I’m a bit of a geek or whatever you call a computer tweaker these days. I recently setup a combination of hardware and software to automate one of the more tedious and repetitive daily actions and it’s bringing me so much joy that I thought I’d share it as my first iconpaper blog post in the new Tips & Tricks section. Trust me, this one is a winner for anyone who likes a tidy desktop. I’ve been using this trick for months now (longevity is the true test of a handy trick isn’t it) and I’m realizing that this has to be one of the absolutely coolest productivity enhancers I’ve ever used. And it was almost an accident too.
To set the scene, I’m a big MacBook Pro fan. I use one of the mid-grade, more modern i7-based MBPs with a 15″ HD 1680×1050 native display and 8GB RAM with two external monitors using a ViBook USB video cable and their BETA Snow Leopard 64-bit drivers. One of my biggest complaints with the Mac OS was how Finder and many other app windows maximize. I always expect my windows to fill the screen when I hit the maximize “stop light” button. But Finder never did this. Recently TotalFinder from BinaryAge added this feature to their Preference Pane, to have Finder fill the desktop, but here’s a way to make this happen across all apps on your desktop.
This tip uses a multi-button mouse and a couple inexpensive software utilities. Whit this trick in place you click a mouse button and the active window maximize to fill the whole screen whatever screen it’s on (or maximize to fit any space/shape with any margin or dock buffer you want really). That’s it. Doesn’t sounds like much but it’s pure heaven if you love a tidy desktop like me. You won’t understand how wonderful this capability is if you are not totally “a-retentive” about your UI like I am. You have to understand that because of my affliction, I absolutely must have all my application windows arranged just right on my desktops before I can begin working (it’s sad really). I have three screens each running at a different resolution (1440×900 sometimes vertical, 1680×1050 and 1920×1050) and 10 to 15 app windows going at any one time throughout my day. And by arranged I don’t mean just visible, I mean precisely maximized so the top gap below the menubar is a uniform 1 pixel and the sides are expanded to–but not one pixel past–both of the screen edges and the bottom is precisely aligned with the dock.
Finder annoys me the most because it is one of the few apps I use regularly that refuses to maximize when you hit the maximize button. I was getting very tired of always stretching windows to fill the screen and dragging menubars around to make sure they were properly jammed top/right all the time. Then I got a Razer Orochi Bluetooth mouse (which is by far the most accurate and well made mice I’ve used and I’ve used them all from Apple Mighty and Magic to Logitech and Microsoft). I then stumbled on the wonderfully sublime SizeUp utility from Irradiated Software. Together with the US Overdrive preference pane from Alessandro Levi Montalcini I have come up with the perfect combination of hardware and software for my window management woes.
Here’s how it all works. Working with the SizeUp and USB Overdrive tools installed, the Orochi not only has great programmable features for Exposé and Dashboard but it also has a couple buttons that Snow Leopard recognizes and are ripe for mapping in my cause for the perfect window arrangement. All you have to do is set a key combination in the SizeUp Maximize Window preference panel to tell the active window to maximize on that keystroke. SizeUp is great because you can set additional actions like creating a margin to buffer your dock from the bottom of your windows or elements you don’t want covered like desktop icons on the left or right. And it let’s you “maximize relative” so it works across all your different screen resolutions too. Then map that specific key stroke to a free mouse button using USB Overdrive (which does recognize the Orochi features). Now all you have to do is press that button and the active window instantly jumps to the exact size you want on any screen it happens to be on. So if Firefox is half opened on screen 1? No problem, just click and it’s maximized perfectly. Finder not maximizing on screen 2? Click, maximized! Mail too small to read on screen 3? Click, full screen. Some applications (meaning Photoshop here) do not maximize no matter what you do but this works 99.99% of the time. I have not grabbed a titlebar or dragged a corner grab handle in months and I’m loving it. You have to try this if you like a tidy desktop.