringing them to us…JimComment by Jim Hamm 02.27.08 @ 2:31 PM
@Jim, glad you got it worked out. It can be a bit confusing at times. There is an app called LiteSwitch X that I use. This gives me much more control over how an app is brought forward, and can force it to happen in some cases.
As for the Finder, I am not sure what you want to come forward, there is really nothing to come forward. I am guessing you want your open folders and finder windows to come forward, but they are obscured by other apps. Correct on that one, you are stuck in that regard. LiteSwitch, I believe, can bring one forward, and tell all others to hide, though I do not use that feature.
Application switching is best when you need to toggle two applications all the time. For example, I move from typing this, to mail.app, then back to typing this, and back to mail.app, and I can do that all with no mouse at all. This is, in my opinion, where the Application Switcher really shines.Comment by Scott Haneda 02.27.08 @ 4:41 PM
First I’d just want to point out that the scrollwheel feature existed in Tiger as well. And that was a feature I grew to like – *a lot*.
Now with Leopard I personally think Apple has done a terrible job. Scroll directions have changed, scrolling down in Tiger moved the selection box to the right, now in Leopard a scroll down moves to the left, but most frustrating feature to be removed is that scrolling can’t loop around the list anymore!!!
When you get to the point where you have like 30 (or more) open applications it was a quick way to get from your most resent (leftmost) application to the one used longest ago (rightmost). Really *hate* the changes brought on by the Leopard application switcher vs. the one in Tiger.
@Joachim. I never used the scrool wheel. I will be honest, I do not use the Apple Application Switcher. I use LiteSwitch X, which I find has a ton more features and is a little smaller and more flexible.
Test out the demo and see if it works to your needs.Comment by Scott Haneda 03.11.08 @ 8:47 AM
How do you set up opening an application with a keystroke command?Comment by james p. nalley 03.21.08 @ 9:09 PM
Thanks very much for this info. I had been using Lite Switch X and wanted to be fair by paying but $15 was too much. Then found apple-tab, now know apple-tilde & apple-q. Very simple, works well.Comment by Ralph 03.24.08 @ 6:39 PM
@james, most use Butler: http://www.manytricks.com/butler/
it is free, and will do what you want, I use Keyboard Maestro: http://www.keyboardmaestro.com/main/ And while it is a paid software, the support and Peter, the guy who will answer your support issues, is top notch.
I completely agree with Joachim: the inverted behavior of the scroll wheel in Leopard’s application switcher is annoying. There should be at least a hidden preference to change that.Comment by Joao Carlos de Pinho 03.28.08 @ 5:34 PM
great site……very eye opening and helpful.Comment by Lennox Quan 02.05.09 @ 11:29 AM
In os x (snow leopard) once you have an icon selected in the switcher you can press cmd+’1′ (or just ’1′ if you opened it without using cmd+tab, eg if you use a swipe command) to show all open windows of that application.Comment by Sam Cook 06.22.10 @ 8:17 PM
Just wanted to leave a comment for Sam Cook – THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED!
I’m a windows convert, switched to 100% macs in November of last year, but the treatment of minimized windows in OSX -still- boggles my mind. I really couldn’t bring myself to pay money for an app that let me do what windows had built in (alt-tab switching worked even for minimized windows), and now with the command-1, I’m completely set.
Thanks a ton!
P.S. I have my dock set to “Minimize windows into application icon” to reduce the clutter on my dock. I think this changes a little of the behavior of hidden and minimized apps in the dock.Comment by Verxion 09.27.10 @ 7:30 AM
For reference, if you use the app switcher to Command-TAB to an application that either has windows minimised or all closed, as in Jim Hamm’s problem above, you can press Option to restore the last minimised window or open a new window.Comment by scot 01.05.12 @ 4:21 AM
Thanks for the comment regarding Command-Tab and toggling the minimized state of window(s) from The Dock. Would you mind elaborating in more detail? On Mac OS X Lion 10.7.2 I your described procedure.
Are you certain a third party window management utility is not performing Command-Tab like switching of application windows?
In an effort to discover quirky local user account behavior of Keyboard Maestro – I have resisted installing such add-on’s myself. However, if there is a native method to manipulate minimized windows – be it at an application level, or globally, I will be quite literally ecstatic!
I often Command-M ( minimize ) to get windows out of my way. However, returning the window to the foreground is something I’ve never known possible without third party tools. Perhaps this feature relies on the “Minimize windows into application icon” checkbox in The Dock Preference Pane? ( My current preference choice is unchecked )
Feeling Safari is a stable, current, and minimal application designed to work as well as possible with Lion; I chose it as a test case application. I made an empty window, and pressed Command-M. I also made a second empty Safari window, and minimized via a single mouse click to the middle round minimize button in the upper left of Safari.
I had two ( blank of content ) Safari windows, minimized to my Dock.
I then followed your instructions and pressed Command-Tab, bringing the Application Switcher to the foreground. First, ( with Command still held ) I pressed the Option key, leaving the Application Switcher focused on the last application I used – nothing happened.
I then Command-Tabbed back to Safari, making it the currently selected application. While still pressing the Command key – in order to keep the Application Switcher on screen – I grew an extra finger to hit the Option key – Nothing happened. ( I have a single Option key on the left of this MacBook I am using now ).
I tried several more iterations, yet keyboard command can restore a minimized window that has been stuffed into The Dock via a Command-M, Minimize middle round button, or Window->Minimize from the “Window” menu.
This will make my New Year if it is indeed a native,functionality – while at the same time – make me feel pretty silly for not figuring this out ages ago.
This functionality or lack thereof has been an annoyance since Mac OS X Developer Preview. ( Ugh, I think I am now noting how old I am! )
Thanks Scot!, and Happy New Year.Comment by hexley 01.05.12 @ 7:20 PM
I’m not using a third party switcher. I have found that trying to perform any other action (eg. using the shift key or Q or H) seems to make this option not work. But I’m not entirely sure what controls it because sometimes it will work and sometimes not but I cannot determine the rules. You can find information on this here – http://hints.macworld.com/article.php?story=20100803072616566Comment by scot 01.05.12 @ 8:54 PM
Ahh yes the trick (from a comment on that link) is that you have to release the Command key BEFORE you release the Option key. Ao it’s hold command, then tab – tab -tab (etc until desired application highlighted) … hold option, release command, release option. Also I believe (have found) that if the app has *any* UNminimised windows you will get that window.Comment by scot 01.05.12 @ 9:00 PM
It’s also documented here – http://www.macworld.com/article/159921/2011/11/appswitcher.htmlComment by scot 01.05.12 @ 9:18 PM