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Alternatives to Apple Spaces

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Almost a year ago Apple gave us Leopard (OS X 10.5), and along with it came virtual desktops for the masses, in the form of Spaces. For many this was an interesting new way to expand their workspace virtually. For the rest of us [power users?] it was a letdown in execution. What was worse, the third party options looked to be dwindling as well. Last November I called for third party developers to bring the competition – let’s take a look at the result of that call to arms.

We’ll start with the non-contenders of the bunch, of which, sadly are most of them…

Desktop Manager

Desktop Manager was dead long ago. R.I.P. Desktop Manager. However, if you’re still getting by on a 4 or so year old Mac with the likes of OS X 10.2 installed, I highly recommend this application for virtual desktops. No Joke. While it was buggy, it was still my favorite back in the day.

Virtue Desktops

As I mentioned in last year’s post, Virtue Desktops was the first victim to fall to Apple’s Spaces. Virtue was born of the Desktop Manager code, and was a great successor. But ultimately, the developer (Tony Arnold) wasn’t willing to take on the juggernaut. But in other news, Tony has an interesting project brewing along these lines – more on this in a few…

CodeTek Virtual Desktop

When I started writing on this post a week or so ago, I sent out emails to developers, looking for any news. I never heard back from CodeTek. A check of their website offers nothing more than a Tiger-compatible beta that expired back in July of this year. Since OS X 10.4 (Tiger) is about three and a half years old, I’m going ahead and writing the $40 CodeTek Virtual Desktop option out of this equation. (Should I hear anything from CodeTek to the contrary, I’ll update this post accordingly.)

You Software’s Desktops

You Software was the one developer I got a response from, and as luck would have it, they were putting the finishing touches on releasing their Leopard-compatible 1.3 version of Desktops. In one of my very early posts here on The Apple Blog, I reviewed all of these Virtual Desktop options, and You Software’s application was one I enjoyed enough to purchase. Desktops thrives on giving users oodles of configuration options (something Spaces lacks almost completely) to create the ideal virtual workspace on an individual basis.

If you can’t stand Spaces’ limitations or quirks, do head over and try Desktops out for yourself. If you like it, a license will set you back $29.95.

Apple Spaces

Call it the Stockholm syndrome if you like, but I’ll admit that Spaces has endeared itself to me over the past eleven months. (That is of course, once Apple fixed the problem – or rather, offered an opt-out – where switching to an application on a blank desktop would transport you to the desktop where that application already had a window open.)

I really love the ability to zoom out (Expos̩ style) and see Рin full screen Рthe pager-esque view of all my desktops at once. The cherry on top is then being able to execute my Expose commands to see all the windows that are open across all desktops. This really is a killer feature.

But Spaces still lacks some of those ‘luxury’ options that Desktops offers. Enter, Hyperspaces.


As I mentioned above, Tony Arnold (Former Virtue developer) has turned his free time to an interesting project. This is it. Hyperspaces proclaims to be an extension for Apple’s Spaces to provide the kind of custom configuration that currently only Desktops can give you on the Leopard platform. The application extension is currently in a closed beta stage, so you can’t go try it yourself just yet. Likewise, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to dabble with Hyperspaces myself, but am hoping to hear back from Tony soon. When I do, I’ll be sure to post what I can here.

I’m excited about the potential that Hyperspaces represents. Given that I’ve settled in to a comfortable relationship with Spaces and its functionality (or lack thereof, depending on your stance), Hyperspaces may just be the BAM! that Spaces needs.

I am still disappointed that more developers haven’t stepped-up to fill the void in this application space. You Software and Tony Arnold seem to be the only ones toiling away, and to them I give my thanks. You Desktops and Hyperspaces don’t represent a plethora of virtual desktop options, but they’re fighting the good fight. After all, without competition, improvements and stability of any software could take an eternity. Not that Apple feels the pressure of these two developers, but wouldn’t it be great if others began to push the limits of this type of software? I mean, we’ve got probably two dozen FTP options out there – how about some more virtual desktop offerings for crying out loud?!

10 Responses to “Alternatives to Apple Spaces”

  1. The Space work space management available under Snow Leopard does not support the kind of multi tasking I’m used to very well. I hope the following description will be used to improve the product. Otherwise, I love the MAC, after having used Apple, then NeXT, then Microsoft and now OSX.

        Multi-Tasking Style

    I have developed a natural style, using one work space screen for each of the jobs I must do. I currently have screens for 1) general, 2) email, 3) managing digital camera pictures, 4) personal diary, 5) a Fusion XP compatibility machine, 6) a paper I’m researching, 7) an XCode program, 8) computer root management tasks. This is quite natural way to do multi-tasking this way. E.g.: I am writing a program in one screen, and in working on it, an idea pops into my mind, on say the paper I am writing. (I think minds work that way — good ideas seem to come out of left field when working on something else, and acting on them is important.) I’d like to do one click to get to the “paper I’m writing” screen. There I would have an editor window with the requisite files already open. A second click to select the window, and 20 keys to record the idea, and I click back current on the programming window. All this is done in literally 20 seconds, with low overhead. This kind of thing happens every minute or two the way I multi task. It’s happened 10 times as I write this. I am used to it — Gnome supports this well.

    The reason this is efficient is that each work space is like a different desk, each with its papers layed out ready for work in the last context encountered when the ball goes in that court. The overhead of bringing up the requisite application and finding the right document is drastically reduced. I don’t loose the new idea as I’m getting to the place to process it, and most of the previous ideas I had stay in my short term memory. Changing contexts is light weight and doesn’t require much thought. I want this efficiency for the MAC, hopefully in 10.7.

        Spaces in Snow Leopard

    Ignoring the fact that it’s missing a few checkoff kind of features, the major problem with Snow Leopard’s spaces IMHO is that it switches work spaces on it’s own, gratuitously. Specifically when I need to use a different app in the same work space, Spaces often moves me out my current space to a different space / task context. E.g. I’m editing my paper, and need Wikipedia, so I click on Safari. Spaces seems to think “well, since there’s no Safari in this space, I’ll switch him to this other space where it is open”. It’s an intrusion in my thought process, and forces a needless step of remembering what space I was in and relocating myself back there. My wife often hears me exclaim “I hate spaces” at such times.

    Although this often happens if that app isn’t already open in the current space, it sometime happens just changing buffers (e.g. Aquaemacs ^x^b 2). I have learned ways to switch apps to minimize this, but it requires different actions for each app. E.g. Finder: right click dock | New Finder Window; Terminal and AquaEmacs: left click dock | apple-n; Safari: … . And this method always adds an extra window even when not required. I shouldn’t have to keep track of which apps are open in each space. My take is some API needs to be restructured! E.g.: It should be easy and required for an app to list the space name when it lists its open windows.

        Other Missing Features:
    • per-space string name (e.g. <12 chars) displayed on
      space switching operation from the menu bar, also from expose
      the space name on the desktop itself (e.g. in the lower left)

    • per-space color/wallpaper, important for subliminal confirmation
      e.g. the “email” space is red.

    I am using HyperSpaces 1.0.5 for these features, but is not very
    integrated with Spaces. E.g. It has its own separate menues. S

  2. @Kevin

    I was looking for the exact same thing and cam across the ability to keep an application running in every space:

    It may not satisfy your exact needs but could help. For me I just run a program I use often “textmate” in every space. Then I setup all my other apps in my two side monitors and use spaces to switch between them all. It’s not perfect but maybe it’ll help.

  3. This looks like a good place to post this…
    I’d like to see a desktop divider option, sort of like Acer Gridvista, which divides the desktop into up to 3 separate (always viewable) work spaces.
    What is this good for? Well, I would like to be able to have app windows not invade other app window spaces… like for instance: I want to place things like buddy lists, my EyeTV screen and a calendar all on the right side of my screen… but if I open Photoshop (or any other app) It will go on top of everything. I wish that when big apps open, they could be refrained to a specific area of the screen, do I make sense?… I hope I do because I think this would be a killer option to add to any of these desktop management tools. :)


  4. Hyperspaces sounds interesting. I would love to see the desktop effects that have been developed in Linux ported over to OS X. Some of it is just eye candy, but why not OS X is the best desktop environment, why not ensure that it looks the best too.

  5. The only feature I really want/desire/need is the ability to run spaces on one monitor and leave the others fixed.

    Is this technically impossible? I’ve seem many other people inquire about this feature, so it’s not like there isn’t demand.

  6. Hobbes Doo

    I can’t wait to try Hyperspaces. I used and loved Virtue Desktop. I’m sure the new project will be awesome too. One feature I believe none of the products support is different Docks per desktop. Not sure how feasible that is to implement, but it would surely be a great feature for me. As you can divide your desktops based on functionality, e.g. development, office, etc., you can have different Docks in each one, representing the most used applications in that environment.