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Mac 101: Additional tips for OS X Lion's Mission Control

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TUAW's Dave Caolo did an in-depth look at OS X Lion's new window/application manager, Mission Control, the day of OS X Lion's launch. If you're completely confused about Mission Control's features, Dave's post is a good place to get a baseline of knowledge on this new feature. In this post, I'll be covering two additional features of Mission Control that will help alleviate some of the confusion associated with it, especially if you're used to the way Spaces worked in earlier versions of Mac OS X.

Tip 1: Assigning applications to a specific Desktop

Mac OS X Snow Leopard had a preference pane in System Preferences that allowed you to assign applications to a particular Space. Unfortunately, Mission Control's preference pane in OS X Lion has no such feature, which has led to a lot of confusion amongst users who were comfortable with Snow Leopard's method of assigning apps to Spaces.

It turns out this feature hasn't vanished altogether in OS X Lion, but it has been moved to a somewhat less "discoverable" location. It's also less configurable than the preference pane setup Spaces had in Snow Leopard, but that may actually be of benefit to novice users.

First, use Mission Control to navigate to the Desktop you want your application to be assigned to. Once there, right click the Dock icon for the application you want to assign -- if the application isn't one you normally keep in the Dock, you'll need to launch the app first. After right clicking the app's icon, you'll see a contextual menu pop up. On this menu, under Options, you'll see a submenu called "Assign To" with three different options: All Desktops, This Desktop, or None.

"All Desktops" is just that; the app will follow you around no matter which Desktop you're using. "This Desktop" will "pin" the app and its windows to your current Desktop, both now and for all future launches of the application. You can still move windows between Desktops manually if you desire, but by default they'll open in the assigned Desktop. The third option, "None," is the default; applications aren't assigned to any particular Desktop, will simply launch in whichever one you're currently using, and will stay there when you navigate to a different Desktop.

Assigning applications to a particular Desktop can help a lot in keeping things organized. I'll offer my own setup as an example:

  • Desktop 1: Safari, Echofon, Mail, iChat -- My main Desktop gets all my communication tools assigned together.
  • Desktop 2: Aperture, Photoshop -- All my photo editing apps in one spot.
  • Desktop 3: Pages, Keynote, Numbers -- I have this desktop set aside for "Productivity" apps.
  • Desktop 4: iMovie, Handbrake -- This Desktop is devoted to video editing/transcoding apps.
  • All Desktops: Finder -- Obviously I don't want to move to a different Desktop every time I need to dive into the file system.

This may not be true for all users migrating from Snow Leopard, but my Spaces preferences from Snow Leopard carried over to Lion, so I didn't have to re-assign any applications after upgrading.

Tip 2: Assign a different wallpaper to each Desktop

A feature I always wanted to see in Snow Leopard's Spaces was the ability to assign different background pictures to each Space in order to make them visually distinctive. Without that, it was sometimes difficult to tell which Space I was in. This feature has found its way into OS X Lion, and it's quite simple to set up, especially if you already know how to change your desktop background (easy to find in System Preferences under "Desktop & Screen Saver").

To simplify things, first assign System Preferences to "All Desktops" using the tip above -- this will save you some headaches if you're changing multiple Desktop backgrounds at once. Then, navigate to the Desktop whose background you want to change. Once there, change the background in System Preferences. Simple. Using different backgrounds for each of your Desktops will make navigating between them in Mission Control much easier -- especially since Apple hasn't yet implemented any way to rename Desktops.

Hopefully these two tips will help you get more out of Mission Control than you would otherwise. The feature is above all meant to help you organize things and make them easier to navigate, but it does take some tweaking to get Mission Control to realize its full potential.

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