Mac 101: Using Spaces to organize your windows and applications (Mac OS X v10.5, 10.6)

Spaces helps reduce clutter on your desktop by allowing you to group your application windows according to the way you work and easily switch between them. 

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Setting up Spaces

Getting started with Spaces is easy.

  1. From the Apple menu, choose System Preferences.
  2. From the View menu, choose Exposé & Spaces.
  3. Select (check) the "Enable Spaces" checkbox.
  4. If you want Spaces in the menu bar, select "Show Spaces in menu bar".

You can add up to four rows and four columns for your Spaces by clicking the "+" buttons.

Switching between Spaces

Once you have enabled Spaces, there are a few ways to switch between Spaces.

Clicking on an application icon in the Dock

When you click on an application in the Dock, Mac OS X will automatically switch you to a Space that has a window of the application.  If your application has windows in more than one Space, click it again to cycle through.

Keyboard commands

By default, Control-arrow will switch you one Space in the direction of the arrow selected.  For example, Control-right arrow will switch you one Space to the right.  If there is no Space to the right, you will shift rows and enter the first Space on that row.  Control-up or down, if there is no Space to switch to, you will not switch off of your Space.

You can switch to a specific Space by using a Control-number key combination.  For example, Control-1 will switch you to Space 1.

Menu bar

If you enabled the "Show Spaces in menu bar", on the right side of your menu bar you can pull the Spaces menu down and select the Space you want to switch to.

Assigning applications to specific Spaces

You can assign applications to open in designated Spaces.

Mail and Safari example

Let's say you want to assign a Space for Mail, another Space for Web browsing with Safari.  Open both Mail and Safari by clicking them on the Dock.

Open Exposé & Spaces System Preferences, notice the "Application assignments" field in the middle. Click the "+" (plus) button and a pop-up menu of running applications appears.  Select Mail to have it appear in the Applications Assignments list.  Repeat this process to add Safari.  

If an application you want to add is not active, select "Other…" from the "+" (plus) pop-up menu and navigate to the application you would like to add to the Application Assignments list.

Then for each application click the "Space" pop-up menu and select the Space you would like the corresponding application to appear in.  In this example, select "Space 2" for Mail and "Space 3" for Safari.  Now when ever you open Mail your Mac will automatically switch to "Space 2" and the same goes for Safari, but it will be in "Space 3".  

For your application to appear in all Spaces, select "Every Space" from the "Space" pop-up menu. For example, you might want QuickTime X movies to always appear in what ever Space you are in.  Simply add QuickTime X to your Application Assignments list and with Every Space selected.

Customizing Spaces

You can assign a function key (default F8), a mouse button, or a hot corner to activate Spaces.  Once activated you will see a "bird's eye view" of every Space on your system.  Simply click the Space you want to switch to.

When you activate Spaces, you can customize the arrangement of your Spaces and the application windows.

Arrange the order of your Spaces by clicking and dragging one Space to move it to another Space location.  For example, you can click and drag Space 4 over to where Space 1 is and the content of those Spaces will swap, thereby making what was Space 4 into Space 1 and Space 1 into Space 4.

You can click and drag a window of an application from one Space to another, even if that application has a Space assigned to it.

Tip: Want to drag all windows of an application from one Space to another? Hold Command (⌘) key when you click and drag a window of the application. All windows of that application will move at once.


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