About Mission Control

Good gosh, y’all, what is it good for?

You understand that you can create and delete spaces. Now to the big picture: So what?

The real power of Mission Control is the ability to attach applications to specific spaces. Like so:

Use Dock icons to assign applications to specific spaces.

Assuming we’re back to square one and you have just the Dashboard and Desktop spaces, create another space. Then click on this space to enter it. To help us identify it, press the Control key, click the desktop, and choose Change Desktop Background in the resulting contextual menu. In System Preferences' Desktop & Screen Saver preference, choose a different desktop pattern and close System Preferences. If you now invoke Mission Control, you’ll see that Desktop 1 and Desktop 2 have different patterns, making it easier for you to identify the various spaces you've created.

Return to the Desktop 2 space. Click and hold on the Dock’s Mail icon, choose Options from the menu that appears, and from the Options submenu choose Assign To This Desktop. Do the same thing with the Calendar and Contacts applications.

Move back to Desktop 1 and click on Calendar in the Dock. Marvel in amazement when you’re moved swiftly to the Desktop 2 environment. Go back to Desktop 1 and click on Contacts. Again, you’re transported to Desktop 2. And you are because you’ve assigned these applications to appear only in Desktop 2. Regardless of which space you’re currently working with, when you launch or switch to an application assigned to a specific space, you’ll move to that space.

Create many spaces, each with its own desktop pattern, to achieve a look like this.

Again, so what? As I said when we embarked on this adventure, this means that you can create spaces devoted to tasks rather than applications. In this case, we’ve created one space where you organize your electronic correspondence, contacts, and calendars, without the clutter of other tasks and applications getting in the way. If you then want to work on a company project, you can switch to Desktop 3 where you’ve assigned Pages and Numbers for your word processing and spreadsheet chores.

About Mission Control’s preferences

But this is about Mission Control’s preferences, right? Let’s take a look.

Launch System Preferences and select Mission Control from the top row of preferences. In the top portion of the window, you’ll see these options:

Show Dashboard as a space: If you don’t care to have Dashboard displayed as a space, you don’t have to. Just disable this option, and you’ll invoke Dashboard by pressing F12 (or fn-F12) or by launching the Dashboard application, which is found in the Applications folder at the root level of your hard drive. (We’ll discuss all that is Dashboard another time.)

Automatically arrange spaces based on most recent use: Suppose you’ve created six different spaces. It’s a little inconvenient to swipe through five of them to get to the one you used most recently. With this option on, you needn’t. When you use a space with this option on, its position changes so that it moves after Desktop 1. This makes it easier to move between spaces with just a single swipe.

This behavior can be confusing, however. Let’s say you’ve assigned Mail to Desktop 2, iTunes to Desktop 3, and Pages to Desktop 4. From Desktop 1 you launch Pages. When you do, you switch to Desktop 4. But if you then invoke Mission Control, you’ll find that not only has this space moved closer to Desktop 1, its name has also changed. Where it was once Desktop 4, it’s now Desktop 2. Apple could help clear up some confusion by allowing you to rename spaces. In the meantime, the easiest way to help identify the spaces you’re working with is to change the desktop pattern of each one.

When switching to an application, switch to a space with open windows for the application: Let’s say that you’re working with Mail in Desktop 2, and you have TextEdit open in Desktop 4. With this option on, when you switch to TextEdit by clicking its Dock icon or by pressing Command-Tab and selecting it, you move to Desktop 4. Turn this option off, however, and TextEdit becomes active but you don’t switch spaces; you remain in Desktop 2.

What’s the point? Turn it off and you can launch applications assigned to specific spaces without then switching to those spaces.

Group windows by application: When talking about Exposé, I said that an application that had multiple windows open would appear in a group or stack. Turn this option off, and that doesn’t happen. Instead, each window is completely visible, though windows from the same application are placed next to each other. This is a view that was also found in the original Exposé.

The section in the lower part of the preference window offers keyboard and mouse shortcuts for the Mission Control, Application Windows, Show Desktop, and Show Dashboard commands. If you don’t care for the default Control-Up Arrow, Control-Down Arrow, Show Desktop, and Show Dashboard shortcuts, respectively, you can choose from a list of other shortcuts by clicking the shortcut’s pop-up menu. If you have a multibutton mouse, you can assign one of those buttons to these commands using the pop-up menus to the right. You can additionally assign modifier keys such as Shift, Control, Option, and Command to these commands by holding down the modifier key you want to use and then choosing one of the shortcuts from the pop-up menu.

Assign different Mission Control shortcuts.

Finally, there’s the Hot Corners button. I mentioned Hot Corners last week, and it works the same way with Mission Control. Click this button and a sheet appears where you can assign functions to each of the desktop’s four corners. For instance, you can invoke Mission Control by dragging the pointer to the bottom-left corner.

And that’s the gist of Mission Control. It’s not an entirely necessary feature—I know many seasoned Mac users who never touch it. But it can be helpful for those who like to stay organized, as well as for people who find their small laptop displays cluttered with countless windows.

Next week: The Mac’s linguistic tricks

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