If you’re used to using Microsoft Windows based desktop or laptop computers, you might not be familiar with all of the ins and outs of a Mac computer. Or, maybe you have a Mac but aren’t quite experienced in all of the functionality these machines offer.
Regardless, we’ve created this guide to inform you about a very useful tool that is found in Mac’s OS that you may not have ever heard of.
What is the Task Manager for Mac?
If you’re primarily a Microsoft Windows user, you’re probably familiar with the Microsoft Windows Task Manager. This program is what you’re presented with when you have to pull out the “old faithful” of keyboard shortcuts – alt-ctrl-del.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a pickle while using a Windows computer, you’ve probably been given the advice, “Well, just try pressing alt-ctrl-del.”
This is actually fairly good advice.
Maybe you haven’t heard of Microsoft’s Task Manager. Regardless, this guide will teach you about the capabilities of this tool and showcase the similarities and differences between the Mac computer counterpart.
The Windows Task Manager allows you to see what is running and make changes to the processes your computer is taking on. Running programs are listed, of course, as are programs that are functioning "in the background." These are processes that Windows itself and your installed programs have started.
Task Manager can be used to forcefully end any of those running programs, which is quite helpful if the operating system is to freeze, as well as to see how much of your computer’s hardware resources are being used individual programs. On a slightly more advanced note, Microsoft Task Manager can also be used to identify which programs and services are starting when your computer starts, and tons more.
The Task Manager for Mac is Actually Called Activity Monitor
Though much of the functionality is the same, the name is actually different. Despite being named Activity Monitor many who are familiar with Macs continue to call the program by Windows’ name of Task Manager. Keep in mind that regardless of the terminology used it’s the same utility being discussed and used.
Like we mentioned, accessing the task manager on a PC is somewhat of a mantra for Windows users – press alt-ctrl-del to access it. That keyboard shortcut will not actually open the task manager for Mac.
You can launch the app directly within its containing directory in Finder, through Mac’s LaunchPad, by dragging it into the Dock, or using Spotlight search for quick keyboard access. The program is also accessible via the apple icon in the top left corner of your OS.
It’s a super helpful feature to be able to sort tasks by CPU usage, but within the Activity Monitor you can sort tasks by name, memory usage, process identifier number, and even by using the search box in the upper right corner to be able to locate specific tasks. The search tool is helpful when you know the name of the program you are looking for.
Activity Monitor is a very powerful program because it not only shows you what applications are running for the active user, but it also displays system level tasks, kernel tasks, daemons, processes that belong to other users, quite literally every process will show up.
Many of the previously mentioned tasks will slow down your OS even if you don’t know they’re running. If it’s running somewhere on the Mac, you can find it in this list – and if necessary, stop the task from running.
Stopping a Task or Open Process with Activity Monitor
One of the most vital functions for the largest percentage of users of the Activity Monitor program is in the ability to end a task or process that is causing you trouble.
You’ve probably experienced the same issues that many computer users encounter. Too many programs running for the amount of random access memory available for use on the device causing the entire operating system to basically freeze. On a Windows computer you know to, “press alt-ctrl-del,” but on a Mac, you might not be as familiar.
Once you have the Activity Monitor open, you’ll see the list of all processes that are currently being undertaken by your computer’s processor. If you know the name of the trouble program, you can simply scroll to it. If you do not, you can use the various filtering options within the Activity Monitor to identify which process is slowing your workflow.
Once you have identified the process or task that you’d like to kill, ending it is quite simple. All you need to do is select the individual task that you’d like to end. This will highlight the entire horizontal bar showing all of the processes’ information. Once it is selected, you should click on the icon that is shaped like a stop sign with an ‘X’ through it. This icon is labeled, “Force a process to quit,” when highlighted but not clicked.
Though you can select multiple operations in the task manager for Mac for certain operations using the Shift-Click method of selecting multiple files, the functionality to end processes is not compatible with multiple programs at once. If you need to end multiple processes, you’ll have to end them all individually.
Occasionally, the program will not close. This is likely due to being completely unresponsive. As a precaution, Mac does not force these programs to quit in case there is progress within each app that should be saved. However, if you know that you have no other choice than to force the program to quit – regardless of whether or not you’ll recover your work – there is a manual option to do this.
Once you select the end process button, a confirmation window will ensure that you actually intend to close the program. On this same dialogue window is where the option to “Force quit” a program will be presented to you.
The Secondary Role of Mac’s Activity Monitor
Though for most users the primary function of the Activity Monitor will be to end troublesome processes, there is plenty of other opportunities for the program. One of the secondary functions of Activity Monitor is informational.
The program can be used to view system stats, processing information, RAM usage, network information, and hardware usage and information. While these pieces of information about your computer might not be applicable to the layman, they actually reveal quite a lot about the health of your system.
The information is updated live so you can watch the effect that opening and closing specific programs has on the performance of your RAM, CPU, hard drive, network connection and more, in real time. This only works, however, when the program.
To even further monitor what is going on with your computer, the application can be used in a minimized state in the dock of your computer. To do this, right click on the icon of the application while it is open in your dock. On the menu that opens, find the bar that reads, “Dock Icon.” From here, there are multiple different metrics that you can select to display in the dock.
These graphic icons update in real time and show you whatever information you decide for them to show you. The handiest part of it all is that you can look at them while you have other programs open because the icon stays in your dock the whole time.
Task Manager for Mac: It’s Not the Same – But, Almost
The Activity Monitor is not identical to the Task Manager program that Microsoft Windows has familiarized so many of us with. However, it offers much of the same functionality and even some expanded functionality that isn’t available in Task Manager.
It’s also important to note that Mac computers are widely regarded as less volatile than their Microsoft counterparts. For this reason, using a program like the task manager for Mac will be a less common experience than using the task manager for PC. They aren’t bulletproof, but when compared to a Microsoft machine they do tend to be very stable.
Whereas you might find yourself opening the task manager for Microsoft quite often to close unresponsive programs or check for overheating or various other reparative tasks, it will be a quite uncommon chore for the layman Mac user.
However, if you are not a layman user and want advanced insight into the inner workings of your computer, the Activity Monitor is great for that also. The Task Manager for Mac provides some of these metrics, but not in the same filter-able, search-able platform that is presented by the Activity Monitor.
In general, Macs make people happier as they are easier to use and less troublesome. This notion extends even to programs as un-glamorous as the task manager for Mac.
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