Alt-Tab Task Switcher for OS X

by James Duncan Davidson

So, I know this this guy who runs Mac OS X as his server and is seriously interested in running it as a desktop. Problem is that there are a couple of UI issues that keep him from picking up a TiBook and joining the fun. The first of these is the Windows Alt-Tab behavior. The second is the "focus follows mouse" behavior of X-windows.

As soon as he found a hack to let the keyboard focus follow the mouse instead of the "click to raise and focus" behavior that he doesn't like, he moved from his aging Indy to a Windows 2000 laptop. And discovered he liked Alt-Tab. And now that he's looking at the Mac, he has decided he doesn't like the Command-Tab behavior that Apple has implemented with Mac OS X.

I've been keeping my eyes out for utilities that will fix this for him, and I've finally found one for the Alt-Tab behavior that might work. It's called App Switcher and you can find it at The only thing that it doesn't mimick from Windows is the ability to Alt-Tab between multiple windows of the same application. We'll see how my friend likes it.

Now, if somebody just implements a "focus-follows-mouse" hack...

What UI Hacks make your OS X experience more pleasurable?


2002-06-20 06:53:05
and multiple desktops!
I've switched to MacOSX from Linux & I really miss the multiple desktop windows. Someone please hack that a la gnome, kde et al.
2002-06-20 07:01:34
Welcome Jason

There has been a relevant thread recently on MacSlash .


2002-06-20 07:30:30
multiple desktops
I agree. The availability of programs to manage multiple virtual desktops(ie. multiDesk) for Windows prompted me to switch from Linux/KDE to Windows. The absence of such a feature in OS X has made it very difficult for me to work in the OS(the alt-tab switcher will help, though). Isn't it funny that despite all of the features in an OS, it is these seemingly silly things that we all label as "must haves"?
2002-06-20 08:19:43
I hate to be rude, but what kind of idiot does it take to refuse to switch to a more feature rich, robust Operating System due to minor UI issues? Moreover, the mouse focus issue is inherent to the Finder's operability. Mac OS doesn't have window menuing. Mouse focus would put the Finder menu off the visible operating screen. Thereby making it impossible to select any menu option. Clearly not a desired effect. I've heard it said on more than one occasion, quit trying to make the Mac OS X UI behave like some other operating system. Mac OS X's UI is mature, robust and well thought out. How about tying to use it.
2002-06-20 14:05:47
Switching between "documents" in an app
I thought that CTRL+TAB was the default for switching between documents within an application. This may only apply to Multiple Document interfaces...
2002-06-20 14:58:39
Multiple Desktops Solution...
can be had in :

Free (and free) and wonderful!


2002-06-20 20:48:58
Switching between "documents" in an app
Totally app dependant. Try it in IE and you'll just move focus around the current window.
2002-06-20 20:51:21
multiple desktops
Yeah, personally I find it silly and I make it a point not to over customize my environment. It's just not a big deal to me, but it is to some people. Actually, moving from my old "Emacs is everything" to standard CMD-X CMD-V keys has saved my pinkies. :)
2002-06-24 08:11:31
multiple desktops
I am quickly moving in that direction. I used to have keystrokes for everything so that I never had to use the mouse. Then rsi started setting in. I have stopped using emacs and am instead moving to configurations that intentionally slow me down. This new goal makes OS X perfect! :)
2002-06-24 08:15:08
Multiple Desktops Solution...
Tried it. It has potential but is too easy to screw up since it just relies on the hidden state of an application. The application centric nature of OS X takes some getting used to(and I am not used to it yet). I guess I have just been using the window centric model for too long...
2003-01-19 15:36:30
Multiple Desktops + XMouse == CodeTek VirtualDesktop
I have found one solution for both vrtual desktops and focus-follows-mouse. This is CodeTek's VirtualDesktop ( It's pay-ware, but demo allows full function of two virtual desktops.

The only real gripe is that its focux-follows-mouse always brings the window forward; you can't use a window but keep it behind some other window (this makes FFM useful for me). If I found that, I'd switch.

2003-02-21 09:53:02
Minor UI issues?

Any UI issue that significantly reduces the speed and sanity at which you can work is certainly not minor.

Multiple desktops allow one to concentrate on the task at hand, and switch easily between multiple tasks. Without them I find I spend way too much time "managing" windows, which is something the "windows manager" should do for me.

Alt-Tab style behaviour is equaly important to many people's work flow as they find themselves bouncing between two or three apps often.

As for the Mac OS X UI being mature, I beg to differ. I never thought I'd say it, but my linux desktop has more consistency than OS X. Especially where the keyboard is concerned.

2003-04-16 15:33:24
Multiple Desktops Solution...
Yea, unfortunately works on a per-application basis, not a per-window basis. Thus, if I have 7 Terminal windows open, I can't have 3 on one desktop and 4 on another; all 7 have to go on the same desktop. So...what's the point?
2003-06-23 13:39:24
multiple desktops
I really don't understand how someone could ever want to switch from Linux to windows. A switch from Linux to OS X is more reasonable, 'cause they share (more or less) the same 'core'. Also the idea behind an OS like linux/bsd/OSX is loveable, where windows is completely visionless, empty, dead. With windows you need a lot of energy to make it work, and afterwards, when you are tired, you can start with the things you wanted to do with your windows PC. All this said, i really like those multiple desktops in KDE/Gnome and all the others (not on windows, it was not stable), and i would like to have a similar feature in OS X.
2003-06-30 19:39:25
"UI Enhancements"
I think the Alt-Tab and Focus Follows Mouse UI abilities greatly increas the efficiency of using the OS.
In both Linux and Windows(with powertoys) I have both of those functions which make me work so much faster.
I use my macintosh more as a fun machine (although an expensive toy) because I dont find it as "multi-tasking" as Linux or Windows.
I can't hack at /etc config files either in os x which is also frustrating...
Alas, I think I will get used to it someday...
2003-08-30 21:49:39
multiple desktops
actually, there is an app that does give multiple desktops to the Mac...WorkspaceManager

I happen to very much enjoy using my Linux box, but I use an iBook for my traveling needs. The lack of multiple desktops was annoying me to a degree. I am very pleased to say that this app has given me the thing I desired for the laptop.

2003-09-12 01:05:17
Switching between "documents" in an app
I know this is eons later than this thread...but...

CTRL+TAB switches between apps
CTRL+~(Til) switches between windows of current app.

It's not that tough people!

2004-09-17 12:50:55
CodeTek VirtualDesktop focus follows mouse

Yes, I found the "bringing window to the front" feature of the CodeTek focus follows mouse policy made it essentially unusable.

The whole point is to keep a window in the front so you can see it and type into a focused window behind it. We want a focus follows mouse, that gives the focus, but *doesn't* change the window order.

If anyone knows of anything that implements that, please post it somewhere.