Mac OS X: Using Command-Tab to Bring Back Minimized Windows

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If you’re savvy enough to be a TMO reader, you’re probably familiar with using the Command-Tab keyboard shortcut to switch between running applications. And if you’re a savvy TMO writer, you’ll stroke your readers’ ego at the start of your articles. After doing that, though, you’d probably discuss what you were going to be giving a tip on. Well, today we’ll be going over using Command-Tab to de-minimize windows for maximum application happiness. Wanna know more? Not sure what the heck I’m talking about? Want me to compliment you again? Then read on. 

So if you use Command-Tab all of the time, you’re used to its wonderfulness. Hold down Command and keep tapping Tab to choose which program you want from the Application Switcher, and release Command to select the highlighted option.

If you tap and release Command-Tab quickly, you can toggle back and forth between the last two programs you used. And while you’re holding Command, you can even tap the Q key to quit the highlighted program or the H key to hide it, lickety-split. 

My favorite modifier, though, is Option. If you’re a person who uses the yellow “stoplight” button to minimize windows in your computing life, this will be an awesome addition to your Mac arsenal if you didn’t already know about it.

“Your Mac arsenal”? Gah, I’m losing my touch.

So let’s say you’ve minimized iCal’s window. In Snow Leopard, that would mean that it shoots down onto the right side of your Dock; in Lion, it’ll get swallowed up into iCal’s application icon. If you then use Command-Tab to switch to iCal, its window won’t be automatically brought back up. Until now, that is. Hit Command-Tab to bring up the Application Switcher, tap Tab until you reach iCal’s icon, add then add the Option key to the Command key you’re already holding and release. Looky here—iCal’s window de-minimizes itself without any further interaction from you, just by adding on Option before you let the Command key go.

The only downside is that this trick won’t bring back all minimized windows if you have more than one. If you have Mail’s Message Viewer and a couple of draft e-mails minimized, for example, using this will only bring back the Message Viewer. You’ll still have to use the menus or the program’s Dock icon to access your other windows if you’ve got them. 

So that’s it. I’m done. You all know my secrets, on this at least. Which means I have to kill—wait a minute. I promised I’d give you more of an ego boost, didn’t I? You all are such smart, funny people, and I’m now virtually hugging each one of you. Except for that one guy over there. Dude, stop grinning at us all like that. 

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Julie, Julie, Julie. You continue to be a clever gal. I use these little gimmicks regularly, have forever, and they are just some for which I bless my Mac, Mecca style, upon rising every morning. Leaves the wifie perturbed and bewildered but you I know would understand and join me in my dance.

What a eureka moment! Not often I can say I am one step afore-you. Keep ‘em coming.

Melissa Holt

mhikl, you made me laugh out loud. I needed that this morning, so thank you! smile



Melissa, I have mud on my face. I had just read Julie?s piece and wanted to make a comment on her chosen picture of a jockstrap but thought I might be stepping over the line to crude, so returned to re-read your more genteel opus. Then I got flustered and confused over the thought of Julie?s naughty picture while enjoying your article, and Bob?s your uncle, Julie?s name just popped into my head.

Such mangling I do often make. I?ve learned to accept them.


Interesting change in Lion: a minimized (hidden) app keeps its place in the rotation whereas in Snow Leopard a minimized app would be at the end of the line of icons. I don’t know why it changed, but it did

Melissa Holt

mhikl, no biggie. Figured something like that happened, and your comment made me laugh a lot anyway. wink

Bikash Agarwal

wow.. i was just looking for this.. thanks a lot for this wonderful tip.. it saved my life.. i am a windows switcher and i am now looking through your post to get some more tricks..

Stephen Boesch

Hi, the specified key combo of command-opt does not have any effect for my MBPro on 10.8.4.

Stephen Boesch

Clarifying my prior statement:  it should say “command-tab then add the Opt”. The command-tab is doing the normal task switching list, and i can scroll through the open applications. Then upon selecting the one I care about (which has several minimized windows), I click the Option button. It has no effect.

Melissa Holt

Hey Stephen,

It’s working for me on 10.8.4. Hmmm. Are you holding down Option as you switch to the new app with the minimized windows? Sometimes if you don’t hold it right as you switch, this tip won’t work.

Hope that helps!

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