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Window Magic with Keyboard Maestro

We don't need no stinkin window manager

There are lots of tools in the world that can manage your windows on the Mac. There is Moom, Better Touch Tool, Better Snap Tool1, Mosaic, Magnet, Veeer, and probably 40 others. If you’re a Keyboard Maestro user, maybe you don’t need any other tools.

Keyboard Maestro can do eleventy-billion things. I use it for a bunch of stuff like text replacement, UI scripting, keyboard shortcut overrides, adding keyboard shortcuts to apps that don’t have them, running scripts, performing API calls, and more. For this post, the more” is window management. We’ll get to the nitty-gritty in a bit, but first, let’s talk basics…

A Disclaimer

Any of the tools mentioned above, and many more, can do this with less finicky pre-programming. Once everything is set up, it works just as well (better, in my opinion) in Keyboard Maestro as it does with any other dedicated app. There is no UI, so you don’t see a Moom-like grid, and there’s no drag-to-the-edge action, but I run all this from my keyboard, so none of that interests me.

The Triggers

All of these window positions are individual Keyboard Maestro macros. They are triggered via one of two keyboard shortcuts, called a hotkey trigger” in Keyboard Maestro. One is my spatial” shortcut, which is a combination of some modifiers and the number pad. I use this one 99% of the time. I have a second hotkey trigger that triggers a conflict palette. This is used when I’m on my laptop and don’t have the number pad. I also have them mapped to a Stream Deck profile that has buttons for each position as well.

Here’s what it looks like in action: Windows dancing around the desktop dot gif

The spatial setup makes sense to me. I hold down 2 modifiers and then hit a key on the number pad. The number pad is the map” of the screen. Here’s how it breaks down

1 Bottom left

2 Bottom middle

3 Bottom right

4 Left half

5 Center focus

6 Right half

7 Top left

8 Top middle

9 Top right

The modifiers are a bit more nuanced but still make sense.

⌥⌘ (Option-Command) is the right monitor

⌃⌥ (Control-Option) is the left monitor (when it’s in landscape)

⇧⌃ (Shift-Control) is the left monitor (when it’s in portrait)2

It seems confusing, but if you wrap your head around the right two keys are the right monitor, the left two keys are the left monitor, and the number pad is a map” it totally makes sense (to me.) These modifier combinations also work with the Stream Deck buttons to target the left or right monitor. In this image (I use a Keychron K4 as my main keyboard, FWIW), the red box is the right monitor, the yellow box is left monitor in landscape, and the blue box is the left monitor in portrait. The purple arrows are where the macro throws the window.

The KeyboardThe Keyboard

In addition to the Stream Deck and the spatial triggers, I set another hotkey trigger (⌃⌥⇧⌘-Up Arrow) on ALL the shortcuts. If multiple shortcuts have the same trigger, Keyboard Maestro throws up a Conflict Palette, which lets you choose an option by typing a letter or two. This is the way I trigger everything on my laptop when I don’t have my big keyboard. Here’s what that looks like:

GIF of the Keyboard Maestro Conflict PaletteGIF of the Keyboard Maestro Conflict Palette

The Macros

Now the fun part. First, if you’d like to play along, you can download my Macro Set as a starting point. They are built for side-by-side 28″ 4K monitors with the main monitor on the right, so you may need to adjust to your setup.

Here’s one of the macros we can walk through… Keyboard Maestro Macro Screenshot

  1. The top 3 options are the triggers. As I mentioned before, each of these has 3 triggers. The spatial trigger (from the number pad), the Conflict Palette trigger (for the laptop), and the Stream Deck trigger. You can have as many as you like.
  2. The actions. I have these wrapped in a repeat block because when I first built them years ago, sometimes my Mac would skip a beat and not move the window, so I had it repeat twice to make sure it moved. I haven’t had that issue since moving to an M1 Mac mini, so I could probably get rid of it. I just set it to repeat once now in case I ever need it again.
  3. Move and Resize action. There’s a lot to unpack in this one.

Move and Resize

Move and Resize Action To get to a Move and Resize action in Keyboard Maestro, you need to first drag in a Resize a Window action, then change to Move and Resize in the dropdown. If you have simple needs, Keyboard Maestro provides some good presets, and you don’t have to do all the math. Just pick a half or quadrant, and you’re good to go. It’s also helpful to just choose one and see what KM throws in the values for position and size. This is how I learned what to do.

The presets are fine, but I have more complicated needs. I have big 4K monitors, so I prefer a grid of 6, not a grid of 4. I also prefer a little space between my tiled windows. This lets me peek between them and have just enough space to click on a background window if I need it.

In the above macro, the settings are for my Left monitor. For my setup, this is monitor 1 (even though my right monitor is set up in Display Preferences as my MAIN monitor). I have all these set up as percentages. This allows me to use them on my desk setup and my laptop. If you only have one setup, you could easily replace all the percentages with actual pixel dimensions.

Now, let’s explain the screenshotted3 macro above.

  • The first field is the offset on the X dimension. SCREEN(1,Left,.5%)
    • Offset the window on Screen 1 .5% from the left edge of the screen”
  • The second is the offset in the Y dimension. SCREEN(1,MidY)
    • Offset the window on Screen 1 halfway down the screen”
  • The third is the width of the window. SCREEN(1,Width)*31%
    • Make the window 31% of the screen width”
  • The last is unsurprisingly the height. SCREEN(1,Height)*49
    • Make the window 49% of the screen height”

Put them together and you get a window that’s about half the height, 1/3 of the width, and placed 1/2% from the left edge and halfway down the monitor. That’s the bottom left window. Now, do that for all six positions.

One thing to keep in mind - there is SCREEN, which takes the entire screen as the base for the calculations. There is also SCREENVISIBLE, which I use on all of my right-screen macros. The SCREENVISIBLE command takes the visible” screen as the base of the calculations, not including the menu bar or the dock. Technically, you could use SCREENVISIBLE for all of these macros, but I didn’t know about SCREENVISIBLE when I started this journey. Everything for my right monitor is for the visible area of screen 2. SCREENVISIBLE(2,etc,etc)

The Other Stuff

If you look in my Macro Group, there are a few other things I use all the time.

One is the Get Window Position” macro, which does what it says on the tin. Click a window, run the macro, and you’ll get a pop-up with the pixel dimensions and position of the window. This can be helpful if you want a very specific setup.

The others are Place this App” macros. I use these so I can set a window position for an app. I always want Slack in the bottom middle. I always want my Calendar in the bottom left. I set these up, and run them as part of a bigger Reset Desktop” macro that shuffles all my windows back into a nice grid when things get out of hand.

Conclusion

Keyboard Maestro is super powerful and can be intimidating to new users. Take it easy. Don’t dive in with both feet. As with any automation system, start slow, and expand as you learn. There are less complicated ways to manage your windows, but if you want infinite customizability, cross-machine consistency, and as few tools running in the background as possible, this is a good choice.

You can download the Macro Set here


  1. Better Snap Tool is the window management stuff ripped out of Better Touch Tool for a lower price.↩︎

  2. I flip this monitor occasionally for reasons that are not important.↩︎

  3. Screenshotted? Screenshat? Grammar is weird.↩︎

🗓️ August 16, 2021 🏷️ #Mac #KeyboardMaestro #Automation Support me on Ko-fi
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