Issues with the standard macOS app switcher

Usually I have several programs running at once and I repeatedly switch between them during my workflow. I find that I would like to improve Apple’s program switcher, because it forces me to cycle through every active program every time I activate the switcher. There ought to something like Default Folder, except instead of bouncing back to a certain folder it bounces back to a certain program. Does anyone know of a program like that? I know there are several switchers, but I would like to hear anyone’s experience.

I noticed that the program Command Tab Plus doesn’t work when Steam is running. Sometimes when I run Steam, I want to switch back to the Finder and run Firefox. But with Command Tab Plus active, I can’t do that. The switcher is essentially disabled with Steam running.

I have noticed other quirks, too, but then I have noticed many quirks in Sierra, which I just upgraded to. I can talk about that in another post.

There are a few options built-in to macOS.

The dock. Every running app should have an icon in the Dock. You can distinguish running from non-running apps by looking for a dot between the icon and the edge of the screen. Click on a running app to bring all of its windows to the top of the stack.

CMD-Tab with the mouse. If you press CMD-TAB and hold down the CMD key (to keep the icon list visible), you can move the mouse pointer over that list. The selection will move to whatever is under the mouse. Click on it or just release CMD to select the app.

Mission Control. There are several different keystrokes/gestures you can use, depending on macOS version and your preference settings. When activated, every window is reduced in size and arranged to be non-overlapping. Click on any one to bring it to the foreground.

I’m not surprised that Steam disables this. When playing an action game, the last thing you want is to accidentally hit a keystroke that sends your game to the background.

But should it prevent you from doing that when you’ve paused game play? I always thought it was most annoying that Civilization disabled app switcher and Exposé even when the game was paused.

If you’re always switching among the same programs (like I do), you might consider using Keyboard Maestro to map function keys to specific apps. For me, for instance, F1 is always my main text editor, F2 is always my main Web browser, F3 is my main email client, and so on.

Thanks, that’s a good idea. In my workflow, I do a lot of cutting and pasting and text manipulation between Firefox, TextSoap, Tex-Edit Plus, BBEdit, Clipy, and sometimes more, and I dislike having to choose from a menu every time I switch. Maybe if I got better organize in my workflow. I’ve looked at Keyboard Maestro and it certainly is impressive, but I felt I didn’t need it since I already use the $5 atext for text expansion. Atext is a v. clever little program. I do use boilerplate text often. I don’t use the F keys at all. I never found a reason to reason Mission Control, Spaces, and other gadgets whose names I’ve forgotten. I’ll take another look at Keyboard Maestro.

I’ve noticed program switchers have a tendency to screw up the system, as I mentioned with Steam, but I haven’t tried them all yet.

I have accumulated a couple of hundred keyboard shortcuts using Automator and System Preferences//Keyboard. Automator has a slight learning curve, but most of the keyboard shortcuts “services” or “workflows” are almost the same. My keyboard shortcuts:

Control-shift- A to Z are for files I use repeatedly (most, for me, Word & Excel files). Their names always start with “view” to keep them together in the Services folder in the Library, and always together in the listing in System Preferences//Keyboard. I assign shortcuts to them as follows (skipping the control-shift): D for doctor-med tests, P for passwords, M for music I want to buy, W for wants, F for financial transactions, etc.

Control-option- A to Z are for programs I use repeatedly. Their names always start with “launch” to keep them together in the Services folder & System Preferences. I assign shortcuts to them as follows (skipping the control-option): C for Contacts, D for Disk utility, E for Excel, H for Handbrake, I for Image capture, P for aPP store, U for aUtomator, W for Word, Y for activitY monitor, etc.

Control-shift-option- A to Z are for folders I open repeatedly. Note that those three keys form a sort of open folder shape. Their names always start with “open” to keep them together in the Services folder. I assign shortcuts tothem as follows (skipping the control-option-shift): B for Bills folder, C for pictures loaded from my Camera, F for family photos folder, I for In-scanned items folder, N for New downloads folder, O for orders I’ve made folder, S for System Preferences “folder”, etc.

I’ve made them easy to remember, even in quantity, at least for me. And I always have control-shift-K for the Keyboard shortcuts chart I can refer to.

I’ve built these up over the years, so it hasn’t been a big chore. And of course, I’ve changed some of them from time to time as my needs change. So now I can switch between up to 26 files, 26 programs, 26 folders just by hitting the right keyboard combination, without using command-tab or the dock. And when I switch, the Apple OS switches to the assigned desktop automatically. (I have 10 desktops.)

And just to be a bit more complete I use shortcuts control- option- 1 to 0 for web sites (in Safari for me). These names all start with “web”. The 1 is in line with A & Z and used for Amazon; the 2 is in line with W and is used for Wikipedia; the 5 is in line with T and is used for the New York Times site; the 7 is in line with M and is used for YouTube (Movies); the 8 for I-MDB; the 9 for New York Public Library (L); the 0 for google Pictures §. Control-option–~ has no mnemonic, but that the one I use the most often.

Doing all of this at one sitting would be exhausting, so I recommend doing a few at a time and always adding to a chart of the assignments.

These myriad assignments have survived several system upgrades, include the last one—to Catalina. And I don’t worry that Keyboard Maestro or iKey will disappear.

1 Like

Have you experimented with a launcher app like LaunchBar? It might not be as “immediate” as the macOS’s own Cmd-Tab switcher, but it adds so much efficiency to the overall use of a Mac that it’s among the first apps I install whenever I start working on a new machine.

Specifically, once that launcher has learned your most frequent abbreviations, switching to an app is as easy as hitting the launcher shortcut, typing a single character, and pressing Return. One detail this also addresses is that it doesn’t matter whether the intended app is running: want to “switch” to Mail, for example? Cmd-Spacebar, “m”, RETURN. Done.

P.S.: Is that app pricey? Yup, a bit. Is it worth it? A thousand times over. :slight_smile:

1 Like