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I'm a Windows user who has to use a Mac for my job. My biggest frustration with the Mac is that I can't switch between multiple instances of multiple program easily. I have to keep a little bit of every window visible at all times so I can click on it to switch to that window.

Is there a way to easily switch between multiple instances of multiple programs on a Mac? On Windows, every instance of every program is in the taskbar, so I can just click on that instance to switch to that instance. I can also alt-tab to switch between windows easily.

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  • Not entirely sure what you mean by multiple instances of the same program. Do you mean things like separate windows of the same browser or, multiple text files open in the same program? If so, you can right-click the application's icon in the dock to display a menu that lists all of the different files open in the program. Clicking the name brings it foremost.
    – user158589
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 22:11
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    For example, I often have several Chrome windows and several Sublime windows open. I switch between them a lot, so I make sure a little piece of each window is visible at all times. This way, I can switch to the specific Chrome or Sublime window that I want. Right clicking is an extra click, so my current approach is more efficient.
    – Leo Jiang
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 22:26
  • There's a very recent and similar post about this topic. apple.stackexchange.com/questions/219157/…
    – user158589
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 0:02

3 Answers 3

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There are easier ways to switch windows/apps than using the Dock. Most native, is by using the Mission Control. You can activate Mission Control several ways, on laptops it's usually F3 (without the Fn key), from Trackpad/Keyboard (check preferences) then select which app and window you want. You can also group windows by app: Mission Control > check "Group windows by application." Use two-finger scroll to zoom-in on specific app when grouped.

Couple useful shortcuts:

  • ⌘+Tab: Switch between apps, use w/ Shift(⇧) to go in other directions.
  • ⌘+`: Switch between windows of current app, use w/ Shift(⇧) to go in other directions.

Check out Keyboard Preference Pane for other shortcuts, or customise any.

You should use spaces, if you already aren't, this will help you sort out apps and create a better workflow.

EDIT: I forgot to answer your big question. To have multiple icons for each window, though it's not recommended; it'll mess up the mission controls and confuse you, you'd have to do it through Terminal: open -n -a Google\ Chrome; -n for new instance, -a specifies the name of app. You can also supply files after that so it'll open those files with the default or app supplied. Do man open to read more about it.

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  • ⌘+` is not working as expected. I opened 3 chrome windows (not tabs) and tried. I was expecting to switch between the windows of same application. :(
    – Thupten
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 19:58
  • @Thupten that's what I expected. It's for windows not instances. Use Cmd+Tab for that.
    – user14492
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 13:51
  • With the open -n option, a new icon appears on the dock, but on clicking it just opens the last open window of Chrome, and not the ones associated with the individual icons. Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 13:28
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Ok I'm a bit late for this, but in case anyone comes up with the same issue here's the solution:

Right click on the Dock, select "Dock Preferences", and from there, uncheck the box that says "Minimize windows over the icon of the application". That will make that every instance of an app have its dedicated icon on the right side of the Dock (to the left of the Trash App icon). You can even click and drag each instance to reorder it at will.

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    THANK YOU! I knew I used it in the past. I just couldn't find it
    – R...
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 18:31
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Apple has very intentionally designed against the idiom of having a task bar.

I would try enabling three finger swipe down (a.k.a. App Exposé) which lets the standard have Mission Control interface show you only the windows of the application or experiment with making specific browser windows full screen or set up several virtual desktops to segment your work.

Since there is no general way to enable this on OS X, you can look for lots of third party solutions to add a task bar functionality to the OS. I've always preferred the Mac way, but there are times when windows has a better workflow even for me - so I get your point and wish to not have to change the way you feel is best for you to work.

Since I don't have a silver bullet - if your windows are web browsers, you could get an app like fluid to make each web site look like a separate app, but you're still working in the dock / mission control / multiple window idiom and not the windows task bar idiom - so that might be like the proverbial "putting lipstick on a chicken"

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