Using Spaces on OS X Lion

The recently released Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” (read my review of it at The Guardian) introduces Mission Control, an amalgamation of some of the functionality of Spaces and Exposé. Whilst it’s genuinely useful once you’re accustomed to it, it does hide away some of the previous functionality you might have relied on. This brief article describes how to restore some of the Spaces behaviour from Snow Leopard.

There are three main aspects of Snow Leopard’s Spaces behaviour that I use frequently:

  1. Creating multiple Spaces (four, in my case) for various purposes.
  2. Assigning certain apps to always open on a specified Space (and certain other apps to open on all Spaces).
  3. Switching directly to a given Space using a keyboard shortcut.

All of this functionality remains available on Lion, but some of the settings have changed location. Let’s deal with the above points in order.

Creating multiple Spaces

On Lion, Spaces tend to instead be called Desktops, but I’ll continue to use the term Spaces in this article. To make more, enter Mission Control and hover your mouse over the top-right of the screen (or hold the option/alt key). You’ll see a “+” button, and you can click it to create a new Space.

Adding new Spaces in Mission Control

You can also hover over any Space you’ve created (or again hold the option/alt key) to see a delete button, which you can use to delete that Space. You can only delete Spaces you’ve manually created.

Assigning apps to Spaces

Somewhat unusually, on Lion you assign apps to Spaces using the Dock. First, switch to the Space you want to assign an app to. Make sure the app is either running (and thus visible in the Dock) or has been added to the Dock. Then, right-click on its Dock icon and choose the “Options” submenu. You’ll see an “Assign To” section, where you can pin this app to either the current desktop (Space) or to all desktops.

Assigning apps to Spaces via the Dock

The “None” option means that the app will simply open on whatever the current Space is when it’s launched.

Keyboard shortcuts for switching Spaces

You can still switch directly to a specific Space using the keyboard, but the setting is now in the Keyboard pane in System Preferences. Open that preference pane, then select “Mission Control” from the list in the “Keyboard Shortcuts” tab.

Keyboard shortcuts for switching Spaces

You can choose shortcuts for switching left and right by one Space, and for going directly to a specific numbered Space.

Hopefully these tips will make Lion’s implementation of multiple desktops a little more familiar.

I’ve also been tweeting extensively about Lion recently; you may want to follow me (@mattgemmell) on Twitter.

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