How to use Mac OS X Leopard Spaces Efficiently

Mac Spaces is a great feature that allows you to virtually have dual, triple, quadruple monitors (or more) on your Mac. Mac Spaces works by creating desktops where you can place program windows, allowing you to organize your running programs and open windows into logical “groups” or “themes”.

Mac OS X Spaces Virtual Desktops

An easy way to imagine how Spaces works is to think of your display or monitor as a box with four sides. When you look at one side of the box, the other sides are hidden or out of view. On each of the four sides you can post pieces of paper, spread sheets, web pages, emails, etc. On each of these “sides” it would make sense to put certain programs together to follow a theme. For example, one side of this box could be dedicated to communications (Mail and instant messaging). Rotate the box to the right to see the next side. Now you have another empty space on which to put more running programs, such as iTunes.

The power behind this is that you don’t have a deep stack of program windows placed on top of one another and you can switch to viewing these “Spaces” where programs are fully visible beside one another, grouped into logical themes, all available with a quick button press to switch Spaces.

The majority of your time working (or playing) on your Mac is spent focusing on one thing, window or program at a time. The rest of the programs that you keep running such as iTunes or Mail are kept running because you refer to them from time to time, but you don’t need to stare at your email inbox waiting for mail to arrive you just check it periodically, which makes sense in terms of efficiency.

By default, Mac Spaces is not turned on. To enable Spaces, go to System Preferences => Exposé & Spaces => click Spaces tab on the middle top center (right beside Exposé which is blue highlighted), then check the checkbox on the left to Enable Spaces.

Expose & Spaces preferences window

Moving between spaces takes a little time to get used to. Command + 2 moves to Space 2, Command + 3 moves you to Space 3, etc. Control + Down Arrow moves to the next lower space, wrapping back to the top if you’re already at the bottom.  You can also press F8 to go into “hover view” where you see all of your spaces on the desktop (like the first screenshot up above) whereupon you can choose a Space to move to by mouse clicking on it.

To move windows in Mac Spaces from one Space to another I find it easiest to put your mouse cursor on the title bar area of the window (where the name of the window is) then click and hold the mouse button, click and hold the Control button on the keyboard, then press one of the arrow buttons, depositing the window into that Space. You can also click and drag the window itself to one of the edges of your display, wait until it switches to that Space, then let go of the mouse button to deposit it into that Space. Being a hotkey freak myself, I prefer the mouse + control + arrow key combination which I find faster and more accurate.





4 responses to “How to use Mac OS X Leopard Spaces Efficiently”

  1. Olive Avatar

    That was helpful.

  2. Aturen Avatar

    I’m new to mac, and trying to learn their cool features, but this one has me all confused. I have Chrome open in one space, but I can’t open it in any other spaces. What effect does adding it to the Application Assignments have? Also, the icons of minimized windows doesn’t change when I trade spaces. Sometimes, I want to click on a minimized window and have it open in my current space, and sometimes I want it to open in the space I have set aside for it – is this possible? What about if I open, say “System Preferences” – all it does now is gray my screen, and if I search through all the spaces, I might find it.

    I think this article would be great, but please add what behavior is expected, and what the features in System Preferences => Exposé & Spaces mean. Thank you.

  3. Muhammad Avatar

    Thanks a lot for this article. I’ve been a mac user for a while but couldn’t quite figure out what the Spaces function was for and how it could best be used. But having read this and looking back now, I can see several situations in which spaces would have been useful; e.g. I remember during exam and coursework period, having multiple documents open, browser windows, mail etc. all did clutter my desktop (and my concentration), and Spaces would have been ideal to deal with it.

    So thanks again.

  4. some guy Avatar
    some guy

    great for not getting caught not working at work! haha I been using this for years now 😛

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