Leopard’s Spaces — Take a Hike!

March 6th, 2008

Over the years, I’ve used various utilities to automatically hide the application windows I’m not using at the moment. There’s always one around, and my most recent program of choice, HideItControl, a preference panel from Derman Enteprises, once shareware, has since become free. But then so were some of other others, such as AutoHide.

Now they all work pretty much the same. When you switch to one application, the others are all hidden from view. This cleans up your desktop and makes it easier to get your work done, particularly with a smaller screen, such as the one on the MacBook and its slim and light cousin, the MacBook Air.

Most of the application hiding utilities I’ve used also have an option, usually by pressing the Shift key, to keep an application’s windows visible as you switch to another application. That way you can work with both.

With Leopard, Apple’s better idea was Spaces, a feature that lets you assign a virtual desktop, the entire screen, to one or more applications. That way, all of your, for example, audio applications remain on one desktop, and, say, your Internet software resides in another. You can also define an application to appear in all Spaces if you prefer.

Now there have been a number of virtual or extended desktop utilities over the years that have done pretty much the same thing. Most were eternally buggy, and even Spaces was a little shaky out of the starting gate, where some applications seemed to end up in the wrong space, because you opened them at the wrong time or just because it has multiple toolbars or palettes in addition to a document window.

With 10.5.2, things got a mite better, but losing palettes or toolbars was still a persistent symptom, at least for me. I would be able to maneuver back and forth and sometimes restore the missing screen widgets, or maybe not.

Just the other day, Bias-Peak sent me version 6.0 of their terrific audio editing application Peak Pro. We use it for all our post-production work on the two radio shows, by the way. Well, in the previous version, 5.2, the Contents display window would sometimes vanish during a Spaces switchover. I could restore it by turning off the Contents window and then turning it on again. With 6.0, the symptom extends, apparently, to the toolbar and the Transport windows. Again shutting them off and turning them on after an application switch restores them to visibility.

I’ve encountered similar mischief with Adobe Dreamweaver CS3, and Microsoft Word 2008 can also hiccup during the switch from one desktop to another. I encounter various difficulties of this sort with Ambrosia’s Wiretap Studio and Skype.

But why do I bother? After all, an operating system feature should be doing my bidding, and I shouldn’t have to play little games or time my application launches to conform to Spaces’ fuzzy logic.

So I turned the damn thing off!

Of course, I still need to hide the applications I’m not using, so I returned to HideItControl. Yes, it requires holding down that Shift key to keep multiple applications in the same “space” at the same time. But it doesn’t mess up toolbars, palettes and other components of an application. In fact, it seems perfectly happy working on a PowerPC or Intel-based Mac, and the latest version exhibits no problems with Leopard.

So where does that leave Leopard? Well, Spaces is a neat idea, and the implementation is clever and the special effects are neat and appropriate. But there are just far too many rough edges for me to work around to allow its use in my particular working environment.

Now I’m not going to say flat out that it’s all Apple’s fault. I suspect there are lots and lots of variables in the way applications generate windows, palettes and what-not. Somehow Spaces has to allow for those differences and, in addition, be cognizant of which window you’re in when you open an application, or switch to another Space. There’s a lot of complicated logic here, and I don’t pretend to know whether the problems are Apple’s to fix, or whether outside developers need to find ways to make their products more compliant with the various Leopard features.

I am, by the way, not averse to trying someone else’s virtual desktop utility. So I welcome your recommendations and your experiences, good and bad. And if you have good workarounds for Spaces, let’s hear that too. Regardless of which solution I may ultimately adopt, though, it has to just work. The more things I have to remember to do, the less I’m apt to seriously consider any alternatives but the one I’m using now — HideItControl.

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11 Responses to “Leopard’s Spaces — Take a Hike!”

  1. Dana Sutton says:

    You may want to have a look at You Control Desktops. It does a couple of good things that Spaces can’t do. First, suppose you use Word both to work on your children’s book Fuzzy The Disgustingly Cute Bunny and to write death threats against prominent public figures. If so, you may very well want different workspaces for these two projects. YCD lets you place windows created by a single app. on separate virtual desktops, which encourages you to organize your desktops project-by-project rather than application-by-application, and this seems like a much more real-world way of working. The second thing is in Spaces it is all too easy to become disoriented about which desktop you’re in at the moment. The best possible way to eliminate this source of confusion is to assign a different background pattern to each of your virtual desktops. YCD lets you do this. Another YCD plus, if you like this sort of thing, is that it features various visual effects when transitioning between desktops (rotating cube and so forth). I’ll be the first to admit that YCD is more than a little quirky and could stand some improvement in the stability department. But it does go to show that there’s a lot of things the designers of Spaces could have done to make it a more sophisticated and useful app.

  2. Craig Buback says:

    I have seen the disappearing tool bar scenario with Photoshop CS3. It mainly seems to happen when switching between open Photoshop documents on the desktop and only happens occasionly. . I had not linked it to using Spaces, but I am using Spaces. When it disappears, I have been able to get it back by closing it under the view menu and reopening it.

  3. Brian J. says:

    What’s wrong with Command + H to hide windows?

  4. If you switch apps often, that gets old real fast. 🙂


  5. iGreg says:

    “WindowShade” by Unsanity. Nothing beats it for controlling any windows on you desktop.

    Spaces is just pretty junk.

  6. javaholic says:

    I second WindowShade X. Been using it for a few years now. Great app.

    Just unfortunate it’s not yet officially ‘Leopard’ ready.

  7. Dana Sutton says:

    Window Shade is available in beta (you need the beta APE Manager too). But be careful of these Haxie betas: I’ve tried the beta of Fruit Menu and it has serious problems.

  8. iGreg says:

    Beta WindowShade doing fine for me. The main windowshade effect that rolls the windows up has been working perfectly. Occasionally, the minimize-in-place feature that turns the window into a little icon on the desktop has caused the window’s application to stop displaying any window, and a relaunch of the app in question is needed. I informed Unsanity. So, just completely avoid this issue by using only the windowshade feature (which is its best feature anyway). Otherwise, I am a very happy WindowShade user.

  9. huge says:

    Re: use of Command + H

    … and for whatever reason, which confounds me to no end, Adobe still refuses to standardize and provide a “hide Illustrator” keyboard command. The closest I’ve found is option-clicking on the desktop. No thanks. I use Spaces now, but yes, it’s real buggy.

  10. […] Leopard’s Spaces — Take a Hike! | The Tech Night Owl — Cutting …Mar 6, 2008 … Over the years, I’ve used various utilities to automatically hide the application windows I’m not using at the moment. There’s always one around, … […]

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