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How to Switch Among Applications with Mac OS X Snow Leopard

You might think that juggling multiple Mac applications will lead to confusion, but luckily, Mac OS X Snow Leopard makes it easy to jump between programs that are running on your Mac. Use any of these methods to move among open applications:

  • Click anywhere in the desired window to make it the active window.

  • Click the application icon on the Dock. All applications that are running have an icon on the Dock, and the icon will have a shiny dot beneath it to indicate that the application is open.

  • Press Command+Tab. If you have a dozen windows open, this can get a bit tedious, which leads you to one of Snow Leopard’s sassiest features, brazenly named Exposé.

    Exotic Exposé displays thumbnails on all open windows in your current desktop.
    Exotic Exposé displays thumbnails on all open windows in your current desktop.
  • Press F9 (or F3, depending on your keyboard) to show all open application windows using Exposé; then click the one you want. The cursor changes into the gloved hand. Move the cursor on top of the window you want to activate — the window turns blue when it’s selected — and click once to switch to that window. You can specify which keys you want to use to control Exposé within System Preferences.

  • Press F10 (or Control+F3, depending on your keyboard) to show all open windows from the application that you’re currently using; then click the one that you want to activate.

Besides the F9/F3 and F10/Control+F3 hot keys, Exposé provides one more nifty function: Press F11 (or Command+F3), and all your open windows scurry to the side of the screen. Now you can work with drives, files, and aliases on your Desktop, and when you’re ready to confront those dozen application windows again, just press the keyboard shortcut a second time.

Ah, but what if you want to switch to an entirely different set of applications? For example, let’s suppose that you’re designing a magazine cover with Pages. Your page design desktop also includes Photoshop and Aperture, which you switch between often. Suddenly, however, you realize you need to schedule a meeting with others in your office using iCal, and you want to check your e-mail in Apple Mail.

Well, you could certainly launch those two applications on top of your graphics applications, and then minimize or close them . . . but with Snow Leopard’s Spaces feature, you can press Control+left arrow or Control+right arrow to switch to a completely different “communications” desktop, with iCal and Apple Mail windows already open and in your favorite positions!

Switch between multiple desktops with Spaces
Switch between multiple desktops with Spaces

After you’re done setting up your meeting and answering any important e-mail, simply press Control+left arrow or Control+right arrow again to switch back to your “graphics” desktop, where all your work is exactly as you left it!

In contrast to Exposé, Spaces has to be enabled and configured within System Preferences before you can use it. You can create new desktops, customize your desktops, and even choose a different set of key sequences to activate Spaces.

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