Contexts started as an experiment to answer the question: can we design interaction mechanisms for window switching which are much better than Mac’s default ones? Better means that they should be simpler, much faster, and overall require less cognitive load – especially for dealing with multiple windows of the same application (e.g. multiple Photoshop windows, multiple Chrome windows) and also when there are lots of total windows open.
The Dock and Mac’s Cmd+tab are very poor at dealing with the multiple-windows-of-same-app scenario. And Mission Control is just slow: the full-screen animations take time and window positions are not stable so one has to hunt around for the right one every time.
If you are a Mac user who moves between different windows tens of times an hour and possibly hundreds of times on a work day, a substantial improvement to this will mean you save mental energy and are better able to stay in flow every day.
And Contexts lets you do that.
It comes with 5 switching mechanisms. They are all optimized for different workflows so you can pick whichever ones fit yours best.
- First you get an auto-hiding sidebar which lists all open windows; to switch to one you just have to click its title from the list. Its basically a Dock – for your windows.
- Since the windows are in a static list, Contexts also lets you switch to any window with Cmd+<number> or Opt+<number>, where <number> is its position in the list (see image). For example, you can move frequently used windows like Chrome to position 1, Slack to 2, code editor to 3 and so on. Then switching to these just requires one keystroke. The best thing about this is that over time switching to your frequently used windows becomes part of muscle memory and stops requiring any cognitive load (do you ever have to think about how to cut/copy/paste?).
- Next, Contexts optionally replaces the Mac’s Cmd+tab switcher with one which lists windows instead of apps in order they were recently used. So you can go straight to the window you want.
- The gesture switcher is the coolest. It took a few iterations and lots of testing with users to arrive at this: put a finger on the top-edge of the trackpad and the panel will appear with the top-most item selected; as you slide the finger down the trackpad the selection on the panel will move down too; when the window that you want to switch to is selected, lift your finger to switch to it. As simple as that.
- You can also get to any window with search. Press a keyboard shortcut and the panel appears. Type a few characters from the application name or window title and press enter. Great for infrequently used windows.
This is a brief overview of how Contexts works. To learn more and to download a trial version visit the Contexts website. Do give it a try!
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