This week’s 10.5.3 OS X Leopard update has finally injected some much-needed common-sense into Spaces. Spaces is one of the new features in Leopard and had amazing potential from the start, however, it had one massive flaw. Spaces is basically a re-implementation of a very very old idea, virtual desktops. The idea is simple, you have a different work-space for each of your separate tasks and switch between them as you move from task to task. This idea’s been around in the Unix and Linux world for decades. Apple just implemented it in a more user-friendly and sensible way. With the older implementations you had to do the switching yourself, in Leopard the idea is that the vast majority if your switches will be automatic so you don’t have to think about it. The other innovate Apple added is massive concerted effort to evoke the idea of a virtual grid of desktops which you move around in. Everything about the implementation re-inforces this metaphor and it works very well.

[tags]Apple, OS X, Leopard, Spaces, virtual desktops, 10.5.3[/tags]

There was however one rather large fly in the ointment. Once you started to distribute windows from the same app over multiple spaces things went down-hill fast. If you switched to any such app using either of the normal methods (the Dock or command+tab) you could end up in any space where that app has windows seemingly at random. Once you spread an app over multiple spaces you basically introduced an element of randomness that just began to wreak your head and was exceptionally counter productive – not a good thing for a productivity tool! You might ask how likely you are to distribute an app like that, the reality is that you’re very likely to. What tasks don’t involve the Finder for example? I persisted with Spaces regardless because it really is very good apart from that one flaw which I found a workaround for, I stopped switching between apps using the Dock or command+tab and started using Exposeé instead. F9 mapped to your mouse’s thumb button actually works surprisingly well to switch between apps.

However, the reason for this post is that Apple have finally fixed the problems in their 10.5.3 update. Now when you use the Dock or command+tab to switch to an app, windows belonging to that app in your current space are given priority. This means that an automatic space switch will only occur of there are no windows belonging to that app in your current space. This one simple change makes all the difference, the element of randomness is gone and the needless automatic space switching with it. Spaces is now the great feature it could have been, and indeed should have been, from day one.