Sunday, December 27, 2009

Using OS X Spaces, Expose, Minimize and Hide - best practices

I had to take another look at Expose and Spaces when a relative asked me to review their use.

I'm again struck by a perennial mystery. Why don't we have more "I'm an expert, here's how I manage X" type documentation? I'm sure the team that developed Expose and Spaces had clear ideas on how they were to be used. No, not a list of features, but rather an explanation of how an array of possible features are should be used -- and, more importantly, what should be avoided.

For example -- I can't figure out any use for minimizing windows to the Dock. Once you do that they can't be managed by Expose or Spaces, and they can't be closed as a group. Dock minimization feels like an obsolete function that now causes confusion. Likewise, how do the Mac Classic legacy operations application operations of "Hide App", "Hide All" or "Hide Others" mesh with Expose and Spaces?

Expose, Spaces, Hide and Minimize -- we really do need a true power user to explain what they use and what they carefully neglect.

Since most of my real work is done in corporate XP I'm not a true OS X power user - but I can take a whack at the problem. This is what I do at the moment:
  • The application-specific Hide functions: I no longer use them. I feel as though they've been replaced by Spaces and Expose.
  • Expose: I use "All Windows" and "Desktop". I've mapped Ctrl-D to Desktop because I'm used to Windows-D on XP to show the Desktop (Cmd-D is a shortcut that works in many file menus to set the focus to the Desktop so I used Ctrl rather than Cmd). I want to start using F10 to show all Application windows, but on the newest Apple laptop-everywhere keyboards there are no dedicated Function keys. I think Apple is deprecating Expose:Application Windows.
  • Minimize to Dock: I avoid this like the plague. I do find "Close All" (option click on close menubar icon) very useful to clean up a mess of browser windows.
  • Spaces: This is useful on my MacBook display, less useful on a my desktop (27" i5 + 21" LCD). I'm trying to get used to using it everywhere however. I'm experimenting with using only 2 screens, and mapping the Finder to one. So one screen has my file manipulation stuff, everything else is in the other screen.
I find typing "exp" or "spa" in LaunchBar is the fastest way to invoke Expose or Spaces; it's more convenient than using a mouse or a kb shortcut.

Anyone have alternative approaches to suggest?

Update 12/30/09: Azendel, writing in comments, tells us that Apple fixed "Minimize" in 10.6. Minimized windows now appear in Expose. That's a relief since "Minimize" is fairly prominent in the OS X user interface; the Leopard Minimize/Expose incompatibility has been a frequent irritant.

Update 1/3/2011: I made a very good stab at using Spaces over the past year. I like giving Aperture its own Space for example, so it could use the secondary monitor without messing up other apps. Over time, however, I ran into more issues with app windows being split between Spaces. I also suspect, but cannot prove, that some App crashes are related to windows being split between Spaces. I now think Spaces is not quite ready for primetime. Since "Leo" (10.7) has a different Finder/Spacers model, and since Apple's newer kbs have "Expose" keys but not "Spaces" keys I think Apple knows this too. I'm going to return to using Expose (improved in 10.6) and experiment with Minimize and Hide.

Update 1/29/11: See Using OS X Spaces, Expose, Minimize and Hide - best practices 2.0
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8 comments:

Azendel said...

I use a 2007 macbook (no multitouch). I never use spaces, being that I find expose more than capable of managing my windows. The action i use to trigger expose depends largely on my position on the laptop. If i am typing, I am more prone to use F10, if I'm using the track pad I typically use a hot corner.

I use three hot corners: the bottom left to show all windows, bottom right to show desktop, and top left to put the display to sleep. I find that on my laptop the hot corners are easy to use, fast, and very responsive. More often than not even when I am typing, I will still use the hot corner to activate expose rather the button.

On my mini, the hot corners become rather aggravating. Considering that tracking speed and the reduced accuracy of the mighty mouse in congruence with the massive difference in screen size, make an accidental trigger all the more annoying. So to get around this I use the squeeze, and "3rd" button to trigger, all windows and show desktop respectively. This system works rather well for me, but I find that if I get and sort of tension in my hand, that it triggers expose. This is not a fault of expose, but rather the mighty mouse, to my knowledge this problem has been addressed by the new magic mouse.

In answer to question about the usefulness of the minimize to dock feature, I can assume that you are still using leopard. I too felt that minimize a window in leopard was pointless as it removed it from any form of window management. In snow leopard, minimized apps appear in expose, at the bottom of the screen. This feature enables me to keep a few apps I use often minimized, and visually separate from the active windows, with out losing track of them.

I really enjoy the premise of this thought experiment. I would love to hear how some the power mac users and uber fan boys interact with OS X.

John Gordon said...

Thanks Azendel. Great comments!

I have only just started using SL on one machine, and I didn't realize Apple had fixed the Minimize behavior. I'll add a comment to my post. Great fix.

I too had tried hot corners but I kept hitting them by accident. I find it hard to use advanced mice features because I have different mice on different machines -- so I tend to use the minimum. My new magic mouse is wreaking havoc, I keep stroking the surface of my mice expecting the screen to scroll :-).

One World Flag said...

I personally love to minimize files to the desktop and have been searching to see how I can have Expose in 10.6.2 NOT include showing my minimized files in the "Show All Windows" function. I like to keep things minimized that I know are open, and that I can get to quickly when needed (by slamming my cursor down to the bottom of the screen to show the dock)... and the OS I had before this did not show minimized windows where 10.6.2 does. This serves as kind of my "second wave" of things as I work back and forth between numerous programs: not the ones I am working on right now, but that I will be into in a while, and don't want to clutter up my screen right now when showing all windows. So-- if anyone knows a tip on how to ahve "Show All Windows" exlcude any that are minimized to the dock, much appreciation.

One World Flag said...

I personally love to minimize files to the desktop and have been searching to see how I can have Expose in 10.6.2 NOT include showing my minimized files in the "Show All Windows" function. I like to keep things minimized that I know are open, and that I can get to quickly when needed (by slamming my cursor down to the bottom of the screen to show the dock)... and the OS I had before this did not show minimized windows where 10.6.2 does. This serves as kind of my "second wave" of things as I work back and forth between numerous programs: not the ones I am working on right now, but that I will be into in a while, and don't want to clutter up my screen right now when showing all windows. So-- if anyone knows a tip on how to ahve "Show All Windows" exlcude any that are minimized to the dock, much appreciation.

John Gordon said...

That's interesting! You must have a very good working memory -- you know where all your windows are, so you need to organize by access speed.

For me I don't know where everything is, so I need a quick overview. I think Expose was redesigned more for my needs, so it's less useful to you.

One World Flag said...

Expose does, absolutely, work great for me. It's just that now, it works "too well". It clogs up the screen with stuff I know is there but don't want to show. I hope someone comes up with a tip to just "uncheck" the minimized windows from showing out of all the open windows. It shows these as smaller and organized in a line across the bottom, and it isn't a big deal, but it thus makes each window that shows... smaller.

J said...

#OneWordFlag Have you found an answer to this yet? I was just googling this exact "problem" and came across this thread. I also find it annoying that those minimized-to-the-dock apps display when i activate Exposé. I hope someone can help us.

Usually i have 20-30 windows open at once so those minis down at the bottom take up too much real estate. I probably should use Spaces to manage my workflow but just never figured out how to use it properly.

One World Flag said...

still no answer on my end.