Virtual desktops have been popular amongst geeks for years, but they’re just starting to catch on with the consumer desktop crowd; in Leopard, Spaces be thy name. Previously Mac users had an incredible virtual desktop application called Virtue Desktops as their desktop management option, but with the announcement of Spaces, development on Virtue Desktops was dropped. I’m a huge fan of Virtue Desktops, so in my eyes, Spaces has some pretty big shoes to fill. So how does Spaces stand up?
First of all, here’s Virtue Desktops running in Mac OS X 10.4 with Parallels:
Pretty cool, right? So what’s Spaces got to offer?
As it turns out, plenty. While I’ll miss the cube animation available in Virtue desktops—which I’ve always felt makes the idea of multiple desktops much more intuitive (and is why Compiz is so great on Linux)—Apple has put a lot of effort into making Spaces intuitive in its own right. Using user-definable keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl + arrow keys or Space number by default), you can jump around within a grid of virtual desktops. Press F8 to bring up your grid in an Exposé-like view, from which you can drag and drop windows to and from any Space. Click a space or use your direction keys and hit Enter to go to a specific Space.
Switching between Spaces is quick, and doing so animates windows out of the way with a swipe in the direction you left from, helping you visualise where you are in the grid so you keep track of how to get back where you came from (again, it makes it more intuitive).
Spaces also comes with several worthwhile settings like application assignments which let you set specific desktop for an application to open in (a feature that was also available in Virtue Desktops). Spaces one-ups Virtues by offering an “Every Space” option which makes an application persistent across all Spaces, meaning it never leaves your screen, even when switching Spaces. Switching to an application on another desktop (either via mouse or Command-Tab) will automatically whisk you away to that desktop. You can also adjust how many Spaces you’d like to use, maxing out at 16 Spaces in a 4×4 grid.
If you’re a virtual desktop nut, Spaces shouldn’t leave you disappointed.