On Window Snapping and Customized Trackpad Gestures with BetterTouchTool

6 minutes read

What’s BetterTouchTool?

BetterTouchTool is a nifty little utility for the Mac that allows window snapping and customized trackpad gestures.

BetterTouchTool is a utility for Macs that enables window snapping, boosting productivity especially on small laptop screens, and allows the user to add custom trackpad gestures to any app, making workflows intuitive. With it, I can use pinch to zoom in my iWork and Microsoft Office apps, rotate to switch tabs in Google Chrome, double tap with four fingers to activate full-screen, and split my screen into two separate spaces for easier copying and pasting and management. I’ve been using it ever since I got my first Mac in 2009, and it’s been one of the staples in my essential set of apps. Best of all, it’s completely free.

Window snapping makes working with multiple documents a breeze

If you use (or used to use) Windows 7, you’ll probably know about a feature called Aero Snap, and BetterTouchTool allows you to emulate exactly that . I know, I know, it’s makes you look like a Windows wannabe, but I’m not going to blindly deny that Aero Snap really is a very very useful feature. It’s made me more efficient in researching and writing papers as well as working with data for my thesis.

What’s Window Snapping? Window snapping basically allows you to position windows (a) to the entire screen, (b) to half of it, or (c) to a quarter of the screen, so that you can make the best use of space on a tiny laptop screen by keeping all your documents visible. For example, when I was working with thesis, I had to copy data from one Excel file and transcribe it into another Excel file. This was my setup:

BetterTouchTool's window snapping feature makes working with multiple documents easier, especially when you have to transcribe or transpose large amounts of data.

As you can see, I could easily scroll around the documents and find the data I need, and switch to other to copy the data, as opposed to constantly switching windows through Expose.

So, how does it work? You simply drag your window to the top (for full screen), to the sides (for half screen), or to the corners (for quarter screen). A black box will appear to show what space your window will occupy, and upon release - voila! Here’s an illustration of how it works:

With BetterTouchTool, you can snap windows to the entire screen, to the right or left half, or to any quarter.

It’s really helpful and ready to go as soon as you launch the app (it helps to add this to your list of startup applications) and runs in the background. But if you really want to take advantage of everything that BTT has to offer, you’ll want to…

Apply trackpad gestures to any app to make everything more intuitive

BTT not only allows you take control of your screen, but also your trackpad. You ever notice how Apple-made apps such as Preview, Finder, and iMovie have such intuitive trackpad gestures and wish that you could apply that to apps like Microsoft Office and Google Chrome? Well, you can do that by customizing trackpad gestures.

You simply open up BTT’s settings menu by pressing Cmd+Option+Shift+O:

The BTT settings menu - it may seem complicated, but this one-time setup can save you lots of time in the future.

Feel free to toy around with the settings menu. There are various gestures that you can assign to any action (as long as it has a keyboard shortcut), and you can make these gestures global (anywhere in the computer) or app-specific (only when a certain app is active).

If you just want to get some really useful gestures, you can download my own personal settings, which contain the following features:

  • Fn+5-finger tap - sleeps the screen but not the computer (useful for when you leave the laptop to download overnight).
  • Double 4-finger tap - activates full-screen mode (for Mac OS X Lion and later)
  • Pinch in/Pinch out - zooms in and out in iWork Pages and Keynote
  • Rotate right/left - moves to previous/next tab in Google Chrome and Safari
  • 3-finger swipe down - creates a new tab in Google Chrome and Safari

So that’s BetterTouchTool! I hope you give it a try, and if you do, tell me what you think in the comments. These may only be minor enhancements, but if you can get the small annoying things out of the way, it makes it easier to focus on the work and heighten productivity.

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