Overlapping vs. fully maximized windows on Mac?

Discussion of multitasking and windowing on an episode of another podcast has me wondering how unusual my use of windows is.

I never use overlapping windows on the Mac, and always have windows taking up the full extent of the screen. I usually have only one window open at a time, maximized to the full size of the screen. Often I will have two applications open, side-by-side, each taking up half of the screen. How about you?

  • I often use partial-screen and overlapping windows
  • I never have overlapping windows, and use every pixel on the screen

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I feel there should be an “I use overlapping windows but also cover every pixel on the screen” option. I tend to have 5 virtual desktops, each with 3 or 4 windows that overlap each other to cover the whole screen.


For me it’s preferably full screen apps, but I will do the overlapping thing if I do a lot of drag&drop or many little things.


I think there’s a factor that plays a major role in this that isn’t being mentioned.

I use an M1 MacBook Air, but for all intents and purposes, I never use it with its “internal” monitor (which I suspect was what the OP was getting at in the question). I carry the MBA between the office and home, and I have 23" monitors in both places. This gives me the ability to have multiple windows that are a decent size, and I don’t need to overlap windows. I use Moom to resize windows, and it gives me the ability to have multiple windows in different configurations when I need them by hovering over the green maximize button on the window.

My most used multiple windows configuration by far is a simple left half/right half. I use this extensively when I’m watching a how-to video (e.g., ScreenCastsOnline) on one side and working with the app on the other. It’s also handy when I’m writing on one side and referencing on the other.

I’ve used external monitors for years, either with MacBooks or Mac Minis. When I bought the M1 MBA, I never bought it for the “internal” monitor, so there was no need to go big. The 13" is perfect for me, and it travels very well.


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I have a system, which is best described as… I have no system.

The windows fall where they may. About the only thing I consistently do is zoom the window to fill my screen when processing photos.


Same here. I have a MBA and “occasionally” use multiple windows (Finder, Terminal, etc). Normally I run apps full screen in separate spaces.

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When I am browsing and doing research on any topic, I generally use overlapping windows. I use full-screen apps only when I want to focus on a single thing.


I think the answers could be related to the size of the monitor, eg. On small laptop screens, fully maximized windows may be used more often. The opposite is true, I think it is quite rare to use a maximized windows (full screen) on a 34" or 49" monitor.

On laptop, I do not normally use maximized window but 90% width of one app overlapping another 90% width that is achored to the opposite side of the monitor. With this arrangement, I am swap between two screens very quickly


True, at least in my case. I have a 13” laptop and 11” iPad Pro and normally use them much the same way, swiping between full screen apps.

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Maximized windows most of the time, but almost never full screen mode. Sometimes two windows side by side (equal width, via KM, but never any official split screen mode). Terminal and a few other apps, I just let windows open wherever and move them wherever, overlapping is fine.


Same here.

Thanks to Keyboard Maestro, I generally have several windows open and have a special key that takes whatever frontmost window is active and postitions it perfectly about 85% size in my main screen - leaving room so I can easily get to things behind it if needed.

I jump around a lot so I gave up on the neat and tidy window management stuff in favor of productivity.

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Federico Viticci was talking about this very subject on the latest MPU episode. I didn’t even realize there are folks who don’t like overlapping windows. I guess if you come from an iPad where it isn’t even possible (isn’t slide over an overlapping window?), you might prefer that style. But it seems weird that the complaint about multitasking on iPad is you can only have 2 windows at a time. Overlapping windows allows you to have unlimited numbers of apps running all together! Isn’t that a good tradeoff? You get to run as many apps as you want in exchange for some overlapping windows. Don’t want overlapping windows? Use the macOS snap to right or left feature.


Not sure how to answer. I never have overlapping windows, but I practically always use partial-screen (about 85 percent screen width) windows. They’re just always the exact same size and in the exact same position, so I can only ever see one.

Why, though? Why have that empty pictureframe of desktop around your windows?

@jcarucci Yes, I started this topic last night before listening to yesterday’s MPU episode. I listened to that this morning.

And the “another podcast” I referenced in my original message was the AppStories podcast, which Federico hosts with John Voorhees.

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It’s not a picture frame — more of a single narrow vertical band, so I can see if there are any files on the desktop. If there are, I’m not finished working. Making it empty is the very point.


I kind of go with what the content wants. if it’s a web page, it’s full screen. If it’s my task manager, it’s full height but half width. If it’s a little note, it’s a little window.

That said, by full screen I don’t mean the full screen feature. I abhor the delay, the animation distractions, and the difficulty of switching windows in full screen mode. For me full screen is zoomed in to max, but still having my dock, and Mission Control / Show Desktop hot corners.


I am reminded of the days, back at the end of last century, when 14" CRTs were the norm and some people managed to score the coveted 17" ones. The day I walked past one such person and saw them running it in 640x480 resolution I cried. This person did not wear glasses and seemed to have no trouble reading A4 pages full of text on their desk. Maybe they had a reason but I could not figure it out.


I fit my windows to the content. They’re as large as they need to be for what I’m doing. Also, I can drag items from a window to the Desktop.

I guess I view the Desktop kind of like the top of desk. I don’t buy desk-sized paper, or half-desk sized paper. And I stack papers on top of other paper, too.


I use apps like Drafts and Finder across all my workspaces and screens, so I always keep them small, so I can move them to the place I need them and have them pop up where I need them.

Aside from that, I use most other apps in full screen or half screen but never maximized.

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My normal screen has 3 finder windows carefully arranged so they are in the same physical location and size all the time, one is downloads, one is my current working directory and one is dropbox. Then I have windows for the 5 apps that are always on, each set up in a tiered scheme so the upper left corner is visible and I can pop it to the top easily. They are safari, calendar, mail, omnifocusand obsidian . DEVONThink is on a windows to the lower right with an edge showing behind the downloads window.(although that is slowly going away). I’m on a 21 inch iMac.

I do have an external monitor, a small 18 inch Dell one that is ancient. It’s located to my right. I typically move reference material there, for example when I’m running PyCharm or Android Studio for AnimalTrakker development I will often move the Safari window to the external monitor so I can search for stuff there, or I run my SQLite database inspection tools there, sometimes I have the manuals or other info over there.
To the left of my iMac I have my MacBook Air connected to another even smaller old Dell external monitor. I do LambTracker development on it.
I separate my development environments to be sure I don’t mess the code up. The system change is also a signal to me to work in a different environment.

The one interesting shared use is when I do my morning journal in Obsidian I have the window with both yesterday’s Journal entry and todays posiitoned so yesterday is on the external monitor to my right and today is on my iMac and I have the calendar underneath so I can see what I was doing at each point in time. I use the sliding panes plugin and I hide the sidebars when I am journaling.

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