Mac Windows Management

I know the topic of Mac windows management apps has been discussed repeatedly on this site. I know there are some very good ones, and I use a few myself. While these do a good job of snapping Mac windows to different locations, they don’t (to my understanding) do much to change the functionality of windows on the Mac. For example, one feature I really liked on MS Windows PCs is that when you clicked on an application icon in the dock, you could cycle through open windows for that application. That seemed pretty intuitive for me. That doesn’t happen on a Mac. Things seem to get even stranger when you have multiple monitors with multiple windows of a single application open across them. Clicking on the application icon in the dock brings all of those windows to the front (regardless of which monitor dock I clicked on). Using spaces and full-screen applications makes things even more complicated.

On top of all of that, Mission Control, Expose, Spaces, and now Stage Manager all seem very clunky. Full-screen mode changes the behavior of many applications (such as how new email windows are managed in Microsoft Outlook, for example).

My question is how people navigate all of this. Do you use Spaces? Do you just alt-Tab between applications? Do you primarily work in full-screen mode for all of your applications and swipe left and right to move between workspaces? Do you mainly just have single windows open within each application and not have to worry about this much in your workflow?

The feature I liked best about Windows is hovering over dock icons and seeing little thumbnails of the open windows. I think if MacOS had that feature I would be satisfied. I know there are some add-on applications that do that, but I don’t like using third-party apps to change fundamental operating functionality of the OS (although it’s probably debatable that some of the windows management apps I use like Better Touch Tool already cross that line).

I’d be really interested in hearing how people manage all of these tools as part of their workflow.

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IIRC there is third-party software that can do this, sorry I can’t be more specific.

I agree. I use Spaces occasionally but none of the others.

That’s what I do.

Personally I hardly ever use full-screen. But then I’m kind of a dinosaur.

That depends on the application. There are some that are practically unusable with only a single window.

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I use one Space for each project (on my main screen).
Within that Space, I either Hide or Minimise apps so I can focus, then unhide/unminimize if I want to do things on another app.

For common apps like Messages, WhatsApp, Slack or MPU forum, for example, I put all these into an external display so I can always glance at them.

I also group Safari by tab group - one tab group per one Safari window - e.g. Entertainment group will have Netflix, Disney+ and YouTube. News tab group. Forum tab group, Social - I minimise them when I don’t need them, so I can still have a small thumbnails on the dock.

That’s why I minimise them.

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Check out witch or contexts.

I just alt-tab, but I use Keyboard Maestro switcher. I also have a couple of hot keys on KM that put a window into half screen or less, right and left, I use that quite rarely, mostly if I have to drag and drop from mail into DEVONthink 3 now. I have no dedicated apps; I find Keyboard Maestro and DEVONthink 3 do everything I need.
I use the ‘workspaces’ function on DEVONthink 3 a LOT from keyboard shortcuts they have. I find it very useful and recommend it heavily. It will, though I don’t use it much now, hold a workspace set on full screen. I do have a separate desktop space, only recently introduced, dedicated to my writing apps. I control + move right to get there, or alt + tab. I am not using it much really and alt + tab would do what I need.
The full screen in a new space that mac now does is useful though I think?


A similar thing can be done in macOS, natively, by either using Ctrl+down arrow or by force-clicking in the trackpad on the dock icon of the app.

It’s a shame native expose doesn’t allow for keyboard selection of the window, but this same-app version will allow to using the arrow keys and hitting enter to bring the window to the front.

Another way to trigger this natively is to use cmd+tab, move to the desired app by pressing tab and, then, hitting the down arrow.

Sparingly. I will create a new space only when I need to keep some windows as a fixed set, such as in a video call with a presentation deck, chat window and the video call. Most times, I just keep the windows in the same space and alt-tab my way through them (more on that bellow).

Stage manager would be something really helpful for this as it basically creates a “new space” for each app. However it doesn’t allow for using the keyboard for quickly adding a window to an existing set , nor moving windows between sets of even tearing a new window from an app from a set to create a new one. All these movements are feasible with spaces + swish (also, more on that bellow).

Most times I’ll just alt-tab my way through open windows. It’s far better than using built-in cmd+tab and you can even configure keyboard shortcuts to quit, close window, minimize or hide apps from there.

I usually have more than one window of a Word document of browser open. So I prefer switching windows instead of apps. For that, alt-tab is second to none and it even allow to the creation of a specific shortcut for limiting only to windows of the current app, of the active monitor, the current space, etc. I know you said you prefer using the native tools, but, seriously, have a look at this.

Arranging windows on a space (or stage manager set) is done through keyboard shortcuts in Swish. While this app is built with the trackpad in mind, its keyboard shortcut logic is awesome: I’ve set mine to activate by holding fn and pressing IJKL.

So if I want a window to go left half, I hold fn and then press L, to move it to the left-upmost quarter will be fn+I+L, fully maximize will be fn+I. Further movements (between spaces, monitors or using thirds instead of halves), can be done by holding additional modifiers, so as fn+shift will move and resize with a 3x2 grid instead of the 2x2 default, fn+cmd will move a window to a space right (J) of left (L), and fn+control+J or fn+control+L will move it to the monitor left or right.

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I may be missing something here, but there is a built-in shortcut for cycling through application windows. The shortcut is cmd-backtick – use it to cycle through every open window of the front application. That one was there when I first started using Macs in 2004…

Another method is to use Ctl-down (or three-finder swipe down): this shows you a thumbnail of an application’s open windows – I think this is the method Windows adopted, but I don’t know which came first.

If you want to see all the windows of every open application, ctrl-up – if you turn on ‘Group Windows’ in System Preferences > Desktop & Dock > Mission Control, you’ll see the windows of each application, well, grouped together!

Otherwise, you can right-click on the icon in the Dock and see the open windows there.

Apologies if I’ve misunderstood what you’re after.


The only thing about App Expose (i.e. ctrl -down, or in my case, 3-finger swipe down) is that it works on the current app that is active, or in the front. If I 3-finger swipe down on a visible app but in the background, it will show App Expose on active app. After all these years, it has been a habit of tap to make an app active and swipe down to see all open windows but it would be nice to be able to do it at the current mouse position, regardless of whether it is active app or not (save one tap effort).

I use Almighty app for the feature (among many others it has) of showing the app windows when hovering over the dock icon.

Exposé is something I love, Mission Control I don’t use that much but Spaces I use all the time because it groups my apps on different screens.

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My personal take on this: Apple has thrown such a lot of features that are not obvious that I have declared window management bankruptcy. That aspect and the fact that I need huge typefaces for my poor eyesight make me use just maximised windows (not full-screen) using a Better Touch Tool shortcut and then swapping between them. I don’t even see the desktop most of the time and sparingly put a couple of windows side by side (also with BTT shortcuts) but that’s it.

Does Almighty app shows a thumbnail of all the Safari tabs too? I’ve always wondered if someone will build an app for this. App Expose does not do that, sadly.

No, only previews of the windows. So not the tabs separately of those windows.

Yes, what I am getting at is clicking multiple times on the dock icon brings up different windows. cmd-~ doesn’t seem to work any more in Sonoma. It works sometimes, then seems to stop working. I thought this would be fixed in updates as a bug, but maybe this is a new feature?

It would be nice if the right click would show a thumbnail of the window. As I see it, I only get a text description of the window, which is not always informative.

I’ve never noticed a bug with switch windows in any version of Sonoma and I use the shortcut hundreds of times a day – no idea why it’s not working for you, sorry. BTW, it’s cmd-`, not cmd-~ (I don’t know if that was a typo). You could try changing the shortcut in System Preferences in Move Focus to Next Window to see if that works better.

I’ve also noticed no irregularity with the dock icon when I test it (I don’t use the Dock all that much because it means using the mouse when there’s no need). It always brings up the current front window with a single click and gives you options with a right- or long-click.

If you want to see open windows as thumbnails, then instead of cmd-backtick, you could try Ctl-down which gives you this sort of display:

It’s not exactly like for like with Windows, of course, but I don’t know of any third party app which does that either.