Posts Tagged ‘apple’

Mac OS X vs Gnome (Ubuntu) Spaces

November 29th, 2008

Apple introduced a fabulous feature in OSX 10.5 called spaces. It basically gives you 4 monitors (actually between 2 and 8), so you can have more windows open, and switch between them as necessary. Linux has been doing this for a decade, and I’m happy to finally see OS X pick the feature up. This is preferable to minimizing windows for several reasons. First, you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out which minimized window (which all look the same at 50 pixels) is the one you want. I know Firefox is open is space 2 (or upper-right), and I can quickly move there with the same keystroke every time. Second, you don’t need to leave the keyboard to switch views. I can be coding in Dreamweaver, shift to view some example code in Firefox, and switch back to Dreamweaver and continue typing away, no time lost. Basically spaces = productivity.

I see three problems with the implementation of spaces in 10.5. First, each space has a default application that comes in focus when you switch to that space. If I open up Filemaker in space 1, then open Dreamweaver, Filemaker will be the default application, and will always be in focus when switching between spaces. Not very effective if I’m currently coding in Dreamweaver. Second, opening a new window of an already open application will always send you back to the original space. For example, if now I try to open a Filemaker database in space 3, it will automatically shift me back to space 1. Most annoying. Third, you can set up 4 workspaces as either a row (1×4), or a square (2×2). This is great, except that the keyboard shortcuts don’t recognize the difference. If I’m in the upper-right space in a square setup, and press the “move right” key, it sends me down to the lower left space. For those of us visual people, this is an obvious problem.

Fortunately, OSX 10.5.2 gives you a setting to disable the automatic space-shifting in the control panel. I was happy to see this in the update. Now, if I want to open Firefox in two different spaces, I can do that. Apple needs to work on the other two issues though. If anyone knows ways to change this behavior, please let me know.

Ubuntu (more accurately, the Gnome desktop), Implements this feature with a bit more success. First, it doesn’t suffer from three problems mentioned earlier. I can open windows in any space. It will remember what window I was using, and bring me back when I switch, and pressing “up” and “right” will always bring me to the upper right space, regardless of where I’m working. There’s a couple other touches I like as well. It moves faster; if I press keys in quick succession, it will always catch them, whereas with OSX it will often miss one (such as the upper-right example). Ubuntu also shows your panels moving with the space, which makes more sense visually to me.

Basically, I’m happy to Apple finally use this feature, but it needs a little polishing before I’ll prefer it over Gnome’s more intuitive (and more established) version.