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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows Pick of the Week
Witch icon The macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
Disclaimer (and Background): This week's PotW is the result of a suggestion I made to Peter Maurer, author of Butler, probably my favorite OS X usability enhancement tool. It had always bothered me that you could minimize a window to the dock without touching the mouse (Command-M in most applications), yet you had to mouse down to the dock and drag back and forth in order to then find a particular minimized window. I asked Peter if it were possible to write a Butler extension that would add in a "minimized window" management hot key. If I'm recalling correctly, less than two days later, the first version of Witch was in my in-box. Aside from providing the creative spark, I've got no direct involvement in this product...

As usual with Peter's stuff, he's gone well beyond the basics of a minimized window manager with Witch. Witch is a full-blown enhanced Command-Tab switcher, with a ton of additional features. Instead of merely switching apps, you can switch directly to a window within an application. You can set hot keys to switch between windows in various spots: all applications, only minimized (how I primarily use it), non-minimized, frontmost app, frontmost app minimized, and frontmost app non-minimized. Whew! I just leave the first two choices enabled; I've set Control-Option-Tab (and Backtick) to be my "all windows" switcher forwards (and backwards), and Control-Command Taqb (and Backtick, again, for backwards) for managing minimized windows. I've left the other options disabled.

After installing and activating Witch, you can now manage minimized windows with a hotkey. Press your chosen key combo, and your minimized windows will appear in a fully customizable pop-up (font size, colors, shadows, or choose from some pre-created settings). Select the window you wish to de-minimize, and it slides out of the dock, ready for use. You can also do things like add a "Cancel" item in case you change your mind, or an "Activation" item, so Witch can activate faceless background apps. The window list can be sorted by the application's name, launch order, "last use order," or by the window activity order (which will actually inter-leave application names, based on how you've been using the various open windows).

Witch isn't perfect, mainly due to some OS X limitations. First, applications that draw windows in non-standard ways (such as Circus Ponies' Notebook) don't show in the switcher. Second, if you have hidden an application, and that application does *not* have any minimized windows, then it will also not show in the switcher. If it's hidden with a minimized window, though, it will. Since I primarily use Witch to manage minimized windows, these limitations don't bother me too much -- and I love the convenience of unminimizing a window from a pop-up list. It's about 100 times faster than the old "visit the dock and scroll" method, and means I'm actually using minimize again as a means of organizing my workflow.
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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: dhayton on Feb 20, '05 11:05:32AM

This is brilliant. I've wanted something like this for months. I use it for minimized windows as well as selecting from among the open windows, of which I often have quite a few.

I much prefer this to exposé.

Great little pref. pane.

My 2¢.

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: wgscott on Feb 20, '05 11:31:37AM

I finally got X11 to appear when I checked the optional "Add an Activate Item" but sadly it doesn't have the Dock's ability to switch between individual windows. If this could somehow be incorporated (if the Dock can do it, perhaps it is possible), the functionality of this thing would really be enhanced (currently I can focus on X11 with a single keystroke without Witch).

Apart from this, I like it.

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: DanFrakes on Feb 20, '05 01:49:05PM

Rob turned me on to Witch a couple weeks ago; I wrote it up for Macworld last week:

Thanks, Rob!

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: mnystedt on Feb 20, '05 03:13:49PM

Not sure I'm just missing this, but can you replace the regular Cmd-Tab with Witch?

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: jiclark on Feb 20, '05 11:57:38PM

My question would be if you can get Witch to use a different key sequence than Cmd-tab. I have PullTab installed so I can use Cmd-Tab in Illustrator... LiteSwitch allows you to use any of several different options; I'd be seriously tempted by Witch if it did the same.

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re: [Command]-[Tab]
Authored by: Peter Maurer on Feb 21, '05 10:25:09AM

@mnystedt: I'm afraid you cannot use [Command]-[Tab] as of now. Mac OS X reserves [Command]-[Tab] for its built-in application switcher. While there is a way to capture [Command]-[Tab], doing so requires tricking Mac OS X into believing that Witch is the Dock. (The Dock is responsible for Mac OS X's application switcher.) I'm still undecided as to whether it's a good idea to use this "hack".

@jiclark: You can use any other shortcut you like. Please have look at the "Triggers" tab in Witch's preference pane.


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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 20, '05 04:12:51PM

This is a very cool system add on! It's always bothered me that you can't un-minimize a window from the dock without using the mouse.

Oh, and just to be pedantic, the character below the tilde is a "grave" accent. :)

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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errant pedantry
Authored by: gatorparrots on Feb 20, '05 04:49:49PM
I beg to differ:
back quote
(character) "`" ASCII code 96. Common names: left quote; left single quote; open quote; ITU-T: grave accent; grave. Rare: backprime; INTERCAL: backspark; unapostrophe; birk; blugle; back tick; back glitch; push; ITU-T: opening single quotation mark; quasiquote.

Back quote is used in Unix shells to invoke command substitution.

If you're going to be pedantic, correct him for using the term backtick instead of the more correct back quote. I would contend that it cannot be identified as a grave accent with certainty unless there is a letter character beneath it to give it context!

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errant pedantry
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 21, '05 12:28:55PM
Nope, it's not a "back quote" ... there is no such thing, it's a grave. Plus where is the "front quote" then? And don't say the apostrophe! There isn't one. It's a diacritical, just as the tilde is, regardless to other uses it might have in computing. Also it would be a "single open quote," and most of the time double quotes are used, unless you are nesting. Quotes are "open" and "closed," not back and front.

Examples of Diacriticals

é Acute
ç Cedilla
â Circumflex
è Grave
ñ Tilde
ü Umlaut/Diaeresis

I see this used as a quote all the time, like `this' instead of ‘this', worse still is when someone tries to use it as a double quote like ``this'', instead of "this." But it's totally incorrect, and just plain ugly. I'm not sure what you are quoting from, but it's incorrect information. Just because it's a "common name" doesn't make it right. What it actually amounts to is "common errors" ... same as when people call this "/" a "back slash," or when people write the year as ‘05', as if they are quoting something, instead of '05.

On a Mac, your single typographer's quotes are located using Option-] for the left, or opening quote, and Option-Shift-] for the right, or closing quote. The double typographer's quotes are located at Option-[ for the opening and Option-Shift-[ for the closing double quote.

I make my living as a typographer, so my pedantry is not errant!


  • a straight line slanting up to the left above the character, like an open-quotation mark
  • examples: à, è, ò, ù
  • used in French, Italian, Pinyin (Chinese)
  • often seen on words with an e-consonant-mute e combination, like frère or pièce
  • distinguishes French homophones like la and là without changing pronounciation

Just as you would tell someone to type a tilde, you would tell someone to type a grave, regardless of the usage. Learning the proper name for something is never a bad thing! :)

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: MJCube on Feb 21, '05 04:55:14PM

Saying it doesn't make it so. You can say it's not a back quote all your life, but that won't stop people from calling it that, because they have their reasons. On millions of dumb terminals and text-only video screens from decades past, the ` and ' characters appeared just like proper single quotes ‘ and '. If you never saw this, you might not believe me. I think "regardless to other uses it might have in computing" is a rude thing to say in this forum; computing is the whole reason we're here. There are a lot more purposes for computing than typesetting; in fact your whole computer typesetting system was made possible by programmers who call ` a back-quote, because that's their area of expertise.

I would call this pedantry not ‘errant' but ‘irrelevant' here.

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 21, '05 06:44:42PM

It wasn't rude at all. The first person said I should have corrected him for calling it a "backtick instead of the more correct back quote" even though "back tick" was on his list, and "back quote" is not correct either. I wasn't correcting him anyway, I was merely stating the proper name of the character on that key. The character is called a grave, and the only reason people called it other things was because they didn't know what it was called. Did you even know what it's called? People like to get defensive when they don't know something. If programers called a tilde a "squiggly" would that make it right? Should we start calling an "A" a triangle? ;)

Of course it doesn't matter what you call something, or what you know or don't know. But if someone wants to clarify proper usage you can't criticize them for that. Did you think your teachers were rude if they corrected you?

As far as dumb terminals and other text only devices (or more correctly devices that can't do typography), the most commonly used quotes are the typewriter inch and foot marks (such as the ones I used in this post).

I don't think terminals being dumb is the problem. I think it's the lack of grammar and spelling that seems to be so rampant these days. That's the reality.

If I called someone a name, that would be rude, or if I said they didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't do any of those things.

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: amaloney on Feb 21, '05 10:58:53PM

I agree with you David.

It is more efficient to have a one to one correspondence between an object and its name. Otherwise we run the risk of ambiguity and the loss of the ability to communicate.

For instance, if I use the word ‘cleave' to mean ‘divide, cut' and you use its alternative meaning ‘cling', how do we know what the other means?

However, in these days of deconstruction and post modernism …

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: powerbookg3user0 on Feb 22, '05 01:39:25AM

One thing:
``Text'' is LaTeX.

It prints "Text"

Takumi Murayama

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Two CS professors did clash over the tilde
Authored by: jmzrsky on Feb 25, '05 12:31:46AM

... and its proper name, in a workshop I attended. In the middle of some dry discussion of some obscure programming syntax, one of them casually mentioned "a twiddle" while scribbling a tilde on the whiteboard. The other asked what a twiddle was - "do you mean a tilde?" "Sure, but I call it a twiddle, just as we say 'bang' instead of 'exclamation point'." "But 'bang' is shorter - 'twiddle' isn't!" And so forth. It was a much livelier topic than anything else that day!

> If programers called a tilde a "squiggly" ...

Just don't get me started on what to call the # character ... :)

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Two CS professors did clash over the tilde
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 25, '05 09:45:16AM

> Just don't get me started on what to call the # character ... :)

Thank you! :)

How about...

Number sign, hash, cross-hatch, pound sign, square, tictacktoe, and... octothorpe!

I call it a number sign.

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Apple's fertility symbols
Authored by: jmzrsky on Feb 26, '05 04:01:25AM

I've heard "grid" too (used as a name for #). But as with "bang" for ! and "twiddle" for ~, it was a bolder-geek-than-I using it. Of special relevance to us Macheads is the strange coincidence linking the cartographic origins of the # and its florid twin, Apple's "command key" symbol:

1. The #, a cartographic symbol for "village", is called (in that context) the octothorp(e) because it once reminded someone of eight fields surrounding a central village square (thorp = village). See and

2. Apple's "command key" is a cartographic symbol (once?) used in Swedish campgrounds to denote something worth seeing. Apparently it's a "floral symbol". See

What links them is not only their form (the command key looks like a floral outgrowth of the #) but also the concept of fertility: the # carries, in its interstices, the yielding soil of ancient English fields; while the command key connotes a flower unfolding its tender petals, an object of beauty to frolicking Swedish campers.

Coincidence? Before answering, notice the symbol next to the command key on your keyboard: the apple, Biblical sign of fertility and sin. And someone has already taken the first bite! (Probably one of those Swedish campers ...) ;-P

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Apple's fertility symbols
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 26, '05 10:37:52AM

I knew that one about the Command key being "a place of interest."

Interestingly about the Apple logo, they started off with a picture of Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with a portion of a William Wordsworth poem. Jobs thought it was too cerebral and not easily reproduced at small sizes, so he asked Rob Janov the art director for their PR firm to design something better. He did a black silhouette of an apple, but thought it looked like a tomato, and wanted to simplify it, so he took a "byte" out of it, and added the six colors. Jean-Louis Gassée said of it "One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn't dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy."

And remember that the Apple I kit was priced at $666!

I don't think any other company has had such a sense of humor and irony.

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Pedantic Errancy
Authored by: gatorparrots on Feb 22, '05 01:39:22AM
I guess you didn't catch my reference:
Winston Churchill once said (mockingly) to someone who criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition: "That is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put!"
My point was simply this: Context shapes the definition. When referring to coding and more generally, computers, it could well be argued that the correct name for that character is "back quote." In fact, my definition was straight from (excuse the lack of reference). In linguistic and some typographical circumstances, your definition would be more correct -- but certainly, only with another alphabetical character beneath the grave accent. It is usually only used alone in definitions or a listing of accents!

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Pedantic Errancy
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 22, '05 12:36:57PM

That's a great Churchill quote! I can agree that in certain circumstances that a character is used for a different meaning, and as it is there is little use for accent characters on a keyboard that print alone, so I fully accept that programers have used things like tildes, graves, and carats for other uses. And have even given them new names.

What I won't agree is that a grave is to be used as a quote character. Clearly this started as a way to get "curly quotes" from systems that don't support such characters. (and also typing such things on non Macintosh computers is a chore) But personally I'd rather see inch and foot marks used as quotes (even though the typewriter inch and foot marks are not even correct for use in typesetting... there are other hash marks to use for feet and inches).

It was never my intention to offend anyone. I just think we need to not bastardize so much of our language. That's something I find offending.

Also as some background... I'm married to an English teacher! :)

(so be aware next time you are in a supermarket that it should be "10 items or fewer" and not "10 items or less") ;)

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: stanza on Feb 20, '05 04:47:28PM

For all these people saying there is no way to unminimize without the mouse--this is not strictly true. If you go to the control panel->Keyboard and Mouse->Keyboard Shortcuts, and scroll down a bit, you can find options to focus on menu and focus on dock. This (I think) is set by default to control-F3, but I refuse to click "Restore Defaults" just to find out.

So if you hit that, you can use arrows to move around on the dock, and hit return to open an app or to unminimize a window.

Although, I'm not sure if "Turn on full keyboard acess" is turned on by default.

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: aranor on Feb 20, '05 11:38:57PM

Yes, it's Ctrl-F3. And no, Full Keyboard Access is off by default, but hitting Ctrl-F1 will turn it on.

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 21, '05 06:52:49PM

One of the problems with full keyboard access is if you use certain applications, like QuarkXPress. Quark makes use of most of the function keys, and uses a lot of other keyboard short cuts, including using all three of the modifier keys, so having full keyboard access activated causes conflicts.

So for some of us, we can't use full keyboard access, even though it's very handy!

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: kerplunk on Feb 21, '05 09:35:56AM

The one thing Witch doesn't do that I would find very handy is a command to hide all windows other than the selected window.

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: junktruck on Feb 21, '05 10:53:53AM

How about the other way. Is there a way to MAXIMIZE a window. A way to make a window go full screen, whether it's a browser window, or a finder window, or whatever. Maybe add an extra button to the windowbar?


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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: CarlRJ on Feb 22, '05 03:40:09AM

Hmm, the green (+) gumdrop in the windowbar in Cocoa is a maximize button, or am I missing something?

And, actually, I take advantage of the point that many apps have a "Zoom" menu option on their window menu: I set a keyboard shortcut (under Keyboard & Mouse in System Prefs) for all apps, to map cmd-shift-M to "Zoom". Makes me less nuts to be able to easily zoom/unzoom Terminal (etc.) windows.

This way I have cmd-M to minimize and cmd-shift-M to maximize. Cmd-shift-M collides with an entry MacJournal makes for the services menu, so I go into the Info.plist file for MacJournal and delete out the NSKeyEquivalent for "M" -- I wish apps had some way to put a question in the prefs, "do you want these hotkeys assigned?"

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Witch - A keyboard solution for managing windows
Authored by: mark hunte on Feb 22, '05 09:32:11AM

You can also use a zoom hot key in witch,
but zoom does not set the window to full display size.
It only goes on whats in the window and how you last sized the window.
It would be nice if this was actually included as an option


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Great app, a few problems
Authored by: dre00 on Feb 21, '05 11:23:08AM

Definitely a great app, although I did run into some issues -

Minor, but the alt-tab functionality doesn't quite behave as you'd expect when alt-tabbing "back and forth" between two windows. Sometimes it works fine, other times the "next" window on the list will pop up. There's a setting to tweak this slightly, but it still doesn't give the windows-style alt-tab functionality.

The main problem I have is that the app seems to have caused instability in my system. 1) The home and end keys somehow got remapped to Command-Left/Right. 2) Clicking on a running application in the dock caused a finder window to pop up pointing to the app's location, rather than focusing to the app itself. 3) Navigating to a directory in the finder caused the directory to appear in a new finder window, rather than opening in the same window.

When I removed Witch, all of those problems went away. I'm going to chalk this up to being a relatively new program with some bugs to work out, but otherwise, this will definitely go on the "required apps" list..


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issue with Witch with MS Word and "window activity order"?
Authored by: vbanshee on Jul 17, '05 12:52:43AM

While witch is working great for the most part, I'm running into an
issue with Microsoft Word documents and the "window activity order"

I am trying to make witch behave as close to Windows' alt-tab behavior
as possible. To do this, I have witch set to "window activity order",
"do not show application names", and "make one step forward when
popping up with a forward cycling request" is disabled.

Everything works great for the most part, but for some reason my
Microsoft Word documents consistently show up in the bottom of the
witch pop-up window, no matter when I last activated them. It seems,
therefore, that the "window activity order" setting is broken for Word
windows -- can anyone confirm this?

Thanks for any input!

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