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afloat macI have to admit: I love large screens. I envy anyone working on 30″ Cinema Displays, opening several Safari windows and arranging them so that everything is laid out before them.

Everyone knows that large screen-estate enhances productivity, it’s not a myth. With that said, browsing and working on my 13″ MacBook isn’t a bed of roses.

It’s hardest when I have to work with multiple documents because it gets extremely difficult to view everything at a glance, especially if I have to cram them onto my tiny screen.

I’m only an indigent student so getting a larger external display isn’t an option, unless you’re offering to donate one. Up until a few days ago, Spaces was kind of the only method I knew of to pseudo-increase my screen-estate. Then I bumped into Afloat and was surprisingly pleased.

Afloat doesn’t do anything to increase the number of desktops I have or affect the amount of screen space either. No, it does something slightly different although amazingly intelligent – it changes the way we manage our application windows. By allowing a combination of transparency, pinning windows on top or on the desktop and making them act as an overlay; it has helped me to overcome some of the major issues I had to deal with.

afloat mac os x

Before I go any further, I have to elaborate that Afloat will only work with Cocoa applications in Leopard. Unfortunately, Carbon applications like iTunes and Finder aren’t getting any love. However, this may all change when Snow Leopard is released since it is purported to be fully-Cocoa.

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If you’re going “Huh?” at the terms ‘Cocoa’ and ‘Carbon’, don’t fret. I was once in your position, regular users like us probably don’t realize that there are several different frameworks crunching their gears behind the scenes of OS X. To learn more, check out this article from Macworld on Carbon versus Cocoa.

afloat mac download

Now back to the subject.  Afloat adds the ability to make application windows transparent so that you can see through it into the window below. It may not sound like much but on a small screen, it does wonders. Imagine yourself trying to type out some text from a photo (a snapshot from a Powerpoint slide, for example) and you have to constantly switch from image viewer to the text editor. By setting the image editor as an overlay (Overlay is a feature whereby the application window is set to appear transparent, is always on top and isn’t affected by clicks), you can now place the image viewer directly over the text editor and type away.

afloat review

Like I mentioned earlier, Afloat can keep certain application windows above all others. This can be useful when you’re trying to keep track of something, making the application viewable at all times even when you switch between several other programs. There is no way to do this natively in OS X.

afloat

Afloat can also pin your application window to the desktop so that it appears beneath the desktop icons and all other opened windows. This is useful when you want to… be able to pin a window to the desktop? Using Exposé to Show Desktop will actually reveal any window which is pinned there. The only problem occurs when clicking on desktop icons: the clicks actually fall through to the application window below, if there is one. So slight arrangements are necessary to make this work properly.

Overall, Afloat has made life easier for me in cases when I had multiple applications opened and needed to refer to several of them at once. But then again, I wouldn’t be having this problem if I could afford a larger screen. If only.

Like always, Afloat is free and was developed by a µISV called infinitelabs. So if you like the program, donations are greatly appreciated.

  1. Christopher
    October 17, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Hello, I am running Snow Leopard on my MacBook unibody. I downloaded Afloat and installed it without paying attention to the fact it was not compatible. It did not work of course. But then yesterday I installed a program called SIMBL 0.9.7 for some other mods I was doing, and all of a sudden after restart Afloat appeared in my window menus. Works great under 10.6.1, just cant wait for the option to save the transparency preferences!

  2. Apple
    August 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I just installed Snow Leopard and I'm dying without Afloat.

    Will there be a new updated version soon?

  3. Maisy
    December 18, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    WORST PROGRAM EVER!!!

    TERMINAL, PREVIEW AND SEVERAL OTHER PROGRAMS KEPT CRASHING AFTER INSTALLING AFLOAT

    HAD ME WORRIED AS THERE WAS NO UNINSTALLER AND THE PROGRAM WAS NOT KEPT IN THE APPLICATIONS FOLDER

    THIS SHOULD BE LABELED A BETA OR EVEN ALPHA SOFTWARE

    USERS BEWARE!!!

    • Jackson Chung
      December 18, 2008 at 11:52 pm

      I'm sorry if you found this the "worst program ever". Any chance you might be running anything other than Leopard?

      Afloat is a SIMBL plugin, so if you need to "uninstall" it, just go over to /Users/(your username)/Library/Application Support/SIMBL/Plugins and remove Afloat.bundle

      Or you could just do it in System Preferences if you install Plugsuit.

      Just a quick note to our readers, I've been using Afloat since the first day I tested it and everything's been fine. So, I'm sorry you didn't share the same experience, Maisy.

    • millenomi
      December 19, 2008 at 2:52 am

      I'm genuinely sorry this has occurred to you. I'm quite surprised you didn't ask for help, though.

      This is a rare bug occurring after system updates that I cannot reproduce nor avoid. The cure is reinstalling the latest combo update from apple.com/downloads.

      Afloat's installer includes a Remove button to uninstall it.

  4. Kevin
    December 13, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Very cool, but sadly I'm a Windows user. So I did some hunting, and found a cool 2000/XP program called Glass2k. Glass2k allows for keyboard short cuts for transparency (Alt+1 for 10%, Alt+2 for 20%, etc.), can save the transparency preference for when you open it back up, and can make windows always on top. Unlike Afloat, you there's no overlay (can't set window to be unaffected by clicks). you can even change the taskbar opacity (although it seems unnecessary). It's in beta, and doesn't say that it's compatible with Vista, but you can try it out as the site is extremely outdated (pre-2001). Check it out:
    http://chime.tv/products/glass2k.shtml

  5. millenomi
    December 10, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for the review!

    Unfortunately, news I hear of Snow Leopard make me think it'll be a challenge to port Afloat to work on it :( I'll see what I can do, though.

    (Also: yes, preferences saving for window effects will be in Afloat 2.2, whenever it happens.)

    • Alex
      August 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm

      Talking of which, when will a Snow Leopard compatible build of Afloat be released (if at all)?

      I hope a compatible build is released soon, I can't imagine using my Mac without it ...

  6. Mackenzie
    December 10, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Hey...that covers one of my complaints about Aqua being crappy window manager. Weird that you have to add software to do what should be built-in, though... OSX might actually be almost usable with this! Cool!

  7. Vincent Chow
    December 10, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Anything similar for Windows Vista?

    • Jackson Chung
      December 10, 2008 at 1:41 pm

      Not sure. Is there? Maybe one of the MUO Windows Geniuses can answer that for you.

      • Kevin
        December 11, 2008 at 2:43 am

        You are an excellent writer. May I have a talk with you? MSN&Google Talk:kevin@brothersoft.com. Looking forward your reply. Thank you!

        • Jackson Chung
          December 11, 2008 at 7:31 am

          Thank you and that's an unusual request... What is this regarding? You may contact me via jackson@makeuseof.com

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