Blog Post

Using Spaces to Manage Information Overload

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Everyone has their favorite tricks to keep focused while working at the computer. Mine can be summarized as “out of sight, out of mind…but easily accessible.”

spacesThe Spaces function is one of the nicer features that I discovered in OS X (s aapl) when I started using a Mac as my main machine a couple of years ago. Spaces allows me to open programs in multiple virtual desktops, then move between them using mouse movements or hotkeys.

Space 1 (the default workspace) is where I do most of my work. My browsers (Firefox and Safari) live here, along with Dreamweaver, Photoshop, iCal, Address Book, and Mail (which I still use, despite my earlier comments, as it’s the best way to manage multiple email accounts and move messages between them). Adium lives here, too, taking up a few pixels of space on the left of my wide-screen monitor, as my colleagues and I use instant messaging to communicate frequently between our home offices.

Space 2 is dedicated to a Remote Desktop Connection to my Windows XP (s msft) computer. There is still some software that’s Windows-only, so I keep an old XP machine around. If preferred, you can set up a virtual Windows machine in this space through Parallels or other virtual-machine software.

Space 3 is where I put the communications that I look at when I have some extra time: RSS news feeds, Twitter and Facebook. For RSS feeds, I use Prism, which turns Google Reader (s goog) into its own desktop application. For Twitter, I’m currently using Nambu, but am testing a bunch of other software, as Twitter apps seem to be progressing very rapidly. I’m not sure why RSS feeds aren’t more widely used. Dawn has written several great posts on how they can help improve efficiency. Updates from Facebook and LinkedIn can be collected via RSS. Even Twitter updates can be turned into RSS feeds with Gtweet.

Space 4 is used for fun stuff, notably Songbird, so that I can control what I’m listening to while working.

spaces-preferencesYou can control the layout, mouse shortcuts and hotkeys for Spaces from “System Preferences > Expose and Spaces”. You can also make certain programs always start in a particular space. Finally, you can move between these spaces using Control+(arrow keys), a combination that I actually had to look up as I was writing this, as my fingers have it so memorized!

By keeping different kinds of programs in different Spaces, I can focus my time more effectively, but easily switch to other tasks on the fly.

There are similar programs for other systems. Windows and Linux users, which do you prefer? How do you organize your desktop(s)?

12 Responses to “Using Spaces to Manage Information Overload”

  1. I have been using virtual desktops on Linux for quite some time. On Windows XP I use Virtual Desktop Manager, part of Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP.

    On a typical workday, my desktops look like this:

    Linux (dual monitors):
    1 – Email and browser
    2 – Terminal sessions on Linux-based servers
    3 – Projects
    4 – Projects

    1 – Terminal sessions on Solaris-based servers
    2 – Browser pointed at vendor’s customer support database
    3 – Calendar, trouble ticket database
    4 – MS Office apps, if needed

  2. Charles Hamilton

    I have not noticed any memory issues as a result of using Spaces. I’m on a desktop, so I can’t speak to battery issues. Try it and let us know!

  3. I use the built-in virtual desktops on Linux, and Virtuawin on Windows. Generally, I have 5:

    1. Browser and email
    2. XChat, Pidgin/Empathy, Skype, Gtalk
    3. Multiple bash/Cygwin sessions
    4. Twhirl, media player
    5. MS Project and other Office apps

  4. I’ve played with virtual desktops in the past and have never been able to settle on a configuration that really worked for me ie, segmenting my needs so discretely.

    Like Darrell though, you’ve got me intrigued. There is a virtual desktop feature bundled with my Stardock Object Desktop I’ll have to revisit.


  5. I love spaces and I use it in quite the same way. In fact, it nearly replaces the need for expose’, hiding windows and application switching in general, since most of the time I have just two-three main windows.

    I have 6 (2h*3v) spaces in the following order:
    1. Misc browser
    2. Mail, IM, Skype, Twitter
    3. Work browsers, Terminal (for my site)
    4. Remote desktop or virtual machine
    5. IDE (programming space)
    6. Task management – Omni Focus, brainstorming

    Two tricks I really like:
    * Use the “activate spaces” option (3rd button by default) shows all the spaces – you can rearrange windows by dragging between spaces at this mode.
    * Use the spaces option with expose to see all the windows you have. Very cool and useful.

  6. I actually don’t use Spaces at all, and never have since its release. Before this, I’ve never really seen the value in doing so.

    Your article has me tempted to switch it on. Just wondering if you know whether it is a big resource/battery hog or not, Charles?