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I realize that the solution is probably "use Spaces". I find that after 10+ years of experience using Windows, the habit of segmenting the windows into different "task areas" is a bit difficult to get used to.

I was hoping that there could be an easy way to subtly tweak the behavior of Cmd+Tab: Only bring into focus the last used window of the app that I am switching to. For instance I usually have a large number of Terminal or iTerm windows open in which I do a large number of various types of tasks, and then there are the other apps that I have many windows open in, such as the web browser. Here's a screencap of Expose right now:

enter image description here

As you can see I've been dumping all my work in the first space. This is actually a lot cleaner than it usually is, right now there are just 2 terminal windows, the rest of the grey windows are Sublime Text windows, which this issue also crops up with as well, as it is pretty cumbersome to be moving around all of those windows too, and I am often touching 3 or more projects at a time (each of which I try to constrain to its own window). I already have 3 Sublime windows minimized to the Dock, the reason that I did that was to alleviate this issue, where switching back to the app would cover the whole screen.

The usual case is Cmd+Tab to switch back and forth to see a description of something to enter into the terminal. Unfortunately this is often encumbered by me arranging both the terminal windows and the browser windows in such a way that Cmd+Tabbing to each app will cover the entire screen. Thereby not making it easy for me to see the contents of one app while using another, without manually re-focusing the individual windows using the mouse.

It's pretty obvious that desired behavior here is not obvious and e.g. if I was using an image editing app I'd certainly want all my toolbox windows to become visible when I tab back into that app. So this is probably something that I don't even want to "switch on globally".

So maybe there is a tweak out there that can customize this. Or even a feature in the iTerm terminal emulator that can change how it shows itself when tabbed to.

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    I find this to be one of the more annoying things about Mac OS X. cmd+~ lets me switch between the windows within an app so I don't know why cmd+tab brings all of those windows on top of the app I'm trying to keep in the background for ref, e.g. a code snippet from a web page. I would like to switch between the topmost window from one app to the topmost window of a different app - dare I say - to be more "Windows-like". Surely the two OSes need to do things differently that set them apart but time after time, this behavior quickly destroys my workflow. A pref setting would be ideal! Commented May 17, 2016 at 19:49
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    It would be perfect IMO if it would do as you describe, a mixture of the behavior of OSX and Windows, Cmd+Tab should switch between most recent apps, but only focus the last focused window of that app! When you need to swap within the same app Cmd+~ is there for you. Oh well
    – Steven Lu
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 21:28
  • This issue is further complicated by the app sub-window focusing behavior when multiple monitors are in play in OS X. Witch saves the day, but it feels kind of sluggish.
    – Steven Lu
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 19:25

3 Answers 3

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I think Witch comes pretty damn close to giving me the level of control that I want, and then with even more nice stuff on top.

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  • Would you include some more details on how to do that in Witch, please? I could not find this option, unfortunately Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 16:20
  • Great app in theory, so many bugs. One of which caused hours of debugging with intellij Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 18:46
  • Thanks for the comments. I have not tried this app recently :(
    – Steven Lu
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 17:15
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I'm currently using AltTab, which not only is open-source but also active in updates. https://alt-tab-macos.netlify.app/

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Feb 22 at 15:13
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The HyperSwitch tool integrates into the system cmd+tab widget. Gives you opt+tab to do exactly what I wrote about in OP.

I use this now.

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    I cannot use HyperSwitch when using a multi monitor setup in OS X. Here's what happens: when you have the same app with multiple windows open in multiple screens, when you switch apps, the window which is on the SAME screen gets focused. This is counter to usual productivity patterns where you would position the two recently used windows from two different apps on different screens so you can see both of them simultaneously. In conclusion, going back to Witch because its switching supports this.
    – Steven Lu
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 19:23

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