Moving to Mac: Window Management Tips

In my six-month check-in documenting my move to Mac (s aapl), I mentioned some of the general usability issues that I was still experiencing. While, overall, I was quite thrilled with my new setup, a few nagging issues were really keeping me from feeling really settled in. In addition to some Finder issues and some questions about dual displays, I was having trouble adjusting to how windows are managed in OS X compared to Windows (s msft), particularly in restoring items that had been minimized.

My post garnered a lot of comments in response with some great tips and tricks from readers that I thought I would share with you.

The “Black Hole” of Minimized Windows

One of my issues was getting used to the Cmd-Tab functionality of Mac, compared to the Alt-Tab of Windows. While similar, the Mac Cmd-Tab doesn’t restore minimized windows; ?I’ve been struggling with the “black hole” that minimized windows seem to disappear into. You all came to the rescue though with these handy tips and tricks.

By far the most popular suggestion, and the one that I ultimately ended up using, is to use the “Hide” command or the Cmd-H shortcut to hide windows rather than minimize them. Not only does this remove the window from view but it also shifts the focus to the next application in the stack. This actually helped solve another issue, too, because I was still occasionally bitten by seeing what I believed to be the active window on my screen but having the Application Bar really focused on something else. Hiding the application works to resolve both issues for me.

There is one caveat, though (and I guess this could actually be seen as desirable): if you’re using an application like TweetDeck that is hidden and something happens that prompts a notification, it will bring that application to the forefront. I find this to be pretty distracting so have learned to continue to minimize those windows rather than hiding them.

Another very popular suggestion was to use the add-on utility Witch, which promises to make window switching fun.  I tried an evaluation of this utility and found it really useful, but found its plethora of options bit overwhelming, so I’ve settled on the more conventional shortcut hiding method. With Witch it is possible to completely customize how items appear, enable pop up previews and change the appearance of the app switching windows. I have a feeling that as I continue to become more comfortable and my needs increase this is something that I will be revisiting.

Other folks in the comments discussed using a combination of Exposé and Spaces. While I do like Exposé, Spaces just doesn’t seem to click with me. If I could segregate apps, or instances of apps, into different Spaces for different tasks, then I think it would be more useful to me.

Where Am I? How Did I Get Here?

I mentioned that I missed being able to see the full path for the current directory in Finder.  Commenter Ted provided the solution: In Finder, open a folder, go to the “View” Menu, then click “Show Path Bar.” This was exactly what I was looking for and really makes the structure of my data make more sense to me.

Finder - Path Bar Example

Where Did I Put that Menu?

With the separation of the Application menu and the program window, I got particularly perplexed when working with a second monitor attached. Having to look to another screen to the see the menu of the application  I’m currently using just never seemed right to me. Many of you suggested MenuEverywhere, which adds a staggering number of ways to add menus to just about anything, while another suggestion was Secondbar is more of a single tasker by adding a very useful duplicate of the menubar on the second screen.

Much like with a PC, I am finding that there are a staggering number of utilities designed to fill gaps and provide extra functionality to the OS, and a staggering number of ways to work with and around your process. I am thankful for all of your suggestions and hope you find them useful as well.

Share your Mac window management tips below.

Photo by Flickr user neys, licensed under CC 2.0

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