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Look at your desktop and count how many windows and tabs are open. I bet there are many. We are getting so used to opening many windows at one time that it’s hard to even imagine running a computer with only one window open.

I too work with many windows opened at one time: mail, browsers and its tabs, text editor, media player, you get the picture. Most of the time I have to get the information from one window and use it on another. This method of working requires my agility to switch back and forth between windows and tabs, and also my wisdom to find the information among the clutters.

My best friends during the time of trouble with Mac window management are Alt + Tab (to switch windows), Exposé’s F3 (to show all opened windows) and Control + F3 (to show all opened windows within one application). Sometimes, I use Spaces to separate the “working” windows and the “entertainment” windows to unclutter the workspace a little.

Afloat – take two

Then I stumbled upon Jackson’s old article about Afloat Improve Window-Management in OS X with Afloat [Mac] Improve Window-Management in OS X with Afloat [Mac] Read More and it really helped me with Mac windows management. But almost a year has past since that article was published and Afloat has been updated with a new Snow Leopard-compatible version and several new features.

So I thought it would be nice to have another look at this app from a slightly different perspective.

We’ll start with the installation. Unlike common Mac apps that only need to be dragged and dropped to work, Afloat needs SIMBL before it could be put into action.

After the installation, you need to restart any opened applications to be able to use Afloat. The app will add new menus under Window menu in any Cocoa application. Here are two pictures comparing the Window menu before and after the installation of Afloat.

It’s also been said that Afloat will not work with Carbon apps like Finder and iTunes. But I tried restarting Finder using Command + Alt + Esc and the new menus appear.

Maybe it’s because I use Snow Leopard. After I’ve searched a little bit on the net, I found out that according to Snow Leopard technology page:

All system applications except DVD Player, Front Row, Grapher, and iTunes have been rewritten in 64-bit.

Translation: there are not many Carbon apps left (Cocoa apps are 64-bit) and that Afloat will work for almost all the main applications. I don’t know about third party software yet since I haven’t explore too many applications after installing Afloat.

Now let’s see how this app could help us in solving our Mac window management problems.

The Seven Steps

First problem: working with several windows.

Solution: Instead of flipping through the windows, you could just put the source window always above others.

There are few steps to do to achieve this without disturbing the workspace.

  1. First, go to the source window and hit “Command + Control + A” to keep the window always floating above.
  2. Then hit “Control + Command + 1” to make the window transparent.

    Note: Control the transparency level by using “Command + Control + Page Up/Down” or “Command + Control + Two finger scroll on the multi touch trackpad”. Restore the window to the non-transparent state (opaque) by hitting “Command + Control + 0”.

  3. You could also use Overlay command (from Window –> Adjust Effect menu or Command + Control + F) to make the source window transparent, floating above other windows, and unaffected by mouse click or keyboard input. Look at number 2 in the picture.

    This “Adjust Effect” window will also give you access to set the window position (number 1), and the transparency level (number 4) as discussed above.

Second problem: the window we need is located in a different Space from the window we use.

Solution: Instead of turning off Spaces or moving the needed window around Spaces, you could keep the window on all Spaces, by checkin the option as shown in the picture above (number 3).

Third problem: it’s difficult to work with a transparent window.
Solution: Instead of turning the transparency effect on and off, you could just make it opaque when active by giving checkmark to the number 5 option in the picture above.

Fourth problem: the size and/or the position of the window is not right.

Solution: you could just resize and/or drag the position of the window, but you could do it easier by performing Quick Resize using Command + Control key while click and drag using the right mouse button anywhere in the window. You could also do a Quick Drag using Command + Control and left mouse button.

Normally, resizing the window require you to click and drag a specific point at the bottom right of the window, and moving the window could be done only by clicking and dragging the title bar of the window.

Fifth problem: you don’t know the location of the file that you are currently working on.
Solution: You could try to do a “Save As” and then click cancel. That might work with some applications. But there is an easier way, using Float’s “Show Window’s file in finder” menu or using the “Command + Control + Up arrow”. This is by far my most favorite feature of Afloat because I often have to rummage through Finder to just email the document that I’ve just finished.

Have you tried Afloat? Do you know other tips on using Afloat? Share using the comments below.

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  1. Michael
    December 13, 2009 at 4:17 am

    I find it pointless that there's no support for iTunes. And i do understand that this is a coding issue or something. But after all this is the only reason i downloaded the program...
    If anyone knows a fix or a separate program like this that can deal with itunes let me know PLEASE. Just leave a comment here and ill here.

    Pretty cool program overall!!

    • mrbman92
      December 19, 2009 at 5:24 am

      You can set up iTunes to float windows in the iTunes preferences already. Or at least you can do this for video files and the "MiniPlayer". Just go to iTunes Preferences -> Advanced and choose the appropriate box setting.

      • Michael
        December 19, 2009 at 7:34 pm

        Ah yeah.. That's pretty good thanks, except i hate the mini player.

  2. lee
    November 5, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I really need this type of functionality. Afloat is good but it also frustrates me by not working with what I really need it to, which is Office for Mac and FF3. I wish these capabilities were built in to OS-X.

  3. AndyK
    November 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I really was expecting more from a JT than a re-run. I look forward to your Mac feeds. Jackson wrote an article a year back. I think we need newer articles not v2.00 :)

    I find it pointless because it doesnt work with iTunes, FF - because these are open most of the time for any user

  4. Nick
    November 5, 2009 at 10:43 am

    ...(Cocoa apps are 64-bit)...
    I wouldn´t say that. Cocoa Apps can be 32b-only aswell, its just that in Snow Leopard, most of the apps (excluding the ones listed in the Articel) have been rewritten using Cocoa and are therefore compatible with Afloat.