See All Open Windows on a Mac with Mission Control

Jun 20, 2017 - 15 Comments

Activate Mission Control to see all windows on a Mac

Mission Control is one of the better productivity enhancing features on the Mac, allowing you to quickly see all open windows, documents, and applications on Mac OS in a broad overview screen. This offers a fantastic way to quickly navigate through depths of open apps and windows and to quickly get to what window or app you’re looking for.


For the unfamiliar,Mission Control will quite literally show all open windows from all applications and documents, so whether you have dozens of Finder windows, Terminal, TextEdit, Pages, Photoshop, or Safari windows open, you can instantly see them all on one screen in little easily browsable thumbnails, and then quickly jump around to specific windows or documents with ease simply by clicking on one of the little previews.

Despite Mission Control being around for quite some time (it used to be called Expose in earlier Mac OS X releases), it is underutilized by many Mac users not only regarding the more advanced Mission Control tricks but even on the more simple window management and active window discovery level. With that in mind, we’re going to review how to use the simplest Mission Control feature which of immediately seeing all open windows, documents, and apps on the Mac.

How to See Every Window on a Mac with Mission Control

There are at least three different ways to access the most simple Mission Control overview feature: with a keyboard shortcut, with a trackpad, and with a Magic Mouse. Each activation method is different but the end result is always the same; you will see all open windows on the Mac.

Use Trackpad Gestures to See All Open Windows on Mac with Mission Control

For MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Magic Trackpad, and Mac trackpad users in general, you can access Mission Control immediately with a gesture:

  • Swipe Up Four Fingers on the Trackpad to activate Mission Control
  • Click on any small preview to bring that window to the forefront

If this does not work for you for some reason you likely need to enable it within your Trackpad settings in  Apple Menu > System Preferences > Trackpad > Gestures

Mission Control activate with Trackpad on Mac

Use a Mac Magic Mouse to See All Open Windows in Mission Control

The Magic Mouse also accepts gestures and can access Mission Control easily too with a simple two finger double tap:

  • Double-tap with Two Fingers on the Magic Mouse to activate Mission Control
  • Click any thumbnail to open that window immediately into the forefront

If this isn’t working with your Magic Mouse, you can enable this or adjust it to a different tap option in  Apple Menu > System Preferences > Mouse > More Gestures

Opening Mission Control settings on Mac Magic Mouse

Use a Keyboard Shortcut to View All Windows and Access Mission Control

You can also use a keystroke to quickly jump to Mission Control and see all windows open on a Mac:

  • Hit Control + Up Arrow to open Mission Control
  • Choose any thumbnail preview to open that selected item into the forefront of th Mac

You can enable or adjust the keyboard shortcut in  Apple Menu > System Preferences > Mission Control if you find the keystroke is not activating mission control as expected.

Mission Control keyboard shortcut on Mac

* If Mission Control is grouping your window previews together rather than tiling them as thumbnails, uncheck to disable the “Group windows by application” setting in the Mission Control System preferences of Mac OS.

I use this Mission Control gesture feature so often to view all open windows, apps, and documents, that I often forget many other Mac users are not aware of it, until recently someone was watching me use their computer and asked what they were seeing and how to use it.

So the next time you’re looking at a chaotic cluttered desktop full of windows, apps, and documents like this:

Many windows open on a Mac see them all with Mission Control

Just use your trackpad, mouse, or keyboard to view all of the open windows in Mission Control like this:

See all open windows on a Mac with Mission Control

Do you have any tips or tricks for Mission Control on the Mac? Share them with us in the comments below, you might also want to browse other Mission Control articles too.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

15 Comments

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  1. Elwood Downey says:

    It only shows stuff for the current Desktop. Is there way to show _everything_ ? That would be more useful since I usually know what is on a given Desktop, but I loose track of what is on each Desktop. Thanks.

  2. Frank Myers says:

    I was occasionally getting the all windows view. But I didn’t know it was called Mission Control. Now I know what it is and how to get it.

    Thanks

  3. Alan D. Wilcox says:

    Elwood: True enough, you only see the current “spaces” desktop.

    HOWEVER …

    Most usually I just *hold* the Command key and touch the Tab key to see all the open apps. Tab over to the one I want, let got of Cmd, and I’m there.

  4. Alan D. Wilcox says:

    Elwood: True enough, you only see the current “spaces” desktop.

    HOWEVER …

    Most usually I just *hold* the Command key and touch the Tab key to see all the open apps. Tab over to the one I want, let go of Cmd, and I’m there.

  5. ej23 says:

    There are apps like Better Touch and Magic Touch that make using Mission Control a lot easier than the default OS methods.
    Mission Control is such an under rated feature in OS, and is especially nice with maxed out RAM .

  6. samuel muindi says:

    I would love to be able disable (cripple) this damn thing. An inadvertent swipe on a track pad involves it, even if you turn off the gesture via system preferences.

  7. Ian T says:

    I agree with Elwood Downey: if you are going to use several Desktops, it makes sense to have a Mission Control function that shows all open Windows on all Desktops.
    Restricting open Windows to the current Desktop rather defeats the point of having multiple Desktops.

  8. UglyStuff says:

    In Snow Leopard, the F9 key would display all open windows as miniatures on a dimmed background.

    And that was pretty awesome…

  9. Elwood Downey says:

    Hi Alan, thanks for the tip. I did not know about this.

    Unfortunately it does not help for my situation either. I hold Command, tap Tab and I do see a graphical list of open apps. I tap Tab more times until one is highlighted. Then I release Command. But if the App I choose is not on the current Desktop (er, Space) then nothing changes, the Apps list just fades away. I wish it would change over to the correct Desktop.

    • Alan D. Wilcox says:

      Elwood,
      I use Total Spaces 2 app, which gives me a lot of flexibility and should do all you want. See http://totalspaces.binaryage.com/
      Alan

      • Elwood Downey says:

        Thanks, I’ll check it out.

        I’m rather surprised such fundamental functions require 3rd party apps. OTOH, I’m impressed Apple provides sufficient low-level access that such fundamental functions can be added at all by 3rd party apps.

  10. Smokey says:

    I’ve never been able to get anything on Mission Control except a lot of windows, one behind the other. I couldn’t see the ones behind the front window, so I had to click on the top slice of each hidden window to see it. That made Mission Control worthless.

    But thanx to the screenshot of Mission Control in the article, I realized I might have the wrong features checked (I had them all checked). So I copied the ones in the screenshot, and now I can see all the windows. Finally!

    So if anyone else has that problem, just copy the screenshot above. Or, I might be the only slow kid in class…

    • Paul says:

      Smokey, the setting for “Group windows by application” was likely enabled for you in Mission Control system preferences. I’ve added a note about disabling that to get the tile thumbnail view in Mission Control. Thanks for mentioning this, it’s a common issue!

  11. Tim says:

    To my knowledge, Command-Tab shows open applications but not their windows. (There are third party apps that can do that.) I used El Capitan, so maybe Sierra does this; I don’t know for sure.

    As for Mission Control, it does not show any hidden apps windows or any minimized windows. (It used to show minimized windows, but I guess Apple thought that feature was too useful to keep.)

  12. Jim Roberts says:

    You can hit the F3 button which shows a “menu” of all the desktops. Clicking or hovering a mouse over any one opens them to show Mission Control in the present desktop but a miniature of the *top* app in each desktop which gives me an idea of which desktop I need to switch to by clicking on it.
    Agree it would be more useful if Mission Control would show ALL open files in all desktops.

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