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Command Key: Use the Command Key to Control Background Windows

Control Background Windows Without Bringing Them to the Front


The command key has many uses with OS X. One that is often overlooked, and in my opinion, one of the most productive, is using the command key to work with background windows without bringing them to the front.

When you have multiple windows open, it’s usually because you’re working with information in each window. For example, you may be gathering data from multiple web sites. To do this, you might have a word processor document window and at least two browser windows (or tabs) open. Normally, if you want to copy some text from a browser window to a word processor document, you would need to first select the browser window by clicking on it and moving it to the front of all other open windows. You would then select and copy the text, click the document window in your word processor to bring it to the front, and paste the text into the document. That’s a lot of window manipulation just to copy some text.

You can shorten the process by using the command key to work directly with a background window, without moving it to the front first. Here’s how.

Take Command of a Background Window

We will use the same example we mentioned above. You have a word processor document window open in the foreground, and a browser window open in the background. These windows can be overlapping, as long as the information you are interested in is visible in the background browser window.

Hold down the command key and move your cursor to the text in the browser window. With the command key still held down, select the text with the mouse, just as you normally would. You can then either drag the text to your document, or right-click and use the Copy/Paste menus to move the text to your document. You don’t even need to release the command key as you work between the foreground and background windows.

What Else Can You Do With the Command Key?

  • Move the position of background windows
  • Scroll a background window
  • Resize a window
  • Close a window

You should also be able to perform any right-click menu items the background window supports.

You may be able to do many additional things, such as work with the menus of the background window, but this type of interaction is dependent on the individual application.

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