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I shouldn’t have to try so hard to make multitasking work on a Mac

I shouldn’t have to try so hard to make multitasking work on a Mac


I have to set up third-party add-ons and learn an instruction manual’s worth of shortcuts to make this thing usable?

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Screenshot of macOS desktop showing browser windows, Slack, and notifications.
This image may have been arranged for maximum overload effect.
Image: Richard Lawler

There are at least half a dozen ways to multitask on macOS, and I can’t find a single one that I enjoy using.

Normally, my work setup starts with a Windows PC, which can be a single laptop screen, a desktop plugged into Samsung’s ridiculous ultrawide G9 curved monitor, or something in between. But today, thanks to literally two drops of water making contact with an XPS 13 touchpad and a post-surgery cat who doesn’t appreciate his temporary ban from climbing on things, I’m coming to you live from an M1 MacBook Air. And I hate it.

Not the hardware, mind you — I find the redesigned Air comfortable to use. With 16GB of RAM, it’s more than capable of doing all the things I want to do without stuttering, and the battery life blows similar Windows machines away. It’s the operating system, and it always has been.

I acknowledge that many people are able to get their work done on Macs, somehow, but I’m not one of those people. About every 18 months or so, I give Apple’s desktop platform a shot, and since I work in media, there are plenty of people around to explain what I’m doing wrong and why I actually should like this experience.

“Use Command+Tilde!”

“Mission Control settings make it easy to find the right window.”

“Notifications aren’t bad if you install a dedicated app for every single thing you use, like Gmail, Twitter, and YouTube.”

This is what I’m being told.

Except on Windows, I don’t have to install an app for everything (or, as Mac users would say, the app store’s selection is so bad that there aren’t any apps I’d want to install) or break my fingers stretching between keys just to switch between different sets of browser windows at will.

In my usual setup, I don’t use anything more complex than Alt+Tab to jump from one window to another, and using Command+Tab on a Mac feels like it should be the same experience, except it isn’t. I get icons for each program instead of previews of the window and what’s inside it, and it can only hop from one app to another instead of letting me choose the specific browser window I’d like to open. Once I’m in the Chrome window, I could jump between them using Command+Tilde, but that’s an extra step and an extra set of keypresses to solve a problem that doesn’t need to be a problem at all.

Misson Control on macOS
Misson Control on macOS.

Using Mission Control instead has the advantage of showing me everything on the screen, but it’s in a layout that changes too drastically depending on what I have open, and apps that open full-screen are hidden behind yet another click. Keeping multiple windows in my line of sight is a challenge in a way that it just doesn’t need to be, which is really bad when I’m trying to juggle several tabs, Twitter, and three Slack conversations.

My frustration only gets worse when it comes to notifications, which, for me, are popping up almost constantly. On Windows, notifications pushed through Chrome from web apps still make sense in the system UI, with more graphics and styling to note where they came from. Plus, the OS will tell me how many of them I have (or that I have any of them waiting for me at all) without filling up my entire screen. That way, I can see them when they come in, then go back and deal with them later when I have time

I can get a useful look into different apps by simply moving the pointer over that program’s entry in the taskbar, and snap layouts — probably my favorite feature in Windows 11 — works in a way that just makes sense. It’s easy to divide the screen space I have among different apps, then open others over them without messing anything up, using tools that are built directly into the operating system. (I will admit that on my ultrawide Windows setup, I recently added the PowerToys window manager to have more control over where programs snap to, but it’s not necessary.)

Apparently, the solution to my frustration lies just beyond the cliff of learning the proper combination of key commands; six-finger swipes up, down, left, right, or diagonally; and installing an app made by some guy that “will totally fix this.”

Moom, Rectangle, Alfred, Raycast — I don’t know if these are real products or if my coworkers are trolling me, but it feels like I’m back on Android 6.0, trying out different launchers to enable basic features. If I could find a setup I liked, I’d be open to changing my mind about macOS, but so far, it’s just not working for me, and it never has.