Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

How I’m using Spaces on Mac OS X

June 16, 2008

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When Apple released the latest update for Mac OS X Leopard, with the version number of 10.5.3, they updated the way that Spaces worked.  As John Gruber pointed out, Spaces now can better focus on “task separation” rather than “application separation”.

Here is a quick overview and history for you.  Spaces is a virtual desktop application that, for the lack of a better way of putting it, allows you to create as many desktops as you’d like.  Right now your computer probably has one desktop or one “viewable area to put windows”.  With Spaces, you can create more than one, and then use each of them for different purposes.

Prior to Mac OS X 10.5.3 Spaces was used more for separating applications onto different Spaces rather than setting up Spaces for tasks.  An example would be keeping your email on one Space, while having your browser in another, to keep the two applications separate for use. For people that are more productive based on focus, this made it nice to focus on your email Inbox instead of having many windows open.

However, I called this version of Spaces a glorified “Hide Others”.  In Mac OS X you can hide any application, or, hide every other application except the one you are currently viewing.  The first iteration of Spaces was like a different way to use this feature.

In the latest version of the operating system you can separate your Spaces into tasks rather than only by application.  An application, like Safari, can have windows present in every single space if you’d like.  This way you can have a Space set aside for writing, one for email, and another for working on a logo.  Sound confusing?  Consider how I’m currently using Spaces – and it might help clear things up for you.

Space 1: Writing / Reading: I use my first Space to read just about everything I need to read.  Google Reader in a Safari window, tabs open for other articles and links people give to me, etc – are all on this space.  Since my reading and my writing usually go together, I use this Space for writing as well.  This means that while I’m writing this entry, I’m on Space 1 with tabs and windows open that are related to this entry.  Nothing else is distracting me from this task of writing this entry.  All of the information I need to complete this task is on this Space and nothing else.

Space 2: iTunes and other long-duration tasks: Have you ever needed to encode something in iMovie or, perhaps you’re downloading something that will take a long time, or transferring files from one location to another, backing up your computer, etc.  I use this second space for those tasks.  iTunes is always open in Space 2, though I can control it through my Apple Keyboard, so I don’t need to switch to that Space to play, pause, skip to the next song, etc.

The reason I separate the long-duration tasks over onto their own space is because I feel they can be a distraction.  I find myself checking applications that are “doing something” every now and then.  Now I don’t check them usually until they are completely finished with their task.  I find it is far less distracting.

Space 3: Email, IM, and Twhirl: I also call this my “communication station”.  The entire Viddler team keeps tabs via a Skype chat.  I also use iChat on a daily basis.  My email Inbox is in a constant state of flux.  And Twhirl, the application I use to keep up-to-date with Twitter and FriendFeed, is also getting updated every 15 minutes or so.  In order to keep my distractions down on all other Spaces I keep these tasks dedicated to this one Space.  I’m free to check up on them when I want.

Space 4: Projects: Typically, on a given day or at a specific time, I’m working on one project.  This space is where I do that project.  For instance, if I’m programming something I’ll have Coda, Transmit, any browser windows with documentation and reference material, and perhaps a browser window with a preview of what I’m working on – in this Space.  This space is completely project centric, with nothing else to distract me from that project.  It is very seldom that I need to work on 2 projects at once ((That don’t fit into the other Spaces I already have set up.)) so I’m able to focus on the project until it is done.

I’ve found Spaces to be very enjoyable since the 10.5.3 upgrade to Mac OS X and while I think my usage of it will mature over time, the last few weeks have been liberating in many ways.  Just the other day, while at a meeting at ViddlerHQ, I used my project Space to keep notes for the meeting.  There was no other distraction available for me during that meeting so I was able to both take notes with my laptop open and be a constructive part of the meeting.

How are you using Spaces?  Have you given it a try since the update?

Update: Switching Spaces and preference oddities

After rereading this entry, and being asked questions via Skype by Kyle Slattery, I might have omitted a few details that I should probably include in this entry.

First, is that I recommend deselecting the “When switching to an application, switch to a space with the open windows for the application” box.  This will allow you to switch applications without switching Spaces.

Second, is that in order for Spaces preferences to take effect – you have to restart your Dock sometimes.  I am not sure why, but this doesn’t happen to everyone.  Here is the way John Gruber explained it in his aforelinked entry:

“Lastly, I should mention that I had problems getting this new feature to work at all. After upgrading to 10.5.3 and seeing the Spaces-related changes in the release notes, I tried it out. Toggling the new checkbox made no difference for me, however — I got the same old “jump to another space when switching apps” behavior either way. I solved the problem by trashing my preferences file (which, since Spaces is controlled by the Dock, is where most Spaces-related prefs seem to be stored). After logging out and logging back in, the new checkbox worked perfectly.”

And last, that I use the Cntrl arrow keys to navigate around to different Spaces the majority of the time.  But, when I’m at home on my desk using my Might Mouse, I’ve set up the third-button ((Which is the equivalent of pushing down the scroll wheel.)) to also show my Spaces.  This makes it really easy to switch whether my hand is on the keyboard or the mouse at the time I need to switch.