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Switching between Programs on Your MacBook

You might think that juggling multiple applications on your MacBook will lead to confusion, fatigue, and dry mouth, but luckily Mac OS X includes a number of features that make it easy to jump between running programs. Use any of these methods to jump from open application to application:

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

  • Click the application icon in the Dock. All applications that are running have an icon in the Dock. Depending on the Dock settings in System Preferences, the icon may also 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 Lion’s sassiest features, Mission Control.

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  • Press F9 (or F3, depending on your keyboard) to show all open windows using Mission Control, grouped by application; then click the one you want. 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 within the Mission Control pane in 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. This Mission Control function is great for choosing from all the images that you’ve opened in Photoshop or all the Safari web pages littering your Desktop!

Along with the window switch, an astute observer will notice that the application menu bar also changes to match the now-active application.

Besides the F9/F3 and F10/Control+F3 hot keys, Mission Control provides one more nifty function: Press F11 (or Command+F3), and all your open windows scurry to the side of the screen. (Much like a herd of zebras if you dropped a lioness in the middle.)

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.

Although the Mission Control screen appears automatically when necessary, you can also launch it at any time from your MacBook’s Launchpad display, or by pressing the Mission Control/F9 key on your keyboard. From the trackpad, display the Mission Control screen by swiping up with three fingers.

Ah, but what if you want to switch to an entirely different set of applications? For example, suppose that you’re slaving away at your pixel-pushing job — designing a magazine cover with Pages. Your page design desktop also includes Photoshop and Aperture, which you switch between.

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. What to do?

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

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! (And yes, Virginia, Spaces does indeed work with full-screen applications.)

Now imagine that you’ve also created a custom “music” desktop for GarageBand and iTunes . . . or perhaps you paired iWeb, MobileMe, and iPhoto together as a “Webmaster” desktop. See why everyone’s so excited? (Let’s see Windows 7 do that out of the box.)

To create a new desktop for use within Spaces, click the Launchpad icon in the Dock and then click the Mission Control icon. Now you can set up new Spaces desktops. Move your pointer to the top-right corner of the Mission Control screen and click the Add button (with the plus sign) that appears.

(If you’ve relocated your Dock to the right side of the screen, the Add button shows up in the upper left corner instead.) Spaces creates a new, empty, desktop thumbnail.

Switch to the new desktop by clicking the thumbnail at the top of the Mission Control screen and open those applications you want to include. (Alternatively, you can drag the applications from Mission Control onto the desired desktop thumbnail.) That’s all there is to it!

To switch an application window between Spaces desktops, drag the window to the edge of the desktop and hold it there. Spaces will automatically move the window to the next desktop. (Applications can also be dragged between desktops within the Mission Control screen.)

You can also delete a desktop from the Mission Control screen by hovering your mouse pointer over the offending Spaces thumbnail and then clicking the Delete button (with the X) that appears.

You can jump directly to a specific Spaces desktop by clicking its thumbnail within your Mission Control screen — or you can also hold down the Control key and press the number corresponding to that desktop. Finally, you can always use the Control+Left Arrow or Control+Right Arrow shortcuts to move between desktops and full-screen applications.

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