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Apple Spaces Needs Competition

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Spaces Pager TAB
Leopard (OS X.5) was one of those big releases that while I was excited about it on principle, there weren’t many of the announced features that [on the surface] got me purring. The feature that garnered the most excitement for me was Spaces. I’m a longtime virtual desktop user and have gone through all of the offerings for the Apple platform. So the idea of having the functionality baked-in was an attractive one to me.

A sad side-effect to the news of Spaces however, was the announcement that a former favorite in this space – Virtue Desktops – would be shutting down further development. The story of Apple taking the best ideas and applications and baking them into the Mother Ship isn’t anything new – but generally the developers of these applications hang in there a bit before throwing in the towel. The most unfortunate part however is that competition is good for the consumer, typically resulting in better quality, more features, and plenty of options to fit any user. I completely understand being busy and not wanting to make time for a side project that would most likely be Apple’s victim, however I do wish the competition against Apple’s Spaces would make a fight out of it.

I don’t want to rehash all the gripes with Spaces that have accumulated around the internet these past couple of weeks, but let’s just say I agree with basically all of them. Mostly the issues stem from the ridiculous lack of configuration options. But the whole zooming me from one Space to another when I OPT+TAB is gonna send me over the edge one day in the not too distant future. Seriously. Why on earth would I want be bounced back and forth amongst my Spaces each and every time I want to work in a different application? My personal workflow has me using the Virtual Desktop concept as a division for my projects, not my tasks…But I digress. I do get it though – Spaces is meant to bring Virtual Desktops to the masses in a way that they can all get it. Unfortunately that leaves the rest of us starving for more.

The real shame here is that some great applications have faded into the background as Apple has released their own replacements. So those of us who loved those third party apps are left wanting when Apple’s solution doesn’t cut the mustard. When those great developers forsake their code – and consequently, their users – the spirit of competition and innovation in that particular application space is generally lost…Or at the very least, left up to Apple and their timeline to update. I’m fearful that Spaces is a prime example of this.

I’m greatly saddened by the fact that my two favorite [Pre-Leopard] Virtual Desktop apps are no longer getting any love from developers. Desktop Manager hasn’t been touched for a couple years, and Virtue Desktops (which hatched from the Desktop Manager code base) which – as I mentioned earlier – was the first casualty upon Spaces’ announcement. (I do however feel that I should point out that Tony Arnold – former Virtue Developer – is working on a companion to Spaces, called, HyperSpaces.) So the two freeware options are no longer. How about the shareware side of the house?

I sent a couple of quick emails off to CodeTek (makers of CodeTek VirtualDesktop) and You Software (makers of Desktops) to see what their intentions were on this front. Being that they’re selling their wares and have a user-base that has invested in them, I was glad to get responses that they will continue to bring the fight to Apple’s door with updated versions of their applications for the Leopard platform.

While the forthcoming enhancements to CTVD 4 will bring Universal stability to the application, Bill Goldstein from CodeTek informs me that CTVD 5 will be when the real enhancements and features become available. Meanwhile You Software sees this opportunity as a great one to capitalize on the new visibility that will be brought to the Virtual Desktop concept and will definitely be working to bring more advanced feature-sets to those seeking more than Spaces can offer. At $40 and $30, respectively, they’re clearly not free options when compared to Spaces, but those looking for more control shouldn’t mind too much I suspect.

I think this is a better time than ever for these developers to be coding their hearts out (and encourage any other enterprising and talented developers to jump on the opportunity as well), as Spaces will indeed bring Virtual Desktops to the masses. And when those masses become accustomed to the concept, my guess is that many of them will undoubtedly be hungry for more… Not to mention that fact that the continued competition will hopefully serve as a prodding to Apple to bring added functionality and configurability to their own Spaces application within OS X.

19 Responses to “Apple Spaces Needs Competition”

  1. I’ve had virtual desktops since the 90’s and my favorite desktop of the Linux days was WindowMaker. It worked perfectly, has a teeny bit of eye candy and just gto out my way. The fastest implementation i ever got on a Mac was DesktopManager. I only dislike Spaces less than have no desktop manager at all.

    I don’t care about animation or effects, and I never drag windows across desktops with the mouse. That was one thing I LOVED about WindowMaker was I could right click on a windows and say send this to desktop X. And another killer feature was it would remember what windows lived on what desktops and would automagically start them up when I started it up (which was rarely as I never had to shut it down). I worked this way for years. Sigh, no more..
    Anyway, I’m a registered user od CTVD Pro and it would be great if they released something – soon. I remembered CTVD was sorta slow too, so maybe this will be addressed. I did find a link to OSX Gnu Desktop Manager

    But couldn’t get it to compile. And the MacPorts version

    also will not build as well. I’ve tried hacking on these with no luck.
    So close it seems..

  2. I’m sorry but I really beg to differ on this Spaces thing. I had Virtue sitting on my menu bar for a year using Tiger and only used it when running a virtual machine or using Remote Desktop to control another computer. With Spaces, I’m using it like crazy and loving life. Switching is so fast and easy, and F8 (especially with expose) is amazing. I set Quicktime to be on all spaces which is great for playing a video full screen on my second monitor while still switching between Spaces. I understand some of the claimed missing functionality, but come on you guys, Spaces is IMO much more usable than previous implementations.

  3. I’m with you here, Nick.

    Ideally, Spaces would only switch spaces when I decide it should (by using some of the shortcuts).

    And even better, the cmd-tab would only switch between the apps that have windows in the current space (although I’d settle for having to use an extra modifier to achieve this)

  4. CTVDUser –
    I did hear from the CT CEO that his developer’s been quite sick and the development effort has been delayed as a result. But 18 months is a long period. While I hope the dev is feeling better, it seems more like excuses at this point than anything. Hopefully they do what they must to support their paying/supportive customers.

    Tony –
    Thanks for the insights. Let me know when HyperSpaces is ready for a look-see…

    TR755 –
    Nope, you got me. Hate Apple and everything they do. VERY accurate powers of deduction amigo…

  5. The problem with most virtual desktop solutions on the mac is that they really rely on what Apple has implemented in the OS to do their work. This means that unless Apple deems it necessary for Spaces to have functionality you’re looking for, exposing something new against what is there is quite difficult.

    I’m very interested to see what CTVD have up their sleeves in their rumoured 5th release – shiny things make us all happy! In saying that, I recognise that most virtual desktop apps (Virtue most definitely included) are fairly unstable beasts.

    As for Hyperspaces, it will be more of a companion to Spaces, providing more superficial features such as naming your desktops, and allowing you to set per-desktop decorations. I’m also working on a pretty tight little visual pager, but my non-existent Core Animation skills are being put to the test, and I don’t want to promise too much before the damn thing works properly :)

    In any case, I’m hoping to have some time over the upcoming holidays to get enough of Hyperspaces written to at least post some screenshots and more information on the (rather anaemic) product site.

  6. CTVD user

    I’d like to believe that CTVD will be updated, but I’m skeptical. CTVD has been at version 3.2 since early 2006; I don’t know if it ever worked on Tiger. I have an email from the developer in April 2006 saying that they were working on a beta of version 4. No news in the past 18 months. As a loyal CTVD user, I’m disappointed, but will have to make do with Spaces and its limitations for now.

  7. I like spaces overall but my main gripe is that new windows of the same app want to spawn on the same space. This probably works fine for Mail or Photoshop but I like having multiple terminals open if I’m working on a server and each collection of terminals on its own space/desktop.

    Spaces really doesn’t seem like this setup and there’s no way to change this. I wish they made it more like Gnome or KDE style of multiple desktops or at least an “advanced” option. This would allow for new users to use it easily and allow power users to make adjustments.

  8. I’ve been using the “virtual” desktop concept for years – before I returned to the Apple platform, so don’t operate on the misconception that I’m wet behind the ears and just figuring this whole thing out.

    No where did I ever say Apple stole some other developer’s idea of virtual desktops – and if that came across then I apologize, but I don’t think that’s a theory that was communicated here in any form.

    My point here is that when Apple decided to add this functionality to Leopard, the 3rd party devs in this same space seem to have stalled somewhat on a return volley. I’m highly anticipating the answer that these 3rd party developers have to Spaces, as it’s a bit rudimentary for the power users amongst us.

  9. VanFruniken

    Suffice it to say that the concept of multiple (“virtual”) desktops is very old. Many pre-linux Unix systems already had it.

    Don’t give me this s–t that Apple is stealing someone else’s best ideas.

    Can’t blame Apple for producing a very streamlined implementation. It is precisely in clean and user-friendly implementations that Apple excels.