Make Spaces Usable Again On Your Mac

Apple introduced the multi-desktop management tool Spaces way back in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, and it was great until they laid waste to it in Lion (and now Mountain Lion). If you're a Spaces lover, here's how to bring back the spaces you know and love.

The best thing Apple did to Spaces post-Lion was add a four-finger swipe gesture to move between Spaces (great gesture!). Apple also decided that Spaces would all be in a row (less cool, but still fine). Worst of all, Apple added a 30-minute animation to Spaces switching (in particular, when you switch using the Ctrl+arrow key shortcut), so a feature once intended as a productivity booster is now anything but. (Waiting for a slow animation to lock a few remaining pixels into place when you're ready to type in the app you're switching to is a special form of torture.)

But, hey, we can fix this!

For starters...

After a little research, the first thing I did was speed up Mission Control animations, hoping this would fix what ailed me. To do this, open up Terminal and enter the following two commands:

defaults write expose-animation-duration -float 0.15
killall Dock

Now when you activate Mission Control (which is sort of like the heads-up view to Spaces post-Lion), that animation is considerably faster. In fact, it speeds up a lot of animations (which I like), including Expose and the Show Desktop command (which I use constantly). Unfortunately it doesn't solve my Spaces-switching problem.

Then I tried...

...adjusting the shortcut...

After a little more reading, I learnt that if I use the alternate Ctrl+Num Spaces-switching shortcut rather than my preferred Ctrl+arrow key shortcut, Apple (inexplicably) doesn't inflict the same obnoxious delay.

To explain: previously if I'd wanted to switch from Space 1 to Space 2, I'd press Ctrl+Right arrow. The result: My desktop switches with a slow, tedious animation. If, on the other hand, I press Ctrl+2 (to navigate to the second space), the animation is quick, snappy, and I'm instantly in business on my new space.

It's a workable solution, but I'm still not completely happy. My animations are quicker, but I still miss the grid-style Spaces (I always preferred a simple 2x2 arrangement), which allowed for faster switching to the desktop of your choice, and which Apple has replaced with a straight line of Spaces.

Enter TotalSpaces.

TotalSpaces Makes Spaces Usable Again

TotalSpaces is a third-party application that brings the grid back to Spaces while also adding a handful of other handy features. With TotalSpaces, you can:

  • Change your transitions
  • Swipe between desktops (both left and right and up and down)
  • See the same Spaces-only overview that was deprecated by Mission Control
  • Assign specific apps to specific desktops (like you used to be able to do)

TotalSpaces is free during its beta period (and it's definitely worth at least trying out). It will cost $US12 for a licence.

After all of that, Spaces still isn't as good in Mountain Lion as it was in Snow Leopard, but it's better, and it means Spaces is actually usable again on my Mac.

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    I found no difference in the expose speed when applying that default write.

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who finds the space switching delay infuriating! I've adopted the same remapping (direct to space number, not relative position) in order to avoid most of the animation delay.

    I've been following a github project (ChangeSpace) which does the same thing as TotalSpaces, worth a go if you don't want to cough up any money:

    this very thing has kept me from upgrading my snow leopard install. i use ctrl-arrow (actually I remap it to alt-arrow) ALL the time. ctrl-# is cool, but i really want my alt-arrow. any idea on how to speed that one up?

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