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Summary:

One of my ‘pet peeves’ about OS X is the inability to force a window to remain on top of all the others. Several years ago, when using Windows, this was a functionality that I found invaluable for watching videos and keeping certain web pages or […]

Afloat Window Management

One of my ‘pet peeves’ about OS X is the inability to force a window to remain on top of all the others. Several years ago, when using Windows, this was a functionality that I found invaluable for watching videos and keeping certain web pages or applications at the forefront of my display. Certain Mac applications offer this functionality built in (VLC for instance) but most don’t.

I was thrilled to find Afloat, a simple piece of software which adds the above collection of menu bar items to an application. It allows you to perform a whole new set of operations on a window such as keeping it on top, increasing transparency, and creating ‘overlays’.

Features

The various functions available include:

  • Keep Afloat: puts a window always on top of all others.
  • Transparency: lets you see through a window.
  • Drag Anywhere: lets you move a window by “grabbing” it from anywhere (not necessarily the title bar).
  • On All Spaces: makes a window remain on the screen even if you switch Spaces.
  • Overlay: makes a window floating and transparent and makes it ignore your mouse clicks (they “fall through” to the windows below it instead).
  • Show Window’s File in Finder: if a window represents an open file, it will show the file in Finder.

Afloat Window Options

Keyboard shortcuts are built in for all the different functions, which saves you clicking around to find them each time you need to perform an operation. It is as simple as holding two keys and scrolling the mouse wheel to adjust the transparency of a window – it’s possible to make your desktop look very futuristic, but it is debatable how user friendly transparency really is.

The hidden drawback

The software is far from perfect, however. The main problem is that it only works with Cocoa applications — so Carbon apps such as Finder and iTunes don’t offer the Float functionality. This is a real shame, as watching videos through my media player of choice still can’t be achieved. As mentioned previously, it is possible to use VLC, but I’m still waiting and hoping that they’ll find a way to enable Afloat with iTunes.

The fact that Safari is supported is great for websites such as BBC iPlayer and similar, as their video can be floated. Equally, stock ticker sites and even chat applications such as Adium can be made much more user friendly when allowed to float above other windows.

It’s a great piece of software, and definitely worth giving a go, considering it’s free. Let us know if you find any other inventive ways it can help your window arrangement!

  1. There are some float options available under the advanced tab of the iTunes preferences. Specifically for the mini player and the stand-alone video player.

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  2. I use NicePlayer for playing videos. Extremely lightweight and has the option to stay on top of everything. It lacks features of full-fledged video players, but the small footprint can’t be beat.

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