OS X Yosemite: What Does That Little Green Button do NOW?

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Since the beginning of time, well since 2001, the little green button at the top of every OS X window has expanded the current window to take up all available space. OS X Yosemite changes the default behavior of that green button for the first time.

OS X Mavericks and Before

Historically, in fact, that green button at the top left has had two kinds of behaviors. If you're in a Finder window, clicking the green dot will expand the window as much as it can in order to show as many files as it can. Sometimes it can do that with a slight expansion and not take up the full display. Other times, expanding as much as it can in one direction cannot show all the files in that folder.

Note that if you hold the cursor over the green button, a "+" symbol appears as a prompt, reminding you what will happen.

For applications, each app tries to expand as much as possible, to maximize according to the developer's design, but the OS X menu bar remains visible. Clicking it again puts the window's size back to where it was before.

Finally, if you want to go full-screen, and the app supports it, the icon at the top right will do that. You leave full-screen mode with the ESC key.

Full-screen icon (top right).

OS X Yosemite

In Yosemite, for apps that have converted, the behavior changes. Apple's own Safari and Preview, flagship apps, are suggestive of how this will go, but not all apps in the public beta have been converted.

In Yosemite, the green button changes its default behavior.

1. The default behavior in OS X 10.10 is for the green button to go full-screen. (No menu bar.) That full-screen icon is now tiny and squished inside when you hover the mouse over it.

The full-screen icon is squished inside the green button.

2. Optional (previous) behavior. Hold the OPTION key down when you click, and the green button will behave as before. You'll see the familiar "+" symbol inside the green button.

I think this is a good move by Apple. Having a green button on the left side to do one similar thing and a full-screen icon on the right side to do another similar thing isn't great design. In Yosemite, we have a simpler, consistent interface.

It's always good to remember the prime directive of OS X computing. When in doubt, hold down the OPTION key and click. (Or CMD. Or CTRL.)

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This is a good UI move; consolidating a couple of related window function buttons into a simpler interface. Personally, for the history of the green window zoom button, I’ve found its behavior to be pretty inconsistent and unpredictable, so I’ve rarely used it.

Now to side-step into a mini-rant: While it’s cool that Apple has moved into a business model where they’re doing more frequent, free OS updates, they’re in a phase where they’re constantly breaking UI functionality and not fixing them until the next OS release, or not at all. Mavericks NEVER remembers a Finder window that was open when I restart (defeating the purpose of the “reopen windows” feature), and the forward/backward history gesture is broken (still works fine in Safari, System Preferences, etc). I’m blown away that they would break very obviously missing functionality, and not at least fix it in a software update… and that’s a pattern that’s been going on at least since 10.7. This is not the responsive Apple that I remember from the earlier days of OS X, when they were introducing groundbreaking features that kicked Windows’ butt and addressing glaring software issues in a much more timely fashion.


I hope there’s a command line preference that can be changed to toggle this behavior. I dislike full screen mode and would rather the default action is to maximize the window.

Hopefully since the option key toggles the behavior already, there will be.


I’m with iVoid on this. Keep the old behaviour, and optionally opt-click does what Yosemite does now by default.

Paul Goodwin

I don’t understand the logic of making a default be a window without a menu. The standard view in the Mac OS is the with the menus. New users (which I’m not) would be fumbling around trying to get the menus back. Full screen without menus is a View Option. One would logically look under the View menu to go full screen.


I loathe full screen, except for CAD drawings and video.


@iJack I similarly have found only two good uses for full screen. One is on my 13” MBA I full screen Safari to maximize how much of the web page I can see. The other is in Pixelmator if I have several images open and I want to hide the distractions to focus on one but just temporarily (so it would be a hassle to minimize all the others and then un-minimize them).

If you have two monitors it looks kinda cool to have a terminal window full screened on one of them, but it’s not very practical.

Since I’m not being forced to use it I have not developed any loathing. It leaves me alone and I leave it alone most of the time.


In some situations you can double click in a window’s title bar to maximize. This doesn’t work with Chrome.

Donna McMaster

I agree with iVoid. It’s disturbing to redefine a button that people have been using for many years. And unlike Paul Goodwin, I have been baffled about how to get back to regular screen mode, which is why I made the search that found your article. ESC is what I’ve always used within applications, but it is no longer working for some reason. And I’m not a newbie; I’ve been using Macs on a regular basis since the first ones came out in 1984.

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