Mac OS X Spaces Winning Strategy

Of all the new features in Mac OS X Leopard, Spaces has had the greatest impact on my daily workflow. This came as somewhat of a surprise. I tried using Desktop Manager a few times in the past, and it never felt comfortable enough. What I think finally made the concept of multiple desktops work for me was the combination of fast application switching (command tab) and automatic space switching. It's no longer required for me to know which space an application is on. I just have to switch to it and it slides into view.

The Strategy

This brings me to the Spaces strategy that works for me. All 16 spaces, 1 app per space. I started trying just 4 and then 8 spaces, thinking that anymore would be too hard to keep track of. But once I realized I wasn't even using the spaces layout or numbers, I decided to go all out and try all 16. Now I sometimes wish I could have more.


The main benefit is no more window littered work areas, or at least less of it depending on how crazy you get with one app. I don't feel the need to constantly arrange windows, and I leave enough room on the right on every space that I can always see the drives and files on my desktop.


One drawback to this strategy is that you can't immediately look at two application at once. So if you needed to read from one while typing into another, you would need to temporarily move one app into another's space. This has been less of an issue than I originally thought it would be, and really only happens when I'm copying text from an image or PDF that doesn't have live text. If you didn't know this, you can still drag and drop between spaces easily enough. If I need to drag an image from Safari into Fireworks (when I'm stealing from iStock...kidding), I'll select the image, trigger the all spaces view, and from there I can drop the image on the Fireworks document. I have the all spaces view, or the "To activate Spaces" setting, set to my mouse's thumb button and F1.

I should add that my computer is a 17-inch Mac Book Pro with a 1920x1200 display. If you have a 30-inch display, or dual monitors, or if you're like Brandon and have both, one app per space might feel like a waste. The main goal here is no overlapping. On most screens this translates to one app per space, but if you've got the real estate, use it. I've listed my setup below, and you'll see I do have a few cases where I've combined two apps, like TextMate and Terminal. In this case I use the two together frequently, and I can fit all their windows on one screen without overlap.

Other Tips

Bind Finder (/System/Library/CoreServices/ and chat programs to All Spaces. It's nice to have those follow you around. Don't bind helper apps to any space. Something like address book or calculator you might use with many apps, but you don't want them following you around cluttering the space. Quit them when you're done, and then the next time you open them they'll pop up right where you need them.

My setup

  • 1 - Mail
  • 2 - Omnifocus
  • 3 - iCal
  • 4 - Campfire (through Propane)
  • 5 - Preview
  • 6 - Safari
  • 7 - Firefox
  • 8 - VMware (Window for IE testing)
  • 9 - Fireworks
  • 10 - Photoshop/Flash
  • 11 - Pages/Word
  • 12 - Base Camp (through Fluid App)
  • 13 - TextMate/Terminal
  • 14 - BBedit/Fetch
  • 15 - QuickTime/MPlayer + Miscellaneous
  • 16 - iTunes

All Spaces - Finder (/System/Library/CoreServices/, iChat/Adium
No Setting - Address Book, Calculator, Free Ruler

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