Afloat, by developers at Infinite Labs, is a useful plugin application that allows users to customize the way they interact with the windows they have open on their Mac OS desktops. It’s a small extender that adds both useful window management commands and a little eye candy to most Mac applications. It adds always-on-top, transparency, Spaces window management and more.
Adding several features to most open windows, it can be useful for both productivity and the general tidiness of your machine so you can find your way around more easily and keep windows that can so easily become a complete mess, in some sort of order. So let’s take a look at what it can do.
Getting Started with Afloat
The name of this feature almost gives it away, but if you’re not clear already then let me explain: the Keep Afloat option simply allows you to position a window on top of all others that are open, so you can drag it around and it will always be at the front of whatever it is you’re doing. Useful if you have a great number of windows open and it might get lost amongst the rabble.
In my opinion, this feature is actually more useful with the arrival of Lion, now that the dock exposé has vanished. If there’s a window of the utmost importance, you can keep it that way.
There’s also the ability to make windows more transparent on your desktop. I’ve found this can be useful for chat applications like iChat, as they’re not things you want in plain sight the whole time, but you might want to be keeping an eye on for somebody to come online, for example, unless you have notifications. It’s a good half-way house between just minimizing the application completely and having it dominating the screen.
You can control the degree of transparency between a number of states, rather than just on or off. There is a button and a keyboard shortcut you can use to scale through the degrees of transparency and opacity.
There is also a further option to allow you to make the application opaque whilst you’re using it, but fade into a level of transparency when the mouse isn’t hovering over it. If you have a number of small windows open on the same desktop, this will definitely be useful to really accentuate the one you’re working on at the time and keep you focussed.
The third main feature is the overlays. This simply allows you to make a window inactive, as well as always on top. For example, if you have a page open full of notes for a project you’re working on in a different app, you might want to just fix it in that position and not let anything else get in the way. This is probably the most helpful tool in terms of aiding your productivity.
Furthermore, you can with this tool select to have the open window appear on all desktops as you cycle through them, so you could potentially keep your chat window alongside whatever else it is you’re working on your Mac if you’re switching between desktops and apps that way.
Show the File
Lastly, a simple keyboard shortcut if you’re looking at a window that is an open file, such as a document, for example, will bring up the original file in Finder.
How it Works
Once the plugin is installed, you’ll notice that within certain apps, under the ‘Window’ menu entry in the menubar, you’ll have some new options that are accompanied by a black and white Afloat logo. This is how you access the features of Afloat for each application individually, and there is a button that says ‘Adjust Effects’, which takes you into a further menu of options which has a couple more.
The app can also be entirely operated by use of keyboard shortcuts, which you’ll find listed along with each menu entry, and once pressed you’ll be notified by a small graphic similar to that of the volume icon in Mac OS X briefly. appearing in the middle of your desktop.
The latest version of Afloat not only requires the installation of something called SIMBL (it’s an all-in-one installation package, don’t worry) but it also only works with Snow Leopard and Lion.
The plugin only works with a number of Cocoa-based apps, not Carbon apps such as iTunes. It won’t work with every third party app, the most annoying of which being the official Twitter app, as that’s definitely something I’d prefer to keep transparent, but it definitely works with the likes of Safari and iChat.