The Command Tab keyboard shortcut is a quick and easy way to switch between the applications that you currently have open.
If for example you have the following applications open: Finder, Mail, TextEdit, Firefox and Calendar, and you are currently using the finder. A quick way to switch between them is to use “Command Tab”.
The Command key, sometimes called the apple key has this symbol on it. ⌘
Hold down the command key and tap the tab key. You will see the application switcher, a row of icons of your open applications like this.
(Note: the grey box is a Translucent box over whatever is on your screen at the time.)
Because you were in the finder it is the left most icon and it shows that if you release the command key now you will switch to the mail application.
If you continue to hold down the command key and type tab again you will see this in the application switcher.
Showing you that you will now switch to the textEdit application if you release the command key.
Each time you hit the Tab key the white square will move to the next open application to the right. When the white square is around the application you want to switch to let go of both the Tab key and the command key and you will switch to that application.
The Icons are displayed left to right, from your current application through your most recently used applications to your applications you haven’t used for a while.
In this illustration with only 5 open applications you can switch between any application with just 5 or less clicks. But If you sometimes have much larger numbers of applications open (like I often do) or you tab 1 too many times you can type command shift tab and this will cycle back form right to left.
For example with the same open applications open if you type command shift tab you will jump to the end application which in this example is iCal like this.
Another technique is to use the mouse or arrow keys, after you type command tab (or command shift tab) you then can use the mouse to point to the application you wish to select or use the arrow keys to move to the application you wish to select.
I find this keyboard shortcut to be most useful when I am switching multiple times between two applications. For example I copy from a spreadsheet copy of my accounts the date that a invoice was paid and paste it into a database of my invoices, switching back and forth between the programmes for each invoice.
If hold down the command key and also hold the tab key down the white square will cycle through your current open applications until it gets to the last application on the right (In leopard OSX 10.5 it will cycle continuously)
Using the command tab combination to quit. Hold down the command key and tap the tab key until you have moved to a application you are no longer using. While your finger is still holding down the command key you can now type the “Q” key which will send the selected application a Quit command. (Don’t worry if you have any unsaved documents the application will jump to the front and ask you to save).
In the same way that you can quit an open application you can also type the “H” key which will hide an application.
If you have typed command tab and hit the tab key a number of times and suddenly realise that you don’t want to change applications at this time you can hold you finger on the command key and type the esc key or the (full-stop key) which will pop you back into the application that you started from.
You can also Drag-and-drop (Files, web links, text) to the application switcher the same way you can drag-and-drop to the Dock. For example you can be composing an email switch to the text editor select some text in the text editor and start to drag it then type command tab and drag the text to the mail icon. Mail will then highlight the places you can drop this text. (eg in the address field, subject field or into the message of the email).
On the PC this works with the Alt tab keyboard combination.