Hey you! Before you keep reading, a quick warning: I am NOT the developer of Afloat. This is a totally UNOFFICIAL resource. If it doesn’t work for you, there’s really not much I can do about it. The code is open source though, so if you’re a Mac developer, that might be your best option.

There’s also a forked version on Github that might work for you, although it’s only for 64-bit apps. On recent Macs without legacy software, that might be okay. Check it out; it might work for you.

Like any computer user, I spend a lot of time working with applications. And like many computer users, I also spend a lot of time bouncing between different windows and trying to keep everything straight.

Unlike many computer users, I’ve generally got things under control, thanks to the app Afloat for Mac, which is this week’s featured app on Wrapp Up.

Afloat for Mac, a free app that helps you manage windows in OS X
Afloat for Mac, a free app that helps you manage windows in OS X

Afloat for Mac isn’t focused on your windows’ sizes (unlike Divvy and Moom, which we’ll cover in a future episode). Where other apps focus on the X and Y, Afloat focuses on the Z axis, controlling a window’s placement above or below other windows. It lets you pin apps to the “top” of the stack, at the bottom, and also lets you set window transparency (my favourite feature).

Afloat for Mavericks

Hey OS X Mavericks users: Afloat for Mac seems to work as intended in Mac OS X Mavericks. I did a clean install of OS X 10.9 Mavericks onto my new MacBook Air, then installed SIMBL 0.9.9 and Afloat 2.4 (linked below). Everything went smoothly and I use it regularly without problems. Here’s a screenshot to prove it.

That said, there are reports in the comments that it doesn’t work. My guess is that this has something to do with upgrade baggage, or conflicting applications. Or maybe I just got lucky!

How to install Afloat for Mavericks

First download and install SIMBL 0.9.9, and then download and install Afloat for Mac 2.4 (use the mirror links).

If you get through both install processes successfully, you’ll be good to go! Note: Afloat does not work in every app, but it never has. Apps with their own UI, like Photoshop, Spotify, etc. will not work because they bypass the hooks that Afloat needs to function.

Master your windows with Afloat for Mac — Audio player

[powerpress]

Master your windows with Afloat for Mac — Transcription

Hello, hello, hello. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are, whatever time it is. Welcome to the Wrapp Up. I’m glad you’re here, and I am Chris Van Patten, your host.

Today, we’re going to look at a very simple and straightforward and really useful app for the Mac. Sorry, Windows users or Linux users, this won’t work for you. There are probably alternatives. Hit Google and see what you can find.

The app that we’re covering today is called Afloat. Afloat for Mac, and you can find that just by Google searching Afloat for Mac. Afloat for Mac is basically an extender for existing apps. What I mean by that is that it adds new capabilities and new features to just about every app in OS10.

What it does, the features that it adds are transparency and overlays and just general windows management stuff. Basically, you install this and it hooks into your system, there. It allows you to customize the display of windows. For instance, you can make a window transparent. This is great for me. If I’m working in Terminal and Chrome at the same time, I can have a Terminal overlaid and have a transparent look to the Terminal, or vice versa. If I want to have my Chrome up in the front while I do things in the background in Terminal, I can do that as well. This works for just about any app.

You can also, as the name suggests, float windows at different levels. Basically, you can have a window that is on the top all the time, so it’s permanently stuck in place above other windows, or you can have it float to the bottom. You can attach an app to basically the desktop, so no matter what you do, that app is going to stay in the background and out of the way.

You can also do what are called overlay windows. Overlay windows are stuck on top of everything else, so sort of like floating an app to the top except that anytime you click on it, it doesn’t actually work in that app. It works in whatever’s beneath it.

So this is really cool, again. For me, I can set the transparency of the window, make the window an overlay, so in Chrome, for instance, transparent in that I stick it to the top. Then, by setting it to an overlay, I can have a terminal in the background that I can still see and type and click around in without affecting Chrome.

It’s really cool. It’s got a lot of neat features. You can make windows opaque when you hover your mouse over them. You can easily use your scroll wheel on your mouse to set the transparency of a window. I’ve used this for a lot of years and it’s just a super way to be more productive and be able to see more, especially when you have a smaller laptop, like an 11- or 13-inch Macbook Pro, and you don’t have a lot of screen real estate. That’s a great way to make more space.

All right, so as always, this has been the Wrapp Up. Just a quick one this week. We’ll have more window management tools for the Mac in the future, and for now, enjoy Afloat.

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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73 Comments

  1. Hi Chris, I can’t get afloat on Mavericks to work… grr… Hate Mac cause of all these small things that are a pain in the butt… Windows is more flexible in that regards and there are more alternatives as well.
    Thanks for your post 🙂

    1. Well that’s frustrating! In fairness, I installed it on a fresh install of Mavericks (a brand new computer, actually) so I can’t vouch for computers that were upgraded to Mavericks with existing stuff on them. Sorry it didn’t work for you. It is frustrating that the developer of Afloat has abandoned the app too, as I’m sure he’d have some ideas on what’s breaking.

        1. Do I just install Afloat from the “Download Afloat for Mac 2.4 here” link or do I have to do something else as well?

          1. How about ppl who aren’t knowledgable in computers?

            I want to install this but, you have given this link that it has two links

            SIMBL-0.9.9.zip (Snow Leopard and Leopard)

            SIMBL-0.8.2.tbz (Leopard and Tiger)

            what should I choose, which one, how do i download it and the steps to do so
            If I choose ZIP how would I unzip it?
            If i choose TBZ how does it work?

            Thanks.

          2. Joe –

            I’m not the developer of the app, so I’m really not equipped to provide detailed technical support.

            That said, if you’re using Mavericks you probably want SIMBL-0.9.9.zip. Mac OS X handles ZIP files out of the box, so you just have to double click the file to open it.

            Best of luck.

          3. Hey VAN….This is Joe, It worked for me so far, hopefully it won’t give me any problems.

            I wasn’t too sure if it might alter my settings, but everything seems ok.

            I will be following your work.

            Thanks for your help.

  2. Worked for me. Thanks! Although it does not work with all programs…Photoshop and Spotify to name a few.

  3. Just got this working on my Mavericks install. I’m no Mac pro, by any means, and it took me a bit of frustration but I love that I can now have my little Google Keep window hovering over the rest, so I can see my notes/lists/terms etc as I’m researching or writing in another app. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Just thought I would confirm that Afloat is still working in Mavericks 10.9.2. It seemed to cut out after updating the OS? .. so I reinstalled Afloat and SIMBL to be sure, and it’s working okay now (not sure if reinstalling made any difference or I was just imagining things)!

    Thank you for this helpful post, Chris!

  5. This App is not compatible properly with Maverick. I falow the instructions to install. I have to say it works in very srange way. I have only few probgrams that shows afloat options in Windows menu. Apps like Calendar, Texedit and Spotify and so…. does not show afloat properties. I had tested installing and reinstaling the plugin and closing the apps and reboting machine but same problem. Something is just shady about this app + SIMBL is another big problem.

    Chris can you please update your article, because probbaly a lot of people think it works but this is maybe for 25% of the users maybe who has old systems. It does not work on Maverick 1.9.2 for sure.

    Any alternatives apps that could provide same functionality ?

    1. @jazzybeat:disqus
      There is an alternative app named WindowMizer that will make transparent windows in most applications. The transparent windows are not editable, but IMO they don’t need to be. WindowMizer runs on OS 10.6 through 10.9 Mavericks without SIMBL or any other system hacks.

      Full disclosure, I am the developer of WindowMizer which I wrote as a replacement for the old Windowshade feature that was available in older Mac OSes and later as a haxie called Windowshade X.

      There is a 14-day free trial available at http://www.rgbworld.com

  6. How to keep windows transparent automatically without pressing the keyboard shortcut or window>transparency>translucent ?

    1. I found a rather simple way to do this with an AppleScript!

      Open the app “AppleScript Editor” (just type it in Spotlight)

      copy this into it:

      on idle
      tell application “Afloat Scripting” to set topmost window opacity to 0.9
      return 0.5
      end idle

      (change the value 0.9 to the desired opacity; the number 0.5 tells the script to test it every 0.5 seconds, if you set this too low it’s gonna be laggy, if you set it too high it’s gonna work slow, I recommend 0.5)

      Click “File” in the menu and select “Export…”.

      At the bottom select “Application” instead of “Script” and check “Stay open after run handler”.

      Give it a name like “ApfloatUtility” or whatever you like. Save it anywhere you like.

      Now you’ve created an App that tries every 0.5 seconds to set the opacity of the current windows to 0.9 😀
      If you open this App now it works, but first it doesn’t always come up when you start your Mac and also it says that this application is running and you see it with CMD-Tab which is annoying.

      For the first one just go to your System Preferences, select “Users & Groups”, click on “Login Items” and add the app you just created to the list.

      The second problem is a little harder to fix:

      Right click on the app you created and select “Show Package Info” and go into the folder “Contents”. Open the file Info.plist with TextEdit. Copy this:

      LSUIElement

      paste it in the file just before the last “” (white spaces etc. don’t matter)

      Save the file and you’re done! Should work all the time now without even noticing 😀

      To actually quit this application (you don’t really need to though) just go to Activity Monitor and search for your app name like “AfloatUtil” and quit it. You could even write a little AppleScript with the single line

      tell application “AfloatUtil” to quit

      and save it as a script or application doesn’t matter really.

      One last thing: If you want to change the values on this app, open the app file within the AppleScript Editor. This way you just have to save it afterwards.

      I hope I could help 😉

      – Kametrixom

  7. To verify things:

    I have a macbook pro , upgraded from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion to Mavericks. Installed Afloat since Snow Leopard and it still working and I use it every day (on upgraded Mavericks).

    Some windows it will not work:
    – Tool windows cannot be set Afloat.
    – Spotify (Premium) cannot be set Afloat.

    My best guess is that programs without a custom-window-theme (using the traditional OSX-window-theme), have the possibility to set Afloat. Programs with a skinned custom-window different from normal-OSX-theme cannot be set Afloat.

    1. Yes, this is the case. It basically has to do with whether an app is built with native Cocoa UI elements or not. Apps like Spotify, Photoshop, etc. use their own UI engine, so they don’t work. This has always been an issue, although it’s not really Afloat’s fault, and sadly not fixable due to the way it works. Tool windows aren’t considered “real” windows either, so sadly Afloat can’t access them.

    2. I just wanted to vouch that I, too, had Afloat installed on a MacBook Pro originally with Snow Leopard and it still worked through upgrades to Lion -> Mountain Lion -> Mavericks.

        1. In general, the OS X window theme applications do work, but here are some exceptions:
          Can keep Chrome afloat
          Cannot keep FF afloat
          Cannot keep FCP afloat
          Can keep QT afloat
          Cannot keep MS Word afloat
          Can keep Evernote afloat

          I’ll post any more exceptions I find here.

  8. thank you. the majority of links out the point to the 2.1 version that doesn’t work in maveric

      1. It’s not working for me – the installer runs, says it’s installed, but the app doesn’t show up anywhere. Any ideas what I’m doing wrong?

        1. afloat isn’t an app, it’s a plugin that hacks into the window manager and exposes certain options

          you can see it working in the Window menu of your apps (but only those apps launched after you installed it) and showing you options like Keep Afloat and others, all having the Afloat icon like so: http://lkl.me/YRVe

          1. Ah amazing, thanks, I feel a bit of an idiot for not realising that!

            So it is working after all… but not for BBC iPlayer unfortunately. I had wanted to watch iPlayer and keep it on top of all other windows while doing other things – any idea why it isn’t working?

          2. Afloat hooks into apps that use OSX’s native window management

            apps that implement a custom UI are not supported and the keyboard shortcuts will not work for those (nor will the Window menu actions show)

          3. Luka, You are useless. Don’t state that it’s working on Yosemite without knowing if it does. You don’t know shit about computers.

  9. Hello
    I have Mac OS X10.9.3, I download SIMBL and installed it. I did the same with afloat, however, it is not working. Any ideas

  10. In Yosemite, when I attempt to delete a VPN/Key, Keychain Access crashes and says that Afloat had an error. It only seems to happen with the VPN’s which require an admin login to delete. Basically two extra prompts than a normal delete.

      1. Even when I got into Settings>Network and delete the VPN, the two keys are still in the keychain. Not the end of the world, but annoying. If you want to look at it, I will recreate the error and send you the crash report.

  11. just to bring to your notice , or for who have never used linux distros like ubuntu before. you can achieve put windows on top as a default choice, and the opacity and transparent levels can be changed for every application you have installed using compiz-extra-plugins.

  12. This seems to work great, but it also seems to require re-installation at every reboot for Yosemite.

    Anybody got a workaround to keep it installed permanently?

  13. I use Yosemite, but it doesn’t work for iBook and iTunes, they use the native window of OSX, but why iBook can’t be set?

  14. Trying to get this to work on El Capitan. Tried running the install package above. It seems to complete, but then I don’t see Afloat anywhere (i.e. under any window menu. Have tried the usual, Safari, iTunes, etc. Also, the SIMBL plugins folder (within the Application Support folder) is empty. I’m presuming that Afloat should be installed there?

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