Virtual Desktops in Mac OS X

Feb 1, 2010 - 8 Comments

spaces mac A colleague of mine is a recent Mac switcher and he was complaining to me that virtual desktops are not included in Mac OS X, the irony is that they are, they just have the name Spaces (coming from a heavy Linux background, I guess the naming convention just threw him off). Virtual Desktops are a very common and popular feature in most Unix GUI’s, and as of Mac OS X 10.5 they are included within Mac OS X too. Instead of being called “Virtual Desktops” though, Apple named them “Spaces”, but the concept is identical, multiple virtual workspaces on one machine. Spaces in Mac OS X lets you have up to 16 different workspaces to work within, you can even designate specific applications to run just within a particular space, which is very handy for creating a tidy work environment.

Configuring your virtual desktops in Mac OS X is really easy, just launch the System Preferences and click on the ‘Expose & Spaces’ icon, where you’ll see a screen with various options, including how many virtual workspaces you want to use, what applications are assigned to which spaces, and what keystrokes activate the Spaces virtual desktop switcher. (see screenshots)

mac virtual desktop spaces

Spaces is definitely a largely underused feature of Mac OS X, but power users and those familiar with the virtual desktops of Linux workstations will be very happy to know they are included in Mac OS X. If you haven’t used them yet, give it a shot, you may be surprised how helpful you find virtual desktops, or Spaces, to be.

virtual desktops mac

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Posted by: Manish Patel in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks, Utilities


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  1. tangobozo says:

    I’ve given Spaces a go two times now, first with my MBP then with a Mini that I’m using as a media server.

    Both times I gave up on it within a week and went back to Expose, Tab/Shift, and LaunchBar scripts which for me, are easier to access without having to remember what is open and which Space it is in.

  2. John Harlow says:

    They be a lot more useful if out-of-the-box I could change the background and the dock on each space.

  3. Bobby says:

    Exactly, these are only 4 ‘spaces’ and not real virtual desktops. I want to have different documents on each desktop, different docks etc. Real virtual desktops. Was looking for special software, but there nothing to find for 10.6. For earlier versions there is…. but not 10.6. Bummer.

  4. richsadams says:

    Having come from years in a Windows environment ]]shudder[[ I found Spaces a little hard to get used to. But once I did I loved it. I don’t think I could live without it on my iMac now and certainly would sell a body part or two to keep it on my MacBook! I keep my browser on one desktop, mail on another, NetNewsWire (RSS Reader) on another and so on. It’s a breeze moving around with an active corner and not having to open, close and shove windows around is terrific. Long live Spaces!

  5. TheWalrus says:

    Great, thanks for this. Having just started using a Mac as well as my Ubuntu machine, it’s good to know I can continue with multiple desktops.

  6. Biblosmith says:

    I’ve tried Spaces a few times, but don’t find it all that useful. IF I could have a fully new space (i.e. the desktop has its own folders, apps and icons) in each space I would us it.

  7. Kasimir says:

    Spaces simply doesn’t work with all applications and isn’t as configurable as traditional virtual desktop managers in *nix. It’s useless, because the first problem causes it to not work properly, and the second causes people who used virtual desktops before to not like spaces. A pity.

  8. […] Multiple desktops are a necessity when note-taking, at least for me they are.  I was raised on Unix, so I suppose it might only be a personal thing.  Mac OS and all the flavors of Unix can do it – Apple calls them spaces – but I’ve no idea if the current iteration of Windows is capable or not.  I find that keeping EverNote maximized in one space and PowerPoint in the other works pretty well.  I follow along in the notes and when I want to document something from the lecture, I can quickly switch to the other and do so without having to deal with minimizing or shuffling windows around. […]

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