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Apple Mac and OS X tips and tweaks

Make the most of the screen space

Spaces enables you to create and use multiple virtual desktops so that you can show different applications on each one. It's not something that you would use on a 27in iMac where screen space is not a problem, but it's certainly very useful on something like a MacBook, especially the 13in model where space is at a premium.

Open a couple of windows and it's hard not to have one obscuring the other. Spaces solves the problem by allowing you to have two or more desktops and to have different windows open on each one. You can quickly and easily switch from one to the other to access each application you have open.

You can create up to 16 virtual desktops or spaces as Apple calls them. Click the Apple menu and choose System Preferences, click Expose and Spaces, then select the Spaces tab. Make sure that the box at the top labelled Enable Spaces is ticked. Click the plus and minus symbols next to Rows and Columns to increase or decrease the number of virtual desktops.

You'll see that the spaces are shown as a grid with rows and columns. You can quickly switch from one space to another by holding down the Ctrl key and pressing the arrow keys, so press Ctrl+Right to step to the desktop on the right or Ctrl+Down to step to the desktop below in the grid. You can also switch spaces by holding down the Ctrl key and pressing a number, such as Ctrl+3 for space/desktop 3. Creating lots of spaces uses up a little memory, but it won't bother you if you have a gigabyte or more of RAM.

Of course, you can change the hotkeys that are used to control Spaces and it's possible that your Mac uses different keys. You'll see the keys displayed used to activate Spaces, the keys to switch from one to the other and the keys to jump directly to a space. You can choose alternatives in the pop-up menus, but remember not to use a key combination that is used elsewhere by some other application.

Move applications from one space to another

Now you know how to set up Spaces and to jump from one space to another, you can easily select a new space to start a new application free of desktop clutter. What often happens though is that you start using an application and open a window, start another app and open a window, and so on. After opening two or three you then realise that the desktop is very cluttered and windows are getitng in the way. What can you do to sort out the clutter? Simple. Just move windows to new spaces.

Press the Spaces hotkey (F8 on my Mac, but it may be different on yours), and you'll see the spaces displayed on the screen side by side or in a grid, depending on how many rows and colums you have created. You can move a window from one space to another simply by clicking and dragging it across.

Some applications have multiple windows. For example, if you start Mail and then create a new email you'll have two windows - one for the Mail acc and another for the new email message. Hit the Spaces hotkey and you can drag either the Mail window or the new message window to a new space. However, if you hold down the Command key as you click and drag either the Mail window or the new message window, you'll find that both windows are moved to the new space. Command dragging a window from one space to another moves all the application's windows and not just the one you click on. It's a great way to move whole apps from space to space.

Start applications in their own Space

If you use the Spaces feature in OS X to create multiple desktops you'll be used to starting applications and then moving them to a nice clean desktop to avoid the usual clutter of windows and palettes on the screen. You can save yourself time and effort by configuring applications to automatically start up on a specific desktop or Space as Apple calls them.

To configure an application, click the Apple menu at the left-hand side of the menu bar at the top of the screen and select System Preferences. Click Expose and Spaces in the Personal section, and then choose Spaces.

When Spaces is enabled you can click the plus button just below the Application Assignments list to add a new application. The contents of the Applications folder is displayed and you can choose any of the programs listed there (or anywhere else for that matter). Click Add and it will be added to the Application Assignments list.

OS X Spaces

To assign the application to a specific space, click in the Space column and a pop-up menu enables you to select the space to use. There's also an option to select all spaces too, so it appears everywhere. Add more applications if you wish and assign them to other spaces or the same space. Assigning applications to the same space means they appear on the same virtual desktop, but of course, that's only if you actually run them at the same time.

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