Inside Leopard: Spaces

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One of Mac OS X's best features-especially compared to older operating systems-is that many applications can be running simultaneously; you don't have to quit each program when you're done for fear of running out of memory. But a consequence of this capability is that you end up with lots of application windows cluttering your screen.

In Leopard, Apple has addressed this issue with Spaces, OS X's version of the popular-on-Unix, decades-old concept of virtual desktops. The idea behind virtual desktops is to convince your computer that it has more than one desktop, or workspace, each of which can contain particular applications and windows. You can then navigate between these virtual workspaces to access applications and windows in each.

The appeal of virtual desktops is that they let you keep your current workspace uncluttered and focused. Many tasks require a group of applications to complete, but different tasks require different such groups. Spaces lets you create a workspace containing just the tools and files needed for each task or project. Instead of having to quit and launch groups of programs, or hide and show various combinations of applications and windows, Spaces provides similar onscreen organization via a keystroke or menu selection.

The Major Features

We explained the basic idea behind Spaces when Apple first previewed the feature in 2006 and revisited the topic this past June. Now that Leopard is arrived, we have a better idea of how to set up and use OS X's new virtual desktops feature.

Creating Workspaces: You enable Spaces in a new Exposé & Spaces pane in System Preferences. By default, you have two workspaces, arranged horizontally; however, by clicking on the plus (+) button for Rows or Columns, you can add additional rows or columns of workspaces, respectively-up to a maximum of four rows and four column for 16 workspaces. The organization of these workspaces doesn't affect how you work within each; it affects only the relative position of each when switching between workspaces.

Note that unlike some other implementations of virtual desktops, in Spaces your Desktop and Dock remain the same across workspaces; you can't have different Dock contents, different items on your Desktop, or a different Desktop picture in each workspace.

Moving Around: There are several ways to jump around between spaces. Pressing F8 on your keyboard-or whatever keyboard shortcut you wind up customizing-gives you an an Exposé-like, birds-eye overview of all your workspaces where the layout corresponds to the relative positions of the workspaces. Click on one-or use the arrow keys to select one and then press Return-to switch to it.

You can also switch between workspaces by pressing Control and a directional-arrow key to move to the next workspace in that direction. (These keyboard shortcuts are also configurable in the Exposé & Spaces pane.) A Show Spaces In Menu Bar option in System Preferences provides a menu-bar menu that lets you switch directly to any workspace. (However, this menu requires you to remember which workspace corresponds to which number; a drop-down, visual workspace map would be easier to use.) You can also switch directly to a particular workspace by pressing Control+#, where # is that workspace's number in System Preferences. Finally, if a particular application has windows open in multiple workspaces, clicking on that application's icon in the Dock will cycle through the workspaces containing those windows; each click takes you to the next such workspace.

Whenever you switch between workspaces, a visual map of your workspaces will appear on the screen, showing in which direction you're moving and to which workspace you're switching.

Adding Programs: There are several ways to add an application window to a workspace. The easiest is to simply launch the program; it will appear in the active workspace. (If the application uses document windows, creating a new document will place its window in the current workspace.) You can also permanently assign an application to a particular workspace via the Spaces screen in System Preferences-click the add (+) button beneath Application Assignments, select the desired application, and then click on Add. Then, from the pop-up menu to the right, under Space, choose which workspace you want that application to appear in. From that point on, whenever you launch that application, Mac OS X will automatically switch to the appropriate workspace and open the program.

Note that if you assign an application to a particular workspace and then manually move to a different workspace, that doesn't change the program's assigned workspace; after quitting the program, the next time you launch it, the program and all of its windows will again appear in the assigned workspace.

Alternatively, when assigning a program to a workspace, you can choose Every Space from the Space menu, and the selected application will appear in every workspace; its windows will follow you as you switch between workspaces. (Unfortunately, you can't assign the same application to multiple, but not all, workspaces.)

You can also change the relative positions of workspaces. Just activate Spaces' overview with the F8 key, click on any empty space in the desired workspace, and then drag the workspace to a different location; the other workspaces will shift out of the way to accommodate it. Note that that you can move a workspace only to an existing workspace location; you can't move it to a new row or column without first adding either a new row or column in System Preferences.

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