Mac OS X 10.5’s Spaces: Not a solution for document-centric computing

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
March 17th, 2008 • 1:56 pm

After another failed attempt to use Leopard’s Spaces feature to organize my work, I am afraid that I have come to the conclusion that this feature, in its current incarnation, is simply incompatible with my way of working with my computer.

It’s not just that the feature still suffers from rather annoying bugs. Even if all the bugs were fixed, I would still have to contend with a number of design choices made by Apple’s engineers that are simply not appropriate to my own situation.

It can be challenging to describe exactly what is wrong with Spaces. Various people have attempted it over the past few months, with limited success. (Here’s another recent example.)

I don’t know if I can do any better, but fundamentally I believe that the problem with Spaces is simply that it is not properly designed to handle the use of the same application in more than one space.

Yet there are a number of Mac OS X applications that I need to be able to use in more than one space: Mail, Safari, the Finder, BBEdit, etc. In fact, the reality is that I probably need to be able to use most of my applications in more than one space, simply because each of these applications are tools that are capable of handling a variety of tasks for a number of vastly different, totally unrelated activities.

With Spaces, if you want to be able to use the same application in more than one space, you basically only have two options: You can either assign the application to “Every Space” or not assign the application to anything at all.

The problem with assigning an application to “Every Space” is that it means that all its windows are visible in every space, which means that you lose the ability to distribute its windows across different spaces.

If you want to be able to use the same application (say, Safari) in two different spaces, with some of its windows only visible in one of the spaces, and its other windows only visible in the other space, then the only option is not to assign the application to any space at all, and to manually move the document windows to their respective spaces.

But if you choose that option, then there are so many problems with other fundamental Mac OS X features, including the Dock and the application switcher (command-Tab), that, in my experience, you just end up experiencing a high level of ongoing frustration because Mac OS X keeps switching you to the wrong space and you need to constantly switch back to the space you want.

I tried to endure this for a few days, and I simply cannot. It’s too frustrating, and it reaches a point where I waste more time switching from space to space than I do trying to manage all my applications and their windows all in a single work environment, i.e. with Spaces disabled.

In other words, the feature is useless as far as I am concerned.

The sample situation described above (i.e. wanting to use some Safari windows in one space and other Safari windows in another space) is by far the most common situation for me with my various applications—not just with Safari. It also applies to Mail, BBEdit, Pages, Numbers, etc.

Most of the applications on my machine are used for a variety of purposes, not for a single purpose or a single type of task. So I cannot assign them to a specific space. It’s as simple as that.

I think that the only situation where Spaces is actually useful is a situation where people really do use each of their applications for a specific type of task, and therefore can assign each application to a specific space. But it simply does not reflect the reality of my computing experience at all.

My computing experience is document-centric, not application-centric. Work “spaces,” for me, are environments where I can bring together a collection of document windows belonging to various applications that are all related to a specific type of task. The document windows belong together not because of their parent application, but because of their actual content.

Until Apple can come up with a Spaces-like feature that can actually handle this type of document-centric approach elegantly, there is simply no point in trying to use Spaces in my computing activities. It is unfortunately easier for me to organize my document windows manually through the systematic use of Mac OS X’s hiding features and through spatial organization on my two screens, in a single work “space.”

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.