Hiding Programs the Old-Fashioned Way

When it comes to getting windows out of your way, nothing can touch Mission Control and Exposé for speed and entertainment value. Once you’ve mastered those features, the traditional rituals of hiding windows will seem charmingly quaint. “When I was your age,” you’ll tell your grandchildren, “we used to have to hold down the Option key to hide windows!”

But you know the drill at software companies: They giveth, but they never taketh away. All the old techniques are still around for the benefit of Mac fans who use them by force of habit.

Hiding the Program You’re Using

If your aim is to hide only the frontmost program’s windows and palettes, Mac OS X offers a whole raft of approaches. Many of them involve the Option key, as listed here:

  • Option-click any visible portion of the desktop. The program you were in vanishes, along with all its windows.

  • Option-click any other program’s icon on the Dock. You open that program (or bring all its windows to the front) and hide all the windows of the one you were using.

  • Option-click any visible portion of another program’s windows. Once again, you switch programs, hiding the one you were using at the time.

  • From the Application menu, choose Hide iPhoto (or whatever the program is). The Application menu is the boldfaced menu that bears the program’s name.

  • From the program’s Dock icon shortcut menu, choose Hide. You open the shortcut menu, of course, by right-clicking. You also get a Hide button if you click-and-hold on the Dock icon for half a second.

  • When you’ve highlighted a program’s icon by pressing -Tab to rotate through the running programs, press the letter H key. The program hides itself instantly. Leave the key down the whole time, and after pressing the H, press Tab again to move on to the next program. If you release the keys while “stopped” on the program instead, you’ll bring it forward rather than hiding it.

  • Press -H. This may be the easiest and most useful trick of all (although it doesn’t work in a few oddball programs). Doing so hides the program you’re in; you then “fall down” into the next running program.


Consider this radical timesaving proposal: Never quit the programs you use frequently. Instead, simply hit -H whenever you’re finished working in a program. That way, the next time you need it, the program launches with zero wait time.

There’s a limit to this principle; if you have only 2 gigabytes of memory and you keep 20 programs open, and one of them is Photoshop, you’ll incur a speed penalty. In more moderate situations, though, Mac OS X’s virtual-memory scheme is so good that there’s almost no downside to leaving your programs open all the time.

To unhide a program and its windows, click its Dock icon again, choose the Show All command in the Application menu, or press -Tab to summon the heads-up application display.

Hiding All Other Programs

Choosing Hide Others from your program’s Application menu means, of course, “Hide the windows of every program but this one.” It even hides your Finder (desktop) windows, although desktop icons remain visible.

Better yet, there’s a keystroke for this command: Option--H. That’s one small step for keystrokes, one giant leap for productivity geeks.

If this trick interests you, you might also enjoy its corollary, described next.

The Bring-Forward, Hide-All-Others Trick

Here’s a terrific technique that lets you bring one program to the front (along with all its open windows), and hide all other windows of all other open programs—all with one click.

You might think of it as Hero mode, or Front-and-Center mode, or Clear My Calendar mode.

In any case, the trick is to Option--click the lucky program’s icon on the Dock. As it jumps to the fore, all other windows on your Mac are instantly hidden. (You can bring them back, of course, by clicking the appropriate Dock icons.)

Hiding (Minimizing) Individual Windows

You can also hide or show individual windows of a single program. In fact, Apple must believe that hiding a window will become one of your favorite activities, because it offers at least three ways to do so:

  • Choose Window→Minimize Window, if your program offers such a command, or press -M.

  • Click the Minimize button on the window’s title bar.

  • Double-click the window’s title bar. (If this doesn’t work, choose →System Preferences→Appearance. Make sure “Double-click a window’s title bar to minimize” is turned on.)

In any case, the affected window shrinks down until it becomes a new icon on the right side of the Dock. Click that icon to bring the window back.

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