OS X: Add a Shortcut to Solve Window Madness

September 27, 2006 - 2:00am ||| 0 Comments | Add new

One thing that drives me buggy about my otherwise-beloved OS X is how it loses document windows.

Designers typically have a lot of programs and documents open at once, so I'm sure you've seen this. Sometimes the document windows start to stack weirdly, especially if you're the type who clicks on visible portions of document windows to bring them (and their application) to the front instead of choosing the application icon from the Dock or Command-Tabbing to it.

You're reading a web page in Safari, for example, and right behind that window is an InDesign document, behind that are two Apple Mail windows, behind those are two more Safari windows, and way in the back is another InDesign (document) window or two. It's hard to tell which window belongs to which application because you can see only a portion of the ones in the back.

So, say you know that you have a couple image files open in Illustrator, and you're working on one. You click on the bit of the window that's right behind the one you're working on, and suddenly you're in Excel (or InDesign, or FileMaker…). Argh!

To assist users with "window madness," every OS X program, even the Finder, has a Window menu that not only lists all the open documents in that program, but also a Bring All to Front command (except Firefox and a few others). Choosing Bring All to Front finds all open document windows for that application and … well, brings them to the front of the stack of open windows.

I use Bring to Front all the time — especially with my e-mail program, Eudora, which often has ten or fifteen mailbox windows open and mixed up in the stack — but got tired of mousing up to the Window menu fifty times a day to choose it. Bring All to Front lacks a keyboard shortcut and Eudora doesn't let you create your own.

Roll Your Own Shortcuts in OS X

If you open System Preferences (from the Apple menu is the easiest) and click the Keyboard and Mouse icon in the Hardware area, you can create your own keyboard shortcuts for any individual OS X program menu item that's "System Prefs-aware," as well as a single shortcut that works across all the OS X programs that share the same menu item.

Since almost every OS X program has a Bring All to Front command, I used System Prefs to make a single keyboard shortcut for it with one quick trip to the dialog box. Here's how:

1. In the Keyboard and Mouse system preference, click the third button, Keyboard Shortcuts, and scroll down to the bottom of the list.

2. Select the "All Applications" list entry and click the plus symbol on the lower left of the dialog box.

3. Another window opens up, initially set to All Applications. (Leave it there for this example, but if you want to create a keyboard shortcut for a specific program, choose it from this dropdown menu. Only System Prefs-aware applications will be listed.)

4. In this window, enter the menu item's text in the Menu Title field, exactly as it appears in the program menu. In this example you'd enter "Bring All to Front" (no quotes). If you can't remember the exact text, you can switch over to that program for a quick check without closing out of this window.

5. You've entered the menu item, right, so now click inside the Keyboard Shortcut field and press the shortcut you want to use. I've found that combinations of Shift-Function key work well here, so I pressed Shift-F1 for Bring All to Front.

6. Click the Add button to close this window, then close System Preferences if you're done.

7. Restart the program (if it's running) and you'll see that the menu item now carries the symbols for the keyboard shortcut you added, and best of all, it works! Well, at least in Tiger (10.4.7) it does; though I'm pretty sure this feature was introduced a while back.

Expose, Schmexpose. My tools of choice for OS X window management do everything I need: Command-Tab for cycling through running applications, Command-` (the tilde key) for cycling through open windows of the current program, and now, Shift-F1 to herd 'em all to the front.

Oh, and Command-Option-H … that hides all windows except for those belonging to the current program. Try it, it clears your head like a deep inhalation of Vicks Vapo-Rub.


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