Reclaiming your second monitor in OS X Lion

Upgraded to Lion?  Use dual monitors?  Notice the full screen problem?  My lab mate Rob and I found an interesting hack.

  1. Open an application in full screen mode (e.g. Terminal)
  2. Use three fingers on the trackpad and move slightly to the right or left so you are transitioning into the respective space (the ‘transition position’). Hold this position.
  3. While maintaining the transition position, launch another application.  For example, use spotlight to launch TextEdit by pressing the apple key + space and search for TextEdit. Choose it, and press enter.
  4. Still holding the transition position, wait until your application loads.
  5. Let go of the transition position by lifting your three fingers.

I stumbled across this by accident while trying to open system preferences when in full screen mode as you can see in the attached picture.

Now your second screen is not a paperweight:-)

35 thoughts on “Reclaiming your second monitor in OS X Lion

  1. now wait a minute. U have the menu bar on the external. all FS apps will work this way, without all the three finger manipulation. that’s not a fix…

  2. Hi Hero,

    When I am in full screen mode for an application like Terminal in Lion [1], without the three-finger manipulation, I cannot open multiple applications in the same screen, and moreover, drag them to multiple screens. The point is that you can open multiple applications in full screen mode, not that the full-screened application opens to the primary display (which happens to be my external monitor here).

    [1] this doesn’t include an application like Google Chrome which doesn’t seem to have implemented the full screen behavior in the same way as the Apple apps yet

  3. To the naysers,

    Geet’s claims are as real as they are spectacular. I, a neutral observer, happened to be on the right side of history and was a front-row observer to the discovery.

    — Geet’s (unpaid) intern

  4. Well…you solved a major headache for me, this is a great fix…as a person with three monitors, i found myself having to restart to reclaim my powerpoint presentations or whatever it was i was working on.

    This “fix” is brilliant. Thank you.

  5. Hi Ernie — glad its useful:-). My most common use is full screen terminal on external monitor with music application on the laptop, which is possible again

  6. I think you’ve got #2 and #3 flipped around. I tried doing it the way described but my keyboard would lock up in the transition mode. Launching the app from Spotlight or Quicksilver or Alfred first, then immediately transitioning, then waiting for the app to fully load works for me (kinda annoying depending on the speed of your Mac—I’m on a 2008 Mac Pro). Otherwise, awesome trick! It’s only a matter of time until Apple fixes this imo.

  7. Hi John — interesting switching 2 and 3 does work for me, as well as keeping the original order (but evidently that seems to not work for you). Thanks for the note!

  8. Pingback: Samuel Ye's IT Blog » Blog Archive » Lion Upgrade Issues

  9. At Geet,

    Is it possible for you to post a video. I tried what you said but can’t get it to work and not sure if I’m doing it wrong.



  10. Wow! I can’t believe that worked. It’s doesn’t really solve the issue, but it’s definitely a nice little hack that will work until Apple (hopefully) fixes this. Thanks!

  11. At Tylor and everyone,

    When you say it worked, are you saying you can change desktops (spaces) and retain the application that was running (showing) on the second monitor?

  12. What’s interesting to me about it is that Apple seems to have done this on purpose, but I can’t figure out a really good reason why:-)

    Hi Gabriel — what you are referring to (changing desktops but keeping an application fixed) is different (sometimes this is referred to as making the application ‘sticky’ or ‘pinning it down’). Searching for “os x sticky windows” yields some results that might be of interest. the fix above basically allows you to run a second application in the same space of monitors as a full screen application. So if you have two monitors, a full screen application can run on one of them while another one (e.g. iTunes) can run on the secondary display

  13. Thats a great trick, thanks. I used Alfred to open the 2nd app and even a 3rd. It is a little buggy though:
    * No menu bar
    * Display keeps flipping back to another space when I click on the newly opened app in this view.

    I just found out that chrome now supports full screen and want the old behavior back as it worked better with multiple monitors.

  14. Terry and Matt: I also find those issues annoying:-). I find that I launch a second app on full screen maybe every few days because of these types of things.

    Immanuel: could you describe more details of what you do and what happens?

  15. Pingback: Dual Monitor Full Screen Fix for OSX Lion | Tom Medley

  16. I don’t think Apple got rid of the function. Just open up Displays in your Prefs. In the Arrangement tab, drag the toolbar to the secondary monitor, which will now make it the primary display. Now full screen will default to your secondary monitor to display full screen. Unfortunately, your other monitor will still be blank, but at least you can use your other monitor to show movies and whatnot.

  17. Hi Hermelinda, it was named that way because when you are in full screen mode your second monitor could not previously have apps on it; all it did was display a grey background. In this way, this fix helps you ‘reclaim’ the use of the monitor.

  18. I really would like to bookmark this specific blog post,
    “Reclaiming your second monitor in OS X Lion | Geet Duggal” Solar Screens For Windows on my personal web site.
    Would you care if perhaps I personallydo? Thanks a lot -Javier

  19. Doesn’t seem to work for me in 10.8.4. Here are the steps which I tried (I might be missing something obvious). I have a MBP with an external monitor.
    1. Open Sublime Text 2, move it in fullscreen mode
    2. Using a 4 finger gesture, I can see Sublime gets a different desktop, with no other application
    3. I open another app e.g. TextEdit via Spotlight, and try to move it to another screen,
    4. Now, when I try to switch to the full screen app by pressing Command + Tab, the textedit also gets swiped out of the screen

    Can you tell me what I am missing here?


  20. u are missing the next OSX from Apple, where the fix is announced as a feature. I would not even waste time with this silliness, just get ready to pay Apple 19.99 or whatever come this fall.

  21. @Hero There are still 2-3 months and then some bugs before Mavericks gets a stable release. I would prefer to stick with 10.8.4 until all my apps support Mavericks.

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