How to Switch Between Open Apps in OS X

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Without a taskbar, it can be difficult for ex-Windows users to discern which programs are open on a Mac and how to switch between them. Thankfully, Apple provides a number of keyboard shortcuts, gestures and visual indicators in OS X to help you out.

1. Use Command-Tab and Command-Shift-Tab to cycle forward and backward through your open applications. (This functionality is almost identical to Alt-Tab on PCs.)


2. Or, swipe up on the touchpad with three fingers to view the windows of open apps, allowing you to quickly switch between programs. This view is called Mission Control, which also has its own dedicated keyboard shortcut (F3).

screen shot 2016 03 22 at 6.14.13 pm

You can collapse the windows by swiping down on the clickpad with three fingers.

Finally, a tiny dotĀ appears beneath open applications in the Dock. They are easy to miss if you're new to Macs, but the spotlights let you see which applications are open at a glance.

screen shot 2016 03 22 at 6.14.39 pm

Add a comment
  • Richard Says:

    Use command-` (key above tab) to switch between windows in the same application.

  • anonymous Says:

    This only switches between apps, Is there a way to switch between windows of the same app (like 2 power point presentations or two web search windows)?

  • murfnik Says:

    This only switches between open tabs of Chrome, does nothing else.

  • Ben from Ohio Says:

    Same issue-switched from Win10 a month ago. CMD-Tab doesn't open the minimized program (as Alt-Tab does in Windows) however, I'm finding it useful glide down to my auto-hidden dock and note the black dot under running programs; a click there opens the program's window: problem solved.

  • Jake188 Says:

    Same problem here Command-Tab is useless because I often have the app I want minimized on the doc, in which case it does not open... this is so useless. I like minimizing apps to the doc, and my doc is auto-hide.

  • Mike Collins Says:

    Same problem as xYike. I can "switch" to a running program but the program's window doesn't open, making this feature essentially useless. What's the point of this?

  • Ayatby Says:

    I'm new to Macs, having just purchased a Macbook Air, but the swipe for Mission Control for me on Mavericks is four-fingers swiped up, not three. Three fingers are used for dragging windows or highlighting test, etc.

  • xYike Says:

    "Use Command-Tab and Command-Shift-Tab to cycle forward and backward through your open applications."

    That is similar but not the same to ALT-TAB on Windows OS. When I Command-Tab on Mac, I cannot get to my "other" Outlook or Firefox windows. If I am authoring and e-mail and need to get back to my main Outlook window? Command-Tab does not do it on the Mac.

    How do you switch windows of like applications? (ALT-TAB does this on Windows)

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