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Mission Control tips and secrets

Mission Control on the Mac is a very useful tool that enables you to create and use multiple virtual desktops. OS X calls them spaces. If you are lucky enough to have a big screen iMac then you probably don't need more desktops, but the ability to have multiple desktops is really useful when working on small screens on MacBooks. Mission Control looks straightforward, but there may be features you have not yet discovered. Here we reveal them.

Mission Control is activated by clicking the icon in the Dock at the bottom of the screen or by pressing the hotkey. If you are typing then it is easier to keep your hands on the keyboard and hit the key, but which one? Click the Apple menu, select System Preferences and then Mission Control. A list of hotkeys is displayed and pressing F9, or whatever key is listed, activates it.

Mission Control in OS X

View and add more spaces
At the top of the screen are the thumbnail images of the desktops or spaces (OS X can't make its mind up) that are available and the first one is Dashboard. Click it and the Dashboard is displayed and you can add and use widgets - mini apps - on the desktop.

The next is the main desktop and it is labelled Desktop 1. You've got to have the Dashboard and at least one desktop, so these are fixed and cannot be changed. Other desktops are optional and you can add as many as you need. Move the mouse to the top right corner of the screen and an image appears showing part of a new desktop with a plus symbol on it. Click it and a new desktop is added. New desktops are labelled Desktop 2, Desktop 3 and so on.

When a desktop is clicked, it becomes the current desktop and you can easily switch from one desktop to another by pressing the hotkey and then clicking the thumbnail at the top. There is an alternative way though.

Keyboard shortcut
Go to System Preferences, click Keyboard and then select the Keyboard Shortcuts tab. Select Mission Control in the list on the left and you'll see the hotkeys on the right. Expand the Mission Control entry on the right by clicking the little triangle next to it if it isn't already expanded. Below it shows the shortcuts for each desktop and for moving a space to the left or right. To switch to desktop 1 you press Command+1, desktop 2 is Command+2 and so on. Move left a space and Move right a space, mean switching to the previous or next desktop. So if you are on desktop 2 you can move to desktop 1 or to desktop 3.

Mission Control in OS X

If no keyboard shortcut is displayed or you want to change the current assignment, click at the right side of Move left a space. Press the shortcut you would like to use, such as Ctrl+left arrow key to move left a space (desktop) or Ctrl+right arrow key to move to the right space (desktop). It is quick and easy to switch desktops using these keyboard showrtcuts, especially when you are typing and have your hands on the keyboard.

Activate Mission Control and the desktop thumbnails are displayed at the top of the screen. The rest shows the current desktop and windows. If you want to move an app or window from the current desktop to a different one, click and drag it to the new desktop.

Preview desktops without switching
Clicking a desktop thumbnail normally goes straight to the desktop. However, if you hold down the Option key and click it, it is previewed in the main part of the screen. Suppose you are on desktop 1 have a window on desktop 2 that you would like to move to desktop 1. Click Mission Control, Option+click desktop 2, drag the window to the desktop 1 thumbnail and click desktop 1 to finish.

After experimenting with extra desktops, you might have several. Having lots of desktops with lots of windows and apps open takes up memory, so it's not a good idea to have too many if you don't have much RAM in your Mac. Start Mission Control, let the mouse hover over a thumbnail for a second or two and a close button is then displayed. Click it to delete the desktop.

Related articles
* Lion: Top tips for working with multiple desktops
* Snow Leopard: Make the most of the screen space
* Snow Leopard: Move applications from one space to another
* Snow Leopard: Start applications in their own Space
* Snow Leopard: Use multiple desktops