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  1. Is is possible to change the entire desktop environment of a Mac (12.2.1)?
  2. Are there any desktop environment alternatives available? (Xfce or unity-like would be nice)

My major concern is the default window management. It becomes very difficult to handle windows, when you have like 6 terminals, 6 Browsers and several code editor and several word instances. I'm searching for something Xfce or Windows7 like with every application being one button in a task-bar-like thing.

Constraints:

  • free / opensource is a nice to have
  • Should be easy to install
  • Should not break the system
  • Should be reversible
  • "Install Ubuntu" or "Use Windows" are no valid answers.
    • I'm bound to a mac with its native OS

Background:

Some further points that I seem to be too stupid to figure out how to work around on a mac

  • Clicking app icons throws me around in the virtual desktops
  • Choosing apps via command+tab does not open apps
  • Virtual desktops are getting reordered randomly
  • There seems to be no working "window maximize" button (doubleclicking title var leaves 1cm of screen free...sometimes...sometimes not...depends on the moon)
  • Apps seem to arbitrarily change virtual desktops sometimes.
  • Minimized apps become kind of hidden. I end up creating more and more terminals or Firefoxes.
  • Side-by-side, non-fullscreen view seems to have no shortcut (Mac's side-by-side triggers fullscreen mode)
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  • Can you detail why using another os is not a valid answer? If you’re used to another desktop idiom, why should you force yourself to relearn and spend all the time to reset your expectations? There are going to be excellent answers on what settings fix some of your complaints (which are valid) and superb products that let you change any shortcut and manage windows with macOS - huge value for low cost if you work professionally and need to work on multiple OS or save hours monthly with that tool. Keep in mind: knowledge, effort, time and money - none of those are actually free.
    – bmike
    Apr 19 at 12:06
  • thanks for the feedback. updated. short: I'm forced to work on a mac.
    – DarkTrick
    Apr 21 at 3:17

2 Answers 2

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You can install a separate desktop environment such as Xfce - but that would limit you to apps that uses the X window system protocol. I.e. that would be apps that you are probably familiar with from systems such as Linux. This usually also means that you loose all of the macOS platform specific features of such apps. I.e. it's not really a viable choice for most.

Another path to take would be to try to configure or otherwise modify the macOS desktop environment to your likings. There exists a huge number of third party applications that change stuff like how window management works, add keyboard shortcuts, etc. For example these:

For ensuring that your windows stay where you want them, consider for example these:

Which of those to use is largely a matter of personal preference.

Also there's the way of simply getting used how things work on macOS before changing everything. For example your impression that the maximize button "doesn't work" probably comes from the fact that you're used to other windowing systems like Windows where the maximize button is used to change the size of the window to fit the desktop - on macOS this button is used to change the size of the window to fit the contents of that window. That is a much harder task than just fitting the desktop, and some application developers do not provide the necessary support for this feature (by declaring the size of window contents) - and therefore you can have edge cases, where this doesn't work as expected.

Note that macOS also has the "maximize to fit desktop" feature. On a standard setup, you can get that by holding down the Option key and pressing the green plus button in the top, left part of a window.

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  • If you could, I think adding a phrase or short sentence description of those third party tools. The funky application names alone are certainly not intuitive to their use :- )
    – Randall
    Jun 20 at 19:33
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On the assumption that there isn't really a viable alternative desktop environment, I would answer some of your underlying issues:

Firstly, note that unlike Windows, you don't normally create multiple instances of applications. Firefox with multiple windows is one app process with lots of windows, not lots of Firefox processes. Consequently, macOS creates an organizational hierarchy, in which you first switch between applications, and then switch between that app's windows.

macOS provides several methods to move between apps and windows.

Command Tab switches between open applications -- it doesn't open apps. If you want to open apps, you have the Dock, or Launchpad, or the Applications folder itself.

You can also cycle between the current app's windows with Command`.

Mission Control CTRLup can show you all the windows of all the open applications. This can be a bit cluttered: there is an option to group windows by application (System Prefs > Mission Control), which helps.

Application Windows CTRLdown will show you all the open windows for the current application only.

You can change these keys to F-keys or other things in System Preferences.

You can also see the open windows for an application list when you right click on its icon in the Dock.

By default, the green button on a window invokes Full Screen mode, which hides the menubar. If you hold Alt/option when you click on it, that should maximize the window. There are also options when you hover over the green button, or right-click on it. There are third-party utilities to improve window sizing and positioning.

I would recommend not minimizing/Hiding windows and apps. You're right that it can be difficult to identify whether something is up and running or not. (However, right-click on the Dock icon will show you open windows, with a lozenge in front of hidden windows.)

There are settings to configure how an application behaves with respect to Desktops. (right-click on the app's icon in the Dock, and look under Options. So an app can be locked to a specific Desktop space, or to a display (if you have multiple displays).

Normally, clicking on an app's icon will switch to whichever Desktop space has the app's window.

If Desktop spaces are changing order, then uncheck "Automatically rearrange Spaces based on most recent use" in System Preferences > Mission Control.

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  • Thank you very much for the reply! This did not become the accepted answer, but contains valuable information!
    – DarkTrick
    Apr 21 at 4:10

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