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Window Tricks: Extending Your Power Over Mac Applications

Published May 1st, 2007

I recently Window Magic Trickscompleted a review of all the currently available tools that add a class of functionality that I’m calling “window tricks” to your Mac. Such tools have existed for years, but last year saw some new tools in this category, as well as more visibility thanks to an increase in the number of new Mac users who’ve migrated from Microsoft Windows.

What these users are looking for typically is some freedom from the Mac OS X user interface constraints on how you can move and resize your application windows. As new Windows users discover, Apple’s user interface guidelines prescribe very specific parts of the window that can be used to move it (usually, just the toolbar and titlebar) or to resize it (just the lower right-hand corner of resizable windows).

Longtime Mac users (me included) generally agree that these guidelines are sensible and work well. Unlike MS Windows windows, Mac OS X windows typically don’t have “chrome” on their sides that can be used for grabbing, and that’s precisely where Windows users are accustomed to resizing and moving theirs about. Apps that do have “sides,” like the Finder, can indeed be dragged about from there. But they can only be resized from the lower right.

This article includes a discussion of the following Mac OS X software applications:
  1. Afloat
  2. DejaMenu
  3. GeekBind
  4. Graffiti
  5. MaxiMice
  6. MegaZoomer
  7. MondoMouse
  8. OCSmart Hacks
  9. SetAlphaValue
  10. Smart Scroll X
  11. StepMenus
  12. WindowDragon
  13. Zooom!

Even so, all Mac users have likely experienced an occasion where they’ve managed to drag a window to a location from which it can neither be resized nor moved. Don’t ask me how at the moment, but believe me, I’ve been there. There are also occasions when it would be more convenient to resize a window by its lower left corner rather than the lower right. It’s not hard to imagine what kind of configuration I’m talking about there. And in these circumstances, it’s no doubt crossed your mind that it would be sure nice to have some way to grab that freakin’ window and move it without having to do a major dance, reshuffling other components of your desktop in order to make that one simple change.

So, those two are the foundation of Window Tricks, but there are a variety of others that have nothing to do with Windows switchers or with occasional yearnings by longtime Mac users. These are tricks that some creative Mac developer has dreamed up because he or she thought it would be cool. And by the way, here I’m using the term “Mac developer” very broadly. By way of heredity, the current Mac is a blend of two branches of the Apple tree: There’s the classic Mac OS, as it evolved after Steve Jobs left the company in 1985, and there’s the NeXT operating system, which Steve’s new company developed in the late 1980’s. Several of the coolest Window Tricks derive from the NeXT branch of the tree, as do the developers who have brought them back to life in Mac OS X. Here’s a complete list of the Window Tricks enabled by the entire group of apps I’ve tested:

  1. Moving windows
  2. Resizing windows
  3. Speeding up scrolling
  4. Enabling alternative scrolling:
    • Edge scrolling
    • Drag scrolling
    • Keypad scrolling
  5. Enabling tear-off menus/submenus
  6. Enabling a pop-up main menu
  7. Adding screen magnetics (snapping windows to a grid)
  8. Flipping windows around, enabling input on their “back”
  9. Making windows stay “in front” of others
  10. Adjusting window transparency
  11. Changing window zoom
  12. Altering window/mouse focus behavior

Some of these enhancements (e.g., scrolling, transparency) are ones I had adopted many months ago, but I had been undecided about which tool to use for moving and resizing windows, and for enabling tear-off menus and pop-up menus. That leaves the tricks 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12, none of which are compelling or useful enough to influence my choice, but are still cool enough to take note of.

Since I’ve already done the reviews of most of these and discussed the others in the context of those reviews, I’m not going to repeat the findings here. Rather, the following table links to each review (as well as to the software’s home page) and shows which Window Trick(s) each software provides. Finally, the table also indicates the ones I’m using, ones I recommend possibly for others, and the cost (if any) of each.

Armed with this secret Mac Magic, I’m sure you’ll be able to go out and conjure up some really cool enhancements for your Mac, if you haven’t already done so. :-)

Software Version $$ Move Resize Scroll Tear-off Pop-up Alpha Other Custom? Active? Source?
Review | Home
1.0 PR4 0 x x x x
1.2.1 0 x x
Review | Home
1 0 x x x x
Yes! Graffiti
Review | Home
0.4 0 x x x
Review | Home
1.0 10 x x x x
Review | Home
0.4 0 x x
Yes! MondoMouse
Review | Home
1.3 15 x x x x x
Yes! OCSmartHacks
Review | Home
2.0 29 x x x x x x x
Yes! SetAlphaValue
2.2 0 x x x
Yes! SmartScroll X
Review | Home
2.3 19 x x x
0.3 0 x x x
Yes! WindowDragon
Review | Home
1.1 b2 0 x x x x x
Yes! Zooom!
Review | Home
1.5 10 x x x x x

A few notes about this table:

  1. The “Review” link will load the review very quickly within this page. You can return to this article by clicking on the Return icon () near the top of the page. The link indicated with a ⤴ character will load the review in a separate window or tab.
  2. The check mark indicates software I recommend for its purpose.
  3. The green cells show which software I personally use for each Window Tricks category.
  4. The column “Custom?” marks those apps that can customize their behavior for individual applications on your system, an important attribute in this kind of trickery.
  5. The “Active?” column marks applications that have been updated in the last 12 months.
  6. The “Source?” column marks apps that are available as open source code, usually providing an xCode project and all of its files and structure.
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