Apple Mac OS X Window Management: Way Ahead of Windows 7

spacesviewMuch is being made lately of Microsoft Windows 7 and it’s new taskbar. I’ve been running the beta myself and consider it a nice improvement over Vista. One of the improvements is in the area of window management. The new taskbar shows previews of all the open windows in an app when you hover the mouse over it, and will switch to that window if you click it. 

While the above is nice, I’ve seen a few comparisons of this windows management to that of Apple’s Dock. The problem there is that OS X’s windows management is not handled by the Dock. About the only “window management” you get from the dock is that if you right-click an icon the popup menu will list open windows. Big deal. 

If you want to compare Windows 7’s windows management to that of OS X, then you have to compare the new taskbar features to that of Apple’s Expose and Spaces. In this comparison, in my opinion, Windows 7 falls far short. 

spaces-prefsOne thing to consider is that Spaces is fully customizable, and you really should look into the way you work and set it accordingly. By default there are four spaces, but for my work I decided that six made the most sense. I’ve set them up as follows: 

  • Space 1 – My information space. Mail, Address Book and iCal run here. 
  • Space 2 – My “web” space. NetNewsWire and Safari run here. I probably spend more time in this space than any other. 
  • Space 3 – My music space. Generally, iTunes is always running here, and GarageBand opens here as well. 
  • Space 4 – My productivity space. All the iWorks apps open here. 
  • Space 5 – My media space. Aperture, iPhoto, iMovie, Graphic Converter, and others open here. 
  • Space 6 – My “Microsoft” space. VMWare Fusion (I have VMs for XP and Win7) and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop open here. So does Firefox, since its home page is set to quickly check my Outlook email. 

In addition to the above, I have numerous apps designated to “float” from space to space. Essentially, these follow me to any space I enter. A few of these are: 

  • iChat
  • TextEdit
  • Preview
  • Finder
  • Dictionary
  • Skitch

There are more, but the idea is these are apps I don’t want to be “cut off” from just by swapping spaces. 

With all the above, Spaces and Expose work beautifully together to make a boatload of open apps and windows seems trivial. Easiest way to show this is via some screenshots. 

Below is Space 5 (you can see the number in the menu bar). I generally run my media apps full screen. 


Below is the same space with Expose activated. You can see I have TextEdit and iChat open, and since they follow me from space to space they are available here. 


Below is Space 5 with Spaces activated. You can see all I’ve got going on with this shot. The front window in each space is what happens to be in front at the time I invoked spaces. 


Now let’s take this to the final step, and invoke Expose after Spaces. You can see that every window is available to me with just a click, no matter what space it’s in. 


I am constantly switching windows, so another important form of customization is in how you choose to invoke Expose and Spaces. 

On later model Macs F3 invokes Expose, and on the unibody MacBooks a four-finger swipe down does the same thing. Since I think the glass trackpad on the unibodies is one of he greatest Apple advancements in recent years, I always use it to invoke Expose. However, aside from the four-finger gesture, I’ve set it to activate when I move to the upper right screen corner. As for Spaces, by default it’s in the Dock, but I remove that and invoke it by moving the cursor to the lower left screen corner. Since I’m right-handed, the gestures to lower-left and upper-right screen corners are most natural to me, and make switching windows incredibly fast. 

The beauty of Apple’s windows management implementation is that by spreading out your apps among various spaces, no one space ever tends to overwhelm you. Personally, I never need to hide apps any more. 

Further, there are customizations of Spaces for switching between spaces, or switching directly to a space, with the keyboard. And Expose has customizations to show all windows, or just those of the current app, or clearing all windows and showing just the desktop. The latter is particularly helpful in that once the desktop is exposed it’s “live”. By that I mean you don’t just get to view it, as Windows 7’s desktop feature allows, but you can actually grab icons and “hold” them while sliding the app windows back in “underneath” what you’re holding.  

In my opinion, Mac OS X’s windows management is still light-years ahead of Windows 7. If you’re not taking advantage of what OS X offers in this regard, then you’re missing out on some very efficient ways to work.

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