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Hot Corners in macOS; What They Are, and How to Use Them

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Mac desktops and laptops tend to be busy places, with a bunch of open windows cluttering the screen. If you want to look at the Desktop or see another window, you may find yourself clicking around or using keyboard shortcuts to switch views. Did you know that you can access many of the Mac’s special views with just a flick of your wrist on the trackpad, or a simple mouse movement?

A little-known feature in macOS called Hot Corners makes this possible. The key to unlocking Hot Corners is in System Preferences, in either the Desktop & Screen Saver pane or the Mission Control pane. In either one, click the Hot Corners button to set up your hot corners.

The Hot Corners dialog displays a pop-up menu for each of the four corners of your screen. Choose an action in one of those menus, and that’s what will happen when you move your pointer to that corner. By default, there are no actions associated with the corners, but clicking on a selection from the menu, will give that corner the chosen action. Here’s the scoop on each action.


Start Screen Saver


With today’s flat-panel LCD screens, a screen saver isn’t needed to prevent image burn-in nearly as much, but it does hide the contents of your screen and give your Mac a personal touch. The Start Screen Saver hot corner action shows the screen saver immediately when your cursor moves to the associated corner, overriding the setting for how long the Mac must sit idle before the screen saver turns on (in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Screen Saver, in the Start After pop-up menu). This can be a quick way to invoke your screen saver if you are going to walk away from your Mac for a few minutes, and you want to keep prying eyes from your screen. This can be extra useful if you are in an environment with other people, as you may has set your Mac to need the password entered in order to use your computer again, keeping others from getting on your Mac without permission

Disable Screen Saver


If you normally have your screen saver set to turn on automatically, it may come on when you would prefer it didn’t, such as when you are thinking about what to write in a tough email. To prevent the screen saver from coming on temporarily, use a Disable Screen Saver hot corner. This will keep your screen saver from automatically coming on after your computer is idle for the time you have set. Again, useful if you are looking at the screen, but not interacting with the keyboard or mouse, and you don't want the screen saver to start while you are sitting there, but you do not want to turn it off all the time.

Mission Control


Once you’re in this bird’s-eye view of all your Mac’s open windows, you can switch to any window by clicking it. You can also set up spaces in Mission Control—a space is a view that contains only windows from the apps that are assigned to that space. Click the plus sign in the top-right corner and then drag windows up into the new space. Switch to a space by clicking it in the top bar. We've gone over Mission Control in a previous post, so please refer to that for more information about how Mission Control works, and what it can do for you.


Application Windows


For an overview of all open windows for a particular app, use a hot corner to invoke Application Windows. This view displays thumbnails of all open windows in the current app. For some apps, you’ll also see thumbnails of recently opened documents at the bottom of the view. Click any thumbnail to switch to it.


Desktop


If you like storing documents projects on your Desktop, you’ll love the hot corner that invokes Desktop view. It moves all open windows aside, letting you focus on the icons on the Desktop. The windows return when you switch to an app.

Dashboard


Dashboard contains a few rudimentary widgets, like a clock and a calculator. Apple hasn’t updated Dashboard in years, and developers don’t create Dashboard widgets anymore, so it’s not worth learning—or using via a hot corner—if you don’t already rely on it. However, it is still an option in Hot Corners, but we don't need to go over it.

Notification Center


Since you can so easily click the Notification Center icon in the far right of your menu bar, it’s seldom worth wasting a hot corner on it. Notification Center has two views: Today and Notifications. Today shows status information and is easily customized; click the Edit button at its bottom. To display an app’s notifications in Notifications, go to System Preferences > Notifications, select the app, and then select the Show in Notification Center checkbox.

Launchpad


If you like using iOS, giving Launchpad a hot corner might make opening apps on your Mac easier. It’s designed to look and work like the Home screen on an iPad or iPhone—just click an app to launch it. To see more apps, scroll horizontally—with a trackpad, swipe with two fingers; with a Magic Mouse, scroll by swiping with one finger on the mouse surface. Many Macs have Launchpad as an icon on the Dock as well, so this may not be as useful in a Hot Corner for some folks, but it could be a handy alternative if you don't use the Dock as often, or just want a faster way to open Launchpad itself.

Put Display to Sleep


Those who are concerned about energy usage might appreciate this option. Toss your pointer in the associated hot corner, and your screen goes to sleep immediately, consuming less power than a screen saver. It lets you override the “Turn display off after” slider in System Preferences > Energy Saver. This is essentially the same as the Screen Saver option listed above, except that it puts the display to sleep rather than invoking the screen saver, using less power, and also no ambient light from the display. This can be nice in a dark environment, or at night when you are heading to bed.

To exit these special views, simply switch to another app, press the Escape key, put the pointer back in the hot corner again, or just move the mouse.

If you find yourself triggering a hot corner accidentally, try adding a modifier key so its action activates only when the pointer is in the corner and the key is pressed. To set this up, open the Hot Corners dialog, open the corner’s pop-up menu, and press a key (Shift, Control, Option, or Command). The key’s symbol appears in the menu. Keep the key down and choose the desired action. This adds a step to invoking your desired Hot Corner affect, but it can be useful if you are finding the screen saver coming on too often because of an accidental movement of your cursor to the corner of the screen, or if you are trying to open the Apple menu but keep putting your display to sleep.

Hot Corners can be quite useful, and how you choose to take advantage of them is completely up to you. We do recommend trying them out, you can always turn them back off if you find yourself disliking the behavior.

 

 

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