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 🙂


  1. Hero Jig · August 4, 2011

    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. Geet · August 5, 2011

    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. a working man · August 5, 2011

    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. ernie capobianco · August 8, 2011

    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. Geet · August 8, 2011

    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. John Coleman V · August 8, 2011

    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. Geet · August 9, 2011

    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. Luke Mccormick (@LukeMcCormick) · August 23, 2011

    Genius! Killer find – and thanks for sharing!

  9. Luke Mccormick (@LukeMcCormick) · August 23, 2011

    ps – I used Quicksilver to launch the second application, and it worked swimmingly.

  10. Geet · August 23, 2011

    Cheers! Nice to know about Quicksilver too.

  11. Krishna · August 30, 2011

    This is an amazing trick! Worked perfectly with the original instructions using Alfred. :))

  12. Pingback: Samuel Ye's IT Blog » Blog Archive » Lion Upgrade Issues
  13. Gabriel · September 19, 2011

    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.



  14. Tylor · September 23, 2011

    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!

  15. Gabriel · September 23, 2011

    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?

  16. Geet · September 23, 2011

    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

  17. Terry Bernstein · September 29, 2011

    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.

  18. Matt Fry · October 11, 2011

    Very cool. I had the exact same experience as Terry Bernstein. I guess the solution is to just not use full-screen apps. : /

  19. Immanuel Sonprint · November 9, 2011

    Don’t work for me
    What should I set up in Trackpad
    and could you please guide me

  20. Immanuel Sonprint · November 9, 2011

    or post a video clip

  21. Geet · November 13, 2011

    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?

  22. Pingback: Dual Monitor Full Screen Fix for OSX Lion | Tom Medley
  23. Ted Mann (@turkeymonkey) · January 26, 2012

    Cool trick for how to get an application running on a second screen when in full-screen mode on OSX Lion.

  24. Shane · February 27, 2012

    Appreciate the tip.

  25. Josh Cummings · April 30, 2012

    What if you’re running a mac mini without a track pad? Is there any hope for me?

  26. MK · May 17, 2012

    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.

  27. · January 17, 2013

    I personally ponder how come you called this particular blog post, “Reclaiming your second monitor in OS X Lion Geet
    Duggal”. In either case I actually enjoyed the article!
    Thanks for your effort,Hermelinda

  28. Geet · January 17, 2013

    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.

  29. · January 23, 2013

    I actually intend to bookmark this particular post,
    “Reclaiming your second monitor in OS X Lion Geet Duggal” on my personal web site.
    Do you really mind in the event that Ido? Many thanks

  30. Kevin · March 18, 2013

    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

  31. Geet · March 18, 2013

    No problem!

    On Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 12:56 AM, Geet Duggal

  32. freiheitskampfer · May 20, 2013

    is there a solution for os 10.8 ?

  33. Chetan · August 27, 2013

    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?


  34. Hero Jig · August 27, 2013

    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.

  35. Chetan · August 27, 2013

    @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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