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"Focus follows mouse" or "sloppy focus" is a feature common to X11 window managers on Linux/Unix, including GNOME, KDE, CDE, XFCE and window managers like Enlightenment, Fluxbox and Window Maker. It is also available via TweakUI on Windows. Some individual applications on OS X, like iTerm support it.

What is it? Simply put, the window where the mouse pointer is has focus, rather than having to click a window for it to gain focus.

Does the native GUI for OS X support this, with some hidden setting? Or, is there a good third party application that will do this?

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Why do you want this? (I know that sounds a bit mean, but I'm curious.) –  Benjamin Dobson Aug 21 '09 at 18:30
Its a feature of X11 I've used for many (~15) years on Linux systems, and its nice to just bump the mouse over to another window. –  jtimberman Aug 21 '09 at 18:52
Eewwh! Your business, of course, but first thing I do on setting up a new (to me) WM in X is find the click-to-focus option. –  dmckee Aug 22 '09 at 1:06

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The fundamental problem with sloppy focus on the Mac is that the menu bar is always associated with the currently focused application; if you had sloppy focus, accessing the menu bar for a specific application would be supremely difficult.

Having said that, Zooom/2 does what you want, in addition to providing equivalents to the open-source window manager features for ctrl+click moving & resizing of windows.

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Zooom/2 looks pretty sweet! –  jtimberman Aug 21 '09 at 17:28
The focus follows mouse is nice, and the keyboard shortcut part is interesting, but I'd like something that didn't autoraise :/. –  jtimberman Aug 21 '09 at 17:49
Zooom/2 only raises (and focuses) a window after a delay. –  Drew Stephens Aug 23 '09 at 8:32
As the other comments say, Zooom/2 does not actually implement FFM or sloppy focus. It is limited to autoraising windows, which is a very different thing. Sadly, it seems that for the time being there is no good way to do this in OS X. As @andz responded, Steve Yegge has a good writeup on this, as well as sample code you can use to achieve a limited version of "sloppy focus" (limited in that modifier keys do not work). –  pix0r Dec 2 '09 at 23:28
Somehow Ubuntu Unity manages to enable focus-follows-mouse or "sloppy focus" with a single menu bar. Shame Apple can't. –  Jason R. Coombs Mar 29 '12 at 17:45

The standard Terminal application included in Mac OS X will do focus-follows-mouse (within that application only, and no auto-raise) if you run this command from a shell and then restart the Terminal app:

% defaults write com.apple.Terminal FocusFollowsMouse -boolean YES
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Yes, and I use iTerm.app instead of Terminal.app (other reasons), which does the same. I want FocusFollowsMouse for all applications, not just terminals. –  jtimberman Aug 21 '09 at 23:32
You'll want to use "-boolean" instead of "-string". The latter doesn't work on Snow Leopard. –  Kelvin Apr 26 '11 at 15:52

Steve Yegge over at his blog claims that focus follow mouse with no autoraise isn't going to happen on OS X anytime soon:


Since ALL OS X utilities out there that promise "focus follows mouse" do autoraise, I think Steve Yegge is sadly right.

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The fundamental problem with sloppy focus on the Mac is that the menu bar is always associated with the currently focused application; if you had sloppy focus, accessing the menu bar for a specific application would be supremely difficult.

The menu bar wouldn't have to be changed though, just like you wouldn't have to enable auto-raise.

Having said that, Zooom/2 does what you want ...

But as was mentioned in the comments: not without auto-raise, which just makes it unusable. Another caveat is that it activates Finder whenever you move the mouse over the desktop, so you'll pretty much have to add Finder to the ignore list. Both of these issues apply for MondoMouse too.

It wasn't mentioned here yet, but OS X has click-through — if you hold , it's possible to click most items in background windows.

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Please note that Drew will not get notified of your reply. You should start commenting on others' posts if you want to reply to them. –  Daniel Beck Mar 12 '11 at 16:19
@Daniel I didn't really mean to address this answer as a reply to him, I just thought the block quote would've seemed out of place without the username. But it would indeed be better to clearly separate answers from comments, and quote other answers sparingly. I also did think that other answerers can be notified. The meta thread about @replies doesn't state it very clearly. –  ؘؘؘؘ Mar 12 '11 at 18:13

It should be noted that Leopard introduced "Scrolling Focus Follows Mouse," where you can scroll via the mouse scroll wheel or a trackpad gesture on any window that the mouse is over.

Except, of course, Microsoft Word for Mac.

This is a great feature that, while not full Focus-Follows-Mouse, proves that some aspects of it can be done in OS X.

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There should be no problem with doing focus-follows-mouse without autoraise across all applications, as the Terminal example and command-click prove, but you'd need to inject code into running applications via mach_inject or similar. You'd essentially write an "input manager" that redirects the keystrokes/clicks any time the mouse enters a textbox/button. Any click that doesn't hit a button raises the window. And command-click only raises the window.

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