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Alt + Tab on Mac: How to switch between windows on Mac

By Justin Pot · March 2, 2023
Hero image with the Apple logo on a Mac

I love my Mac, but I have one big complaint: the keyboard shortcut command + tab.

On Windows and most Linux systems I've used, there's a similar shortcut, Alt + Tab, which allows you to switch between every open window. command + tab on the Mac doesn't quite do this: instead, it allows you to switch between applications. 

Here's how it looks.

Command tab app switched on Mac

There's no way to tell, in this view, how many windows are open in each app. You also can't switch between windows in the same app here—for that, you need to use a different keyboard shortcut, command + ` (backtick, the key above tab on your keyboard). 

If you came here to learn how to switch between Chrome windows on Mac, there's your answer: command + `. Simple as that.

This all works well enough, but Windows' version is nicer in a few key ways. First: you can switch between all windows in all apps using a single keyboard shortcut. Second, you can see previews of all open windows.

AltTab is a free app that solves this annoyance by giving you a Mac Alt + Tab equivalent. Here's how to use it.

How to switch Windows on Mac with the AltTab app

To get started, you need to download AltTab. (It's an open source app, which means it's maintained by a community of volunteers and is generally trustworthy.)

After downloading the app and moving it to your Applications folder, you'll be asked for some permissions: the software needs access to Accessibility features in order to take control of window management, and access to Screen Recording in order to take screenshots.

AltTab permissions

Once that's all set, you're good to go. By default, you can now use the keyboard shortcut option + tab to switch between your open windows.

Switch windows on Mac

There will be a preview for each open window. You have a few options:

  • Keep pressing tab while holding option to cycle between windows; then let go of option to jump to the currently selected window. 

  • Hold down option, and you can use the arrow keys to select a window.

  • Hold down option, and you can use the W key to close a window, M to minimize it, H to hide it, or Q to quit the application altogether. 

In short: you can manage all of your open windows in just a few keystrokes.

Customizing AltTab

If this doesn't sound quite like what you want, you can customize how it works. To get started, click the AltTab icon in the menu bar, and select Preferences

In the Controls tab, you'll find the ability to configure up to five different sets of keyboard shortcuts. You could, for example, change the initial shortcut to control + tab. Or you could make a keyboard shortcut that only switches between windows that are open in the current space. Or you could decide not to include hidden windows.

Customizing AltTab controls

Under Appearance, there's also the ability to customize the look of the pop-up window: you can change how big it is, for example, and how many rows of thumbnails there should be.

Customizing AltTab appearance

This is also where you can hide apps that don't currently have an open window, which I recommend doing—the switcher can feel quite cluttered if you don't.

I recommend you spend some time clicking all of the buttons to really get a feel for how everything works. Then, when your Mac works exactly the way you want, you can really start getting things done. 

Related reading:

  • Your keyboard doesn't have an em dash key—here's what to do

  • Quick Look is the best Mac feature. Here's how to add it to Windows.

  • How to make Mac dark mode automatically

  • Use PowerToys Run to mimic Mac's Spotlight in Windows

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