Take Control of Customizing Leopard: Expose & Spaces

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from the just-released Take Control of Customizing Leopard, a $10 electronic book available for download from TidBits Publishing Inc. The 138-page ebook introduces readers to all the new and revamped features in Leopard, looking at Time Machine, Spaces, changes to the Finder, and much more.

Here’s a news flash from the Department of Unintended Consequences: windows are great, but they’re also a problem. As soon as you have more than a few windows open at once, it’s clear that those windows are like automobiles, and your monitor is like a Los Angeles freeway—it’s overcrowded, and no matter how much you widen it, it’s still going to be overcrowded. This is particularly a problem on an operating system like Mac OS X, where the windows of different applications can become intermingled with one another. Finding the window you want can be like searching, amid the distracting red herrings, for the Purloined Letter: you might not be able to see it even if it’s in plain sight.

To ease the window traffic on your monitor, Apple has provided various devices for helping you see the windows you want to see. In 2003, in Panther, Apple introduced Exposé as a way of letting you switch quickly among all your open windows (or get them all out of the way so you can see your Desktop). Now Leopard introduces Spaces, a true virtual desktops implementation that lets you switch between entire sets of windows at once. Your task is to decide whether you went to use either or both of these, and to customize them with triggers so that you’ll use them readily.

Set Up Exposé

Exposé’s All Windows mode: all windows from all applications appear, the Desktop darkens, and hovering the pointer over a window colors it and shows its title.

Let’s start with Exposé, and in particular with an overview of how to use each of Exposé’s three modes: All Windows, Application Windows, and Desktop. Once you understand these three modes, you’ll be ready to customize Exposé so that you can summon those modes whenever you like. I assume that you have not yet customized Exposé; the keyboard shortcuts I start with (and which you might want to customize) are the Leopard defaults.

All Windows mode Press F9 to see Exposé’s All Windows mode in action. It reduces every open window of all applications to a thumbnail. (By “a thumbnail” I mean that the windows appear at a size small enough, and in such a position, that they all fit on the screen without overlapping; it’s quite clever, really.) You can move from window to window by pressing the arrow keys, and pick the one you want by pressing Return; or use the mouse, hovering over a window to see its name and clicking to select it. To cancel All Windows mode, press F9 again or press Esc (or click the Desktop).

Exposé’s Application Windows mode; all windows of a single application (Safari is shown here) appear simultaneously, while those of other applications are darkened behind them.

Application Windows mode Press F10 to invoke Exposé’s Application Windows mode. It reduces every window of the current application to a thumbnail (Figure xx). The windows of other applications are darkened behind them. Also, once you’re in Application Windows mode, you can decide to see every window of a different application; press Tab or Command-Tab repeatedly to change which application has the focus. As with All Windows mode, you can arrow through the windows or click the mouse to pick one. To cancel, press F10 again or press Esc (or click on the darkened background).

Desktop Mode Press F11 to experience Desktop mode. It shoves all windows outward, revealing almost the entire Desktop. You can now work in the Desktop (and the Finder) normally. To switch out of Desktop mode and restore your windows, press F11 again or click in the darkened region at an edge of the screen.

Warning! In Desktop mode, be careful not to press extraneous keys on the keyboard. The reason is that although no windows are visible, initially you are still “in” the window where you were working when you entered Desktop mode, and key presses will be sent to that window. For example, if you were working in Microsoft Word, and some text was selected, and you then were to enter Desktop mode and hit the A key, the letter “a” would replace the selected text in your Word document. (Guess how I know that?)

Tip In All Windows mode or Application Windows mode, you can press Tab or Command-Tab to switch to Application Windows mode (if you’re not already in it) and see a different program’s windows. In Desktop mode, you can press Command-Tab to choose a different application, cancelling Desktop mode (unless the application you choose is the Finder). And, in any mode, you can switch directly to any other mode by way of its keyboard shortcut or other trigger.

Customize Exposé triggers

Customizing Exposé comes down to picking a congenial trigger mechanism. You can trigger each Exposé mode in one or more of these three ways:

  • Type a keyboard shortcut , possibly involving one or more modifier keys. (As we’ve already seen, Exposé works this way by default: F9 triggers All Windows mode, F10 triggers Application Windows mode, and F11 triggers Desktop mode.)
  • Move the pointer into a corner of the screen , possibly while pressing one or more modifier keys.
  • Click the mouse , possibly while pressing one or more modifier keys.
  • So now we’re off to the Exposé view of the Exposé & Spaces preference pane to set up our triggers. But before we get there, be thinking about what you want your triggers to be! The point of this customization is to help you use Exposé. Exposé is no good to you if you don’t use it. And you won’t use it if the triggers don’t feel easy and natural to you.

    The Exposé view of the Exposé & Spaces preference pane, showing how overcrowded it is. There are three sections; the bottom one is devoted to Dashboard (which isn’t mentioned in the name of the preference pane), and the top one has pop-up menus that involve not only Exposé and Spaces but also Dashboard, the screen saver, and screen dimming (one such menu is shown here).

    The Exposé view of the Exposé & Spaces preference pane is a little bit complicated because it shares real estate between settings for Exposé, Dashboard, and your screen saver (Figure x). But that’s okay; dive right in anyway.

    Corner of the screen trigger In the Exposé view of the Exposé & Spaces preference pane, look at the upper section, called Active Screen Corners. Each pop-up menu represents a corner of your monitor, and contains an item corresponding to an Exposé mode: All Windows, Application Windows, or Desktop.

    To make it so that moving the pointer into a corner of your screen triggers an Exposé mode, choose that mode in that pop-up menu. If you want to require that moving the pointer into a certain corner won’t trigger anything unless you also are already holding down one or more modifier keys—a good idea, since it will then be less likely that you’ll trigger something by accident—hold down the desired modifier keys (Shift, Control, Option, or Command) while choosing from the pop-up menu.

    Keyboard shortcut trigger In the Exposé view of the Exposé & Spaces preference pane, look at the middle section, called Exposé. You will see one or two columns of pop-up menus (depending on whether or not your mouse has extra buttons). The left (or only) column of pop-up menus represents keyboard triggers, each one corresponding to an Exposé mode: All Windows, Application Windows, or Desktop.

    To make it so that pressing a keyboard shortcut triggers an Exposé mode, choose that shortcut in that pop-up menu. Your choices of keys to form the basis of your keyboard shortcuts are the F-keys and the modifier keys. If you want to require that an F-key-based keyboard shortcut should involve one or more modifier keys, hold down the desired modifier keys (Shift, Control, Option, or Command) while choosing from the pop-up menu.

    Warning! The pop-up menus permit you to choose a modifier key (such as Control) all by itself. Most keyboards have a left and right instance of most modifier keys, so you can use one for typing and the other as a trigger; but on a smaller keyboard, don’t assign your only instance of some modifier key as an Exposé trigger, or you won’t be able to use it for typing!

    Mouse button trigger In the Exposé view of the Exposé & Spaces preference pane, look at the middle section, called Exposé. The right column of pop-up menus (if there is one) represents keyboard triggers, each menu corresponding to an Exposé mode: All Windows, Application Windows, or Desktop.

    Note : You won’t see a second column of pop-up menus if you don’t use a mouse or trackball with extra buttons. In that case, you can’t make a mouse button trigger and you may skip this section.

    To make it so that pressing a mouse button triggers an Exposé mode, choose that mouse button in that pop-up menu. If you want to require that the mouse button trigger should involve one or more modifier keys, hold down the desired modifier keys (Shift, Control, Option, or Command) while choosing from the pop-up menu.

    On my desktop computer, this happens to be my preferred way of triggering Exposé. I’ve turned off the non-mouse keyboard shortcuts for Exposé altogether, thus freeing up F9, F10, and F11 for other purposes. Instead, my Logitech trackball has a right button, and I’ve set my triggers for the three Exposé modes to be Command-Right Button, Option-Right Button, and Shift-Right Button. I like these mouse-click shortcuts because they are easy and quick to perform, but just about impossible to perform accidentally.

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