Switching from Spaces to Mission Control

Back in March, when the very first developer preview of Mac OS X Lion came out, I was a little upset about changes made to Spaces and the introduction of this new thing called Mission Control. Since then, my opinions have changed. I'm still not too excited about the switch, but I no longer feel like it's a step backwards — more like a step sideways. In this article, rather than focusing on how to use Spaces and/or Mission Control (already documented at length in other places), I will focus on the changes I've made to the way I work and the way I approach my workflow as a result of the changes in Lion. I know that a lot of people who used Spaces extensively in Snow Leopard were pretty upset when they saw the changes in Lion. Well, I was too. This is my attempt to show those people that everything's going to be okay.

The first concept that's important to grasp is spaces are now dynamic rather than static. In Snow Leopard, spaces were arranged in a two-dimensional grid in which you could choose the number of rows and columns. Your grid always had the same number of rows and columns unless you went into your system preferences and changed it. The spaces were even numbered based on their position in the grid. In Lion, you only have one space by default and all other spaces are created on demand. You can create a new empty space, create a space containing an already open window or group of windows, or place an app in full-screen mode moving it to its own space (more on this below). This dynamism makes a more sense in my opinion. One reason is that I rarely have windows open in all my spaces simultaneously. With the new setup, I can just have the spaces I'm using and nothing else. Also, the way I use Spaces (i.e. the way I have my work separated) sometimes depends on the type of work I'm doing. So now, in Lion, Spaces can adapt to my work.

Probably my most common action that involves Spaces is moving between them. In Snow Leopard, the most common way I would do this is with the keyboard shortcuts (control + arrow keys). These same keyboard shortcuts still exist in Lion, however, you can only move left and right. Spaces are no longer arranged in a two-dimensional grid. I know this seems more limited, but if you think about it, a grid doesn't really make sense when spaces are created dynamically. If you're constantly creating and removing spaces, up and down are not going to stay constant. But the big new feature here in my opinion is the multitouch gestures. Swipe left and right with three fingers to move between spaces. If you want to see all your spaces, swipe up with three fingers (another easy way is to hit F3). This will bring you to Mission Control. Using Mission Control to switch between spaces is sometimes useful when you don't remember where you put an app or if you're switching a far away space as it will save you a lot of moving back and forth.

Note: One feature of Mission Control that interested me was the option in System Preferences labeled "Automatically rearrange spaces based on most recently used", although I haven't seen it rearrange my spaces yet so I'm not sure if that's a bug or if it's just the way I'm using my spaces.

Another recurrent action with Spaces is opening a new app in a new space. In Snow Leopard, you could set an app to always open in a particular numbered space. As you probably guessed, you can't do this anymore in Lion. The only apps that ever did this with were apps that I had open almost all the time anyway, which means that feature only came in handy maybe once or twice a day at the most. The rest of the time, I would just switch to a space and then open the app. So it's not really any different for me in Lion. I just create an empty space rather than switching to an empty space. Also, opening an app in full-screen mode will automatically move it to its own space. I like this because it gets rid of the idea of having windows behind or underneath the app (so you don't have to exit full-screen mode just get to them).

The last thing that I feel is worthing mentioning is moving apps and/or windows between spaces. Based on my conversations with other people, it seems like the most common way people would do this in Snow Leopard was to open up the full-screen grid view (by hitting Function + F8, for instance) and then move windows between the blue rectangles representing each space. I actually didn't use this method very often. Most of the time, I would drag the window to the edge of the screen, hold my cursor there for a moment, and then the window would spring to the space that resided in that direction. Apparently, not as many people were aware of this method. If I remember correctly, I think I actually discovered that feature by accident. But anyway, that feature still exists in Lion. And you can still move windows around from within Mission Control just like you could in the full-screen grid view in Snow Leopard. Also, you can move an already open window to a new, empty space by entering Mission Control, dragging that window to the top-right corner, and dropping it on the plus sign that appears.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I don't believe any of these changes are a step backwards. It's just a step sideways — a lateral move, if you will. It's not necessarily better or worse. It's just different.

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