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The Slate Window Manager for Mac Power Users

WindowsYour computer’s user interface is based on one metaphor or another. (At least, it is if you’re not typing just 1s and 0s into your computer.) More than likely your computer operates on the “windows” metaphor, even if you use a Mac. Documents and applications float across the screen, and you click and drag to arrange the windows on your screen. The trouble with the window metaphor is that every second spent arranging windows is a waste of time. I find this to be a frequent source of frustration, and neither Windows nor Mac OS X handles it well. (The exception is xmonad, a tiling windows manager that is a true thing of beauty, but not one that you can use without Linux.) That’s why George wrote about Better Snap Tool, which Brian also likes in addition to Divvy, both of which add more powerful features to manage windows on a Mac. Either is a good, user-friendly option.

If you want a Mac windows manager that is more powerful and much more customizable, you might want to check out Slate. Slate is free and open-source, and it has all of the features of Divvy or Better Snap Tool, though implemented somewhat differently. What makes it stand out is that you can customize it with a Unix-style configuration file. I’ve used Slate to set up these features:

  • Keyboard shortcuts to resize windows and move them to various parts of the screen.
  • Keyboard shortcuts to move windows from one screen to another.
  • Keyboard shortcuts to open focus on particular apps (e.g., OPT + SHIFT + Z focuses on my text editor).
  • Layouts for one monitor (laptop screen) and two monitors (laptop screen + external monitor) that rearrange all the windows to predetermined positions. These are activated whenever I plug in or unplug a screen, or when I press a particular keystroke.

You’ll have to be comfortable editing the configuration file to use Slate, though the documentation is thorough, and this blog post offers a helpful introduction. You can also take a look at my configuration file.

Have you used Slate, Better Snap Tool, Divvy, or another window manager? What are your favorite features? What tips do you have to share? Please let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by L. Allen.]

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