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How to Get the Most Out of Leopard’s Spaces

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Ryan Faas takes you through Leopard’s Spaces with a quick look at how to set up Spaces and use it to speed your workflow while keeping your desktop neat and tidy.
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Spaces is one of the new features in Mac OS X Leopard designed to help keep your Mac's workspace organized, easy to navigate, and free of clutter. Spaces allows you to have multiple virtual desktops. Each desktop (or "space" as Apple refers to them) behaves much like a separate monitor, allowing you to move windows you're not working in out of the way without closing or minimizing them. The technology isn't new (even for Macs), but Spaces represents one of the best virtual desktop tools ever released for Mac OS X and it's built right into the operating system.

What's great about Spaces is that you can use it to separate and group your open windows (even those from different applications) based on the tasks that you're doing and switch between those groups of windows whenever you like. You might, for example, have iChat, Mail, and a Safari window for your favorite social networking site all open in one space. Meanwhile, a couple of other spaces have your favorite Web design tools (say Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Flash) all open for a website project you're designing. You might even have iTunes open in another space for some background music.

Without Spaces, you'd most likely have all the web applications open and layered on top of each other, possibly with your iChat windows mixed in. iTunes and Mail would probably be minimized or also mixed in with everything else. If you're chatting while working, you're constantly going to be looking around trying to get the right window. If you want to change music you need to expand and then minimize iTunes. And if you have multiple pages or images open, you're going to have to take time to sort through them to find the one you need.

With Spaces, you can have everything open. All the image files can be grouped in one space or across several spaces so that you can see each of them easily. All of your iChat windows are right there, neatly visible in another space without cluttering up any of your work area. And all it takes is a simple click of a key combination to view each space as you need it (or to view all of them at once).

Setting Up Spaces

Spaces isn't enabled by default in Leopard but activating and configuring it is very easy. First, launch System Preferences and select the Exposé & Spaces pane. Next, select the Spaces tab (as shown in Figure 1). Click the Enable Spaces checkbox to turn Spaces on.

Figure 1

Figure 1. The Exposé & Spaces preferences

In the black preview area of the window, you'll see an example of how many spaces are set up and how they're laid out. Spaces are always arranged in a grid; you add spaces by extending that grid to include additional rows and/or columns (at first activation, there are two spaces in a single row). You can also reduce the number of spaces by removing rows or columns. You add or remove rows and columns using the appropriate plus and minus icons next to the layout preview.

Once you enable Spaces (and optionally add more than the two initial Spaces), you can start using them. You can switch between spaces using keyboard shortcuts or view thumbnails of all of your spaces (as shown in Figure 2) by clicking either F8 or the Spaces icon in the Dock.

Displaying all of your spaces (also called activating Spaces) allows you to drag the thumbnails of windows from one space to another. If you want to move all of the windows in one space to another space, click on a blank area of the original space and drag the entire space onto the new space.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Activating Spaces

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