Apple Blissfully devoid of meetings

Mac OS X Tweakin’

The planets are in alignment today and all managers are either on vacation or otherwise busy. My calendar is blissfully devoid of meetings and I’ve moved from my HIGH PRIORITY to do list onto my MEDIUM PRIORITY list which gets touched, maybe, once or twice a month.

So far today, I’ve…

  • Tinkered with Python
  • Installed the latest version of VIM (finally)
  • Combed through various lists of “cool Mac OS X applications” to see if there is anything worth paying attention (see below: LITESWITCH)
  • Investigated various TCP flow monitoring tools
  • Hacked on my .tcshrc script

Other than having the peace of mind that my login shell is nice and clean, the only other significant discovery was the LiteSwitch applications which I found courtesy of Mark Liyanage.

Mark comments:

The authors of this utility really “got it” how such an application-switching program has to look and feel on Mac OS X, it seems like it came straight from Apple.

Ironically, what the designers of this fine application “got” was that copying the Windows task switching metaphor was a good idea. While LiteSwitch has plenty of very useful additions, it is a direct copy of Windows task switching model where a window appears in the middle of the active screen when CMD-TAB is selected. Further TABs iterate through open applications making task switching a breeze for we keyboard enthusiasts.

What LiteSwitch allows me to do is hide the dock for more screen real estate which, based off two hours of usage, I’m not convinced is worth it. The primary issue being that window management (ie: activating/minimizing windows) in Mac OS X varies dependent on application. This means that while it’s easy for me to switch to a different application via the keyboard, there is no guarantee a window will be present and, if there’s not, I’ve got remember a different keystroke for each application in order to maximize it.

[3/15/03 Update]: First, readers who are not as lazy as I do a good job of explaining the differences between Mac and Windows task switching.

Second, I’ve got one machine with NEW task switching and MINIMIZED Dock and another with OLD task switching and VISIBLE Dock to try to compare and contrast.


  • The Mac OS X desktop looks pretty bare without the Dock… it really is part of the look and feel of the desktop.
  • There is no equivalent of the application which is th Dock in standard Windows. It’s not just active applications, it’s “short cuts to things I launch often”. Rightly so, LiteSwitch just displays active application which means I still need to use my mouse to fire up an application… so far.
  • LightSwitch has an option to “send an open event” when an application is selected… this effectively gives me what I want in terms of application activation as long as there is an open window for that app. As is noted in the comments, Mac OS X is fine with having an application open without any windows… really no way around that.
  • Long and short of it is, I think I’ll be buying LightSwitch. It gets me off of the mouse and onto the keyboard and that means I can get around my desktop faster.

7 Responses

  1. From the description, it doesn’t sound at all different from the actual way cmd-tab is used.

    I didn’t notice this for awhile, but if you keep holding command down, you’ll notice that the application name you’ll be switching to stays up. Keep pounding on tab, and you’ll switch right to the name of any given open app. Shift-command-tab cycles the opposite direction, just in case you overshoot, and you can activate shift at any point in your cycling process.

    But, then, I don’t do windows, and I haven’t yet used that named utility, so I’m not sure how the native function differs.

    All I know is that I won’t bother to download it because OSX already does exactly what I need it to do with concern to application switching.

  2. From your description, it sounds like LiteSwitch does not maximize a minimized window when you switch to it. This is actually not how Windows task-switching works. On Windows, if an application is minimized, and you ALT-TAB, TAB, TAB to it or whatever, the application window is automatically restored to its last state. This saves the extra (and annoying) step you now have. You might want to write the makers of the app and tell them to consider this feature.

  3. I should also point out, for the non-Windows initiated, that in MS Windows there is no such thing as having an application open with no window as there is in Mac-land. So if on the Mac you have a situation where you are browsing the web with Netscape, and you minimize your browsing window, you should be able to switch back to Netscape and have the window reopen to its last visible state. However if you have IE open, but all your windows closed (a concept that doesn’t exist in MS Windows) you’re stuck. Also, in MS Windows, you have a situation where I can have 15 Netscape windows open, and in Alt-Tab I get 15 entries, allowing me to choose which particular Netscape window I switch to, or switch back and forth between two Netscape windows, or whatever. Not all applications work this way, but many do. However, to the best of my recollection, this concept doesn’t exist on the Mac. So even if you can switch to Netscape, it would have to restore all the windows to their last visible state, and then you would have to figure out which one you wanted. If my recollection about how this works is correct (its been quite a while since I used a Mac seriously, the last one I owned was an SE/30) then to me it vastly reduces the usefulness of the whole task-switching thing there.

  4. If you combine LiteSwitch X to switch between running applications, and LaunchBar to open new applications, you’ve got yourself an all-keyboard deal.

    It’s how I operate my mac, and I’ve already infected two peers with LaunchBar. Awesome UI paradigm, even at the high cost. I really suggest you go check it out 🙂

  5. There are rabid LaunchBar types here at the gig, but while I did install it — for some reason, it did not stick.

    What LiteSwitch has going for it is that allows me to switch between OSes without rediscovering my navigation metaphors.

  6. playing with python? python makes the baby jesus cry, upgrade to ruby

  7. I’m currently a week into learning python (about 2/3s the way through o’reilly’s lp). I’m learning it because 1) I like learning languages, and 2) I’ve actually seen job listings that list python.

    Some things are quite sad; the worst I’ve noticed so far is the crippled lambda and lack of real/reasonable scoping (and the hacks to get around it) when doing nested function definitions. (HOLY GOD!) There’s also the fact that everything is so OPEN; if you can find something’s name (and doing so is EASY) then you can clobber it. The main selling point I’ve seen with python (and hyped up in the book) is that it plays nicely with C — you do a prototype in python, find what is slow, and rewrite those parts in C/C++. I’ve been impressed, so far, by how function call arguments can be specified, and the tricks that result from classes being objects.

    Ruby is probably next.