OS X Lion: On Mission Control & Window Manipulation

Remember back when we were all excited about Lion? When we eagerly gobbled up every shred of information on its features? Ah, the halcyon days of yore. Now that we’re all bitter and cynical about the old cat, I thought I’d talk about my favorite Mission Control aspects and hopefully bring you all back to a younger, simpler time, a time when Lion seemed fresh. When the heck is 10.8 coming out, again?

So first, let’s do an overview of Mission Control. It’s essentially a way of organizing your workflow with what Apple calls desktop spaces. Doing so can be very helpful, especially if you’re a person who tends to use many applications at once and needs to access them all frequently. Putting your work applications in one space and your social media programs in another might also help you evade the curious eyes of a boss or coworker. But you didn’t hear that from me.

To play along at home, open Mission Control by clicking on its icon in the Dock.

If you’re a rebel, you can also use its trackpad gesture (a three-finger swipe up) or hit the function key assigned to it on your keyboard (often F3). After you’ve done that, you’ll see the Mission Control interface.

As you can see in my screenshot, it’s composed of two parts. First is the main window, which shows any apps you have running in your currently selected desktop space. Then there’s a line of thumbnails across the top showing your Dashboard, any desktop spaces you have, and any full-screen apps you’re running.

From Mission Control, you can organize programs into separate desktop spaces any way you’d like. Drag an application from the main window to the thumbnail of a space, and then quickly go to it after you’ve exited the Mission Control screen by using the trackpad gesture to switch between spaces (it’s a three-finger swipe left or right). You can also use keyboard shortcuts to move about your desktops if you’re not a gesture fan—do so by using Control-Left Arrow or Control-Right Arrow to jump around. Change these shortcuts in System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts if the default ones harsh your mellow, and enable the use of Control-[number] to switch to a particular desktop from there, too. 

To add a new desktop space for puttin’ stuff in, drag your cursor to the upper-right of the Mission Control screen (or hold down the Option key), and a plus button will appear for you to click.

Feel free to drag any application up there from your main Mission Control window, and if you drop it near that plus button, a new space containing that program will be created. Neat!

To delete a desktop space, just hover over any of them after “Desktop 1”—you can’t remove that main one—or hold down Option, and an iOS-like clickable X will appear.

Here’s my favorite part about Mission Control, though—you don’t have to drag an entire application to a space. You can drag window by window if you’d like, and believe me, I like. So click and drag the program’s icon from Mission Control’s main desktop window and onto another space if you want to take the entire thing with you:

Or you can hover over any window (which will then get a pretty blue aura around it to show you it’s selected) and drag it all alone to a space.

But here’s my OTHER favorite part. Once you’ve got your open windows for an application spread across several spaces (as opposed to having the entire application in a single space), clicking repeatedly on that program’s Dock icon will cycle through the windows. So you can have one space with an e-mail you’re composing and another for your Mail’s Message Viewer, and then access them both by just clicking twice on the Mail Dock icon. Or you can be watching the stock market in one space while posting to investmentbankersneedlovetoo.com in another.

Now which one of you is going to take that domain and go register it? I’ll be looking forward to that.