Smarter Mac App Switching with Witch

Despite Apple having done a great job of streamlining the process of app switching on OS X, it’s easy to reach a point where having many applications open can become a jumbled mess. Making sense of a maddening scene full of application windows, open folders and several documents can make it difficult to get anything done.

Spaces was Apple’s answer to the chaos, but for those that don’t find it deep or intuitive enough, Many Tricks’ Witch may provide a way out. This is an app that promises to do a better job than Spaces, Expose and Command-Tab ever could in making switching through any open window elegantly easy.

And since Witch installs into System Preferences, the level of customization is pretty high, which can be a bonus for those looking to have maximum control of what’s open and where. Let’s take a look at how it works!

Witch Is It Going to Be?

Downloading and installing the app is easy, and once done, System Preferences will automatically launch on its own opening up Witch’s pane. The window that opens up is essentially the tool you can always go back to whenever you need to make changes or adjustments.

The Triggers tab gives you your basic commands, no different from keyboard shortcuts, really. Click the Behaviors tab and you can then set what open windows are supposed to do when you’ve triggered them. The key to making your choices is to consider whether a command might interfere with any applications you typically use.

This means that you could inadvertently choose one that actually already functions as a command for an application. Since Witch is installed as part of your Mac’s system, its commands supersede all others. Under the Exceptions section, you can tell Witch to ignore certain applications whenever you toggle its menu.

The Main Window

The Main Window

Naturally, you would still have access to the app’s functions and features via the menu bar, but if you’re a stickler for keyboard shortcuts, then you’ll need to think a bit about how you’d want to go about using Witch to your benefit. In the case of this review, I just chose Command-Tab to bring up the main list of open applications and the open items within those apps.

Shortcut Key Warning

Shortcut Key Warning

Switching Between Open Apps

Holding Command and pressing Tab, I could cycle through the list and see a thumbnail preview of each open file. Though Witch doesn’t work as well with Spaces when running 10.5 Leopard, it has no problems running with 10.6 Snow Leopard.

You will know which Space number the open app or file resides in by the badge number attached to the app’s icon.

Witch Menu Interface

Witch Menu Interface

Other Functions

Displaying open apps isn’t the only thing Witch can do. For example, when an app is highlighted, you can quit it by just pressing Q. Press H to hide an application, M to minimize it, W to close it or Z to zoom in on a preview window.

The hotkeys don’t end there. Pressing A skips from one app to another on the list. Pressing T immediately moves the selection to the top of the list, while B moves it to the very last one. Pressing P or the spacebar will open up a preview thumbnail, even if you’ve disabled previews in the settings. Hitting the comma key will open up Witch’s preferences pane, in case you want to make changes.

Of course, these are all default hotkeys that you can change to your own preferences, but spending time with the app will likely help you get accustomed to the default ones. It’s no surprise that Many Tricks purposely chose letters that coincided with popular keyboard shortcuts used both in OS X and many Mac apps.

Witch Design Looks the Best?

While you can customise Witch’s core features extensively, you can also make adjustments to how the interface looks. This has much more to do with colors than it does actual skins or other visual elements, but there may be enough here to personalize the look and feel of the menu.

Opening up Witch’s preferences will offer up a host of options that you can use to tailor the color scheme to your palette choices. This means you can change everything from the color of the background, to the text and even the thin border around the selection bar.

You can even go as far as to create a gradient on your own and use it as the background. The level of customization is good, though the ability to change font types would’ve been nice.

Colour Preferences

Colour Preferences

The font size is set at 48 pt. by default, but you can increase or decrease that easily by using the slider. The slider below determines the width of the interface’s panel, which is at full size on the default setting to almost cover the whole screen.

You will notice the last two options on the right are for showing numbered shortcuts — one for Spaces and the other for standard keyboard hotkeys. Check them both and you can see which space an app or document is on and what key you can press to get to it right away, instead of just flipping through the menu.

While this is no doubt convenient, the numbers could’ve been bigger to make it easier to ascertain where they are. Not to mention that if you have a lot of open windows, hotkeys will only apply to the first 10 on the list.

Conclusion

The thing about an app like Witch is that it’s subjective in its design, offering up a certain level of customization for those who are keen on a solution to the cluttered mess on their Macs. Whether this will be enough for everyone is hard to say. Of course, at a $19 price tag, only users with a serious need would consider it (there is a free trial version though).

At the same time, Witch does what it sets out to do. It streamlines open apps and documents in a way that Expose, Command-Tab and right-clicking on the Dock could never do. While those features are great parts of OS X, they are still parts rather than a sum, which is what Witch ultimately becomes after you start using it.

Setting it up can be a bit tedious, as you try to avoid any conflicts with your existing apps, but once you’ve found the sweet spot, it can be an indispensable tool in making your computer usage more efficient.

More personalization would be welcome, given that there are certain visual elements you currently can’t change, and Leopard users still have issues when using Spaces. On the whole, it’s a great task/app switcher worth giving a try!


Summary

Command-Tab is great…if you only ever have one window open in each of your applications. With more than one window, though, it's a hassle to find the one you want. Witch solves that problem by taking you directly to the window you want to reach.

7
  • Elliot George

    Is this really necessary?

  • Thiago

    I hate the way of my Mac deal with many windows of the same application… Like you said, using Expose or Spaces for more than 10 windows can be very difficult, thats why I think there’s no application that can manage windows like Windows do.

    If you guys know some app better than Witch (one that can deal with more than one window of the same application, and can detect dialog windows like “Save as…”) please tell me! :-)

    [sorry for my bad english.]

  • eden

    Agree. that can be so annoying…

  • http://www.designshack.co.uk Joshua Johnson

    Cool app! I’ve never heard of it but am digging it already.

  • http://www.chrispeden.com Chris

    I like LiteSwitchX better.

  • Jack

    I still love expose.

    • Icocbechristos

      I Second That!

  • insane.dreamer

    expose RULLZ!! :)

  • Bill

    Sounds Great!

  • Arnoud

    I switched to WindowFlow myself actually. Looks better. Either application is indispensable in my book!

  • http://mackeeper.zeobit.com/ MacKeeper_Fan_Modua

    Does anyone even use the application switcher in OS X? I certainly don’t.
    I see no sense in this application.

    • Arnoud

      So tell me, how do you switch between documents with your keyboard only?

      • http://mackeeper.zeobit.com/ MacKeeper_Fan Modua

        I almost never switch using the keyboard. I always have a mouse or touch-pad. How do U switch between documents?

      • Arnoud

        I prefer fast switching between documents (or windows), especially when I need to compare something (I do that quite often). With my hands already on the keyboard, using a shortcut is much faster than (taking the hand(s) off the keyboard, grab a mouse or touch a touchpad,) use exposé/menubar to find the previous document between all previews/a list, select it, and repeat this to get back to where you were (and then put the hands in the correct position at the keyboard again).

        So in my experience, and many others, using keyboard shortcuts greatly speeds up the workflow, plus it’s better for accessibility reasons. This application therefore makes a lot of sense to me.

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