The Mac Task Manager
Many new Mac users are coming from the Windows world where they would access the Task Manager to end tasks and stop errant processes. The Mac has it’s own Task Manager but it goes by another name: Activity Monitor. Activity Monitor functions in a very similar way to how Task Manager does in Windows, letting you easily view, manage, and end tasks, applications, and any active processes that are running in Mac OS X. If you’re unfamiliar with Activity Monitor or task management on the Mac in general, don’t worry, because despite it’s immense power and control, it’s not complicated to use.
The Mac Task Manager
Despite being named Activity Monitor many Mac switchers continue to refer to the utility as the Windows name of Task Manager, keep in mind that regardless of the lingo used it’s the same application utility being discussed and used.
Remember, the Task Manager for Mac = Activity Monitor!
Using the Task Manager in Mac OS X
If you’re used to Windows, you’d get to the Task Manager by hitting Control+ALT+DEL. In Mac OS X, it’s a bit different. You can launch the app directly within it’s containing directory, through LaunchPad, drag it into the Dock, or use Spotlight for quick keyboard access.
Access the Mac Task Manager
Activity Monitor is located in your /Applications/Utilities/ folder. The simplest way to get to Activity Monitor in Mac OS X is to use Spotlight as a keyboard shortcut for quick access:
- Hit Command+Spacebar to bring up the Spotlight search field
- Type in “Activity Monitor”
- Hit the Return key when “Activity Monitor” populates in the spotlight results
- You are now in Activity Monitor where you can manage and manipulate tasks
It’s often helpful to sort tasks by CPU, but you can sort them by name, memory usage, process ID, and use the search box in the upper right corner to be able to locate specific tasks that match names or characters.
Activity Monitor is very powerful because it not only shows you what applications are running for the active user, but it also displays system level tasks, kernel tasks, daemons, processes that belong to other users, quite literally every process will show up. If it’s running somewhere on the Mac, you can find it in this list.
Killing or Stopping a Task/Process with Activity Monitor
From within Activity Monitor, simply click on the task or application you want to end and then click on the large red “Quit Process” button in the left corner of the app window. You will get a warning dialogue as follows:
Assuming you have selected the process/application you want to end, click on the “Quit” button. If the app is being unresponsive, you can click on the “Force Quit” button instead to immediately kill the process and stop the application from running without any further warning.
Get System Stats, CPU, Memory Usage, Network, and Disk Info in Activity Monitor
Looking at the bottom of Activity Monitor you can also get system usage information about your Mac. Just click on the tabs to see information about CPU, System Memory, Disk Activity, Disk Usage (space), and Network activity and usage.
If you want to see live system stats and activity all the time, minimize Activity Monitor, then right-click on it’s Dock icon to enable various system activity monitors right in the Dock which will show live graphs instead of the standard icon. You can set them to be specific to CPU (arguably the most useful), network, disk activity, and RAM usage.
Quick Tip for New Mac Users from the Windows World
Until new Mac users are more familiar with Spotlight and how their Mac works, I often recommend recent switchers keep Activity Monitor in their Dock for easy access. The good news is that you will rarely use Activity Monitor, since Mac OS and applications within it run much better than Windows, but it’s good to have it readily available in case something goes haywire. Typically if something does go wrong it’s likely to be a subprocess or plugin inside a web browser, like Java or Flash messing up and freezing up an app or tab in the process.