Take the 2-minute tour ×
Ask Different is a question and answer site for power users of Apple hardware and software. It's 100% free, no registration required.

By default, pressing +tab will display a list of all open applications. I would like that list to only include applications in the current space, or at least give priority to applications with windows in the current space. In other words, I'd like OSX to mimic the behavior of most X window managers with respect to their workspaces/virtual desktops.

Here's my rather long-winded explanation of why I want this:

I have disabled spaces' auto-switching, and I've mapped each space to a +space # shortcut. In general, I usually have one application open per space, maximized. Since I really only ever have a half-dozen or so applications open at any time, I can easily switch between them in constant time with my left hand. The problem is that I sometimes do have two or three windows from different applications open in the same space (e.g., I often have a PDF reader open in the same space as my web browser). Let's say I have a terminal open in Space 1 and both a web browser and Preview open in Space 2. If I am in the terminal and then decide I want to open a web page, I switch to Space 2, where the web browser has focus. I then want to consult a PDF that is open in Preview, which is in the same Space but whose window is behind the web browser. If I hit +tab, however, the first option will be to take me back to Terminal in Space 1 (since Terminal most recently had focus). In the worst case, I will have to cycle through all n open applications by repeatedly pressing +tab in order to get to Preview. I want the first hit to +tab to bring me to the next application with windows in the current space, i.e., Preview.

I know that using Exposé is the more "Apple" way of handling these situations, but I want to avoid having to reach for the mouse. I know I can also use the arrow keys to select a window in Exposé, but once again that breaks my mental model of the window layering, will institute a cognitive feedback loop in the selection, and will require worst case log(n) keystrokes. As far as I know, there is no constant-time way of switching to a specific application in the current workspace using only the keyboard.

share|improve this question
There are a couple of packages that offer enhancements/replacements for the built-in application switching. You might want to consider contacting the developers of one or more of these packages and let them know you would be interested in Spaces specific switching. –  David Rouse Dec 29 '10 at 16:34
I am familiar with (although I have never used) Witch; are there any others at which I should look? –  ESultanik Dec 29 '10 at 16:43
I've seen mentions of LiteSwitch and App Switcher, but I haven't used any of these. –  David Rouse Dec 29 '10 at 20:31
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

control+F4. Cycles through the applications in that Space.
(I actually have this mapped to control+`; which I find easier to remember, being close to the cmd+`; to cycle through an application's windows.)

To change the keyboard shortcut, go to the Keyboard preferences, Keyboard Shortcuts, and Keyboard & Text Input. It's the 'Move focus to active or next window' option.

(Edit to fix the keyboard shortcuts; I didn't realise that the backtick character wasn't showing up.)

share|improve this answer
I think must use CTRL+fn+F4. –  Am1rr3zA Feb 1 '11 at 8:04
@Am1rr3zA It depends on what kind of keyboard you have. –  ESultanik Feb 1 '11 at 16:44
Thanks; this is exactly what I want! How did you re-map it? I don't see it in the keyboard shortcuts list in System Preferences. If I were able to map this function to ⌘+tab, it would solve all of my problems. –  ESultanik Feb 1 '11 at 16:46
It's the 4th one down in Keyboard & Text Input. I'm not sure if you can remap CMD-TAB, but you could set it to ALT-CMD-TAB or whatever you like. (To do the actual remapping, click on the ^F4 in the keyboard shortcuts list. That section should turn editable and you can press whatever key combination you want to use.) –  Orc4hire Feb 1 '11 at 17:22
I just noticed that whatever shortcut you use, adding SHIFT will reverse the cycling order. I use CTRL-backtick so pressing CTRL-SHIFT-backtick will cycle through the windows in reverse order. –  Orc4hire Feb 1 '11 at 17:25
show 1 more comment

Pressing ⌃F4 will do what you're asking for, but you might get carpal tunnel in the process.

Just from reading your example, it sounds like you may actually be looking for ⌘⇧⇥, which cycles through applications in reverse order, thus cutting the number of times you press in half. Now, that may still not be a constant time solution, but I think you'll find that the result of ⌘⇥ is the application you want focus on 70% of the time, and ⌘⇧⇥ is the application you want focus on 28% of the time.

share|improve this answer
For me, ⌘⇥ is right about 50% of the time, and the other 50% is about log(1.5)ly split between the other apps. –  Sparr Jul 23 '12 at 16:51
add comment

You can try with Switché. They pretend that "Switché works great with Spaces and is able to display Space number badges". As I'm not using Spaces I cannot confirm nor infirm but it's worth the try.
See comments below.

share|improve this answer
Try it, but be aware switche has a really crappy demo. It has a popup asking you to buy every 3 or 4 times you switch windows. Drove me nuts in about 20 minutes and I uninstalled it. –  Robert S Ciaccio Dec 29 '10 at 19:30
Switché shows all open apps. It does not do what the OP requests. –  user588 Feb 1 '11 at 5:29
Hmm, I don't remember the numerous nag screens when I tested it some time ago. Doesn't deserve then to be publicized. I edited my answer. –  LudoMC Feb 1 '11 at 21:46
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.