How to Switch Between Open Apps in OS X

Switching Apps OS X

Without a taskbar, it can be difficult for ex-Windows users to discern which programs are open on a Mac and how to switch between them. Thankfully, Apple provides a number of keyboard shortcuts, gestures and visual indicators in OS X to help you out.

1. Use Command-Tab and Command-Shift-Tab to cycle forward and backward through your open applications. (This functionality is almost identical to Alt-Tab on PCs.)


2. Or, swipe up on the touchpad with three fingers to view the windows of open apps, allowing you to quickly switch between programs. This view is called Mission Control, which also has its own dedicated keyboard shortcut (F3).

Swipegesture 640x400

The windows are grouped according to application — for instance, Safari browser windows are grouped together with a Safari icon placed at the bottom. You can collapse the windows by swiping down on the clickpad with three fingers.

Finally, a tiny spotlight appears beneath open applications in the Dock. They are easy to miss if you’re new to Macs, but the spotlights let you see which applications are open at a glance.


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  1. xYike Says:

    “Use Command-Tab and Command-Shift-Tab to cycle forward and backward through your open applications.”

    That is similar but not the same to ALT-TAB on Windows OS. When I Command-Tab on Mac, I cannot get to my “other” Outlook or Firefox windows. If I am authoring and e-mail and need to get back to my main Outlook window? Command-Tab does not do it on the Mac.

    How do you switch windows of like applications? (ALT-TAB does this on Windows)

  2. Ayatby Says:

    I’m new to Macs, having just purchased a Macbook Air, but the swipe for Mission Control for me on Mavericks is four-fingers swiped up, not three. Three fingers are used for dragging windows or highlighting test, etc.

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