Reclaiming Your Spaces: A First Look at TotalSpaces

Leave it to Apple to take a perfectly useful feature within Mac OS X and totally butcher it up in later releases. Such is the case with Spaces, a grid-like system that let you assign applications and windows to virtual desktops. With Spaces, you could easily assign applications to specific virtual desktops and drag windows and apps between them. In Leopard and Snow Leopard, this feature was beautifully implemented.

Then came Lion and Mountain Lion.

Gone was the working implementation of Spaces as we all used to know and love. In its place, Apple gave us “Mission Control”, an abomination of a utility that serves to bedazzle users with its useless eye candy.

If you long for the “old” working functionality of Spaces (as implemented in Leopard and Snow Leopard), you are not alone.

…and that’s where BinaryAge comes in – giving us the “Spaces for the Rest of Us” – in the form of TotalSpaces ($15).

So… is TotalSpaces worth the money? Read on to find out!

TotalSpaces

TotalSpaces installs itself as a menubar app. It comes with a free 14 day trial – so you can put it through its paces with no risk. From the menubar, you can access each of your virtual desktops, see an overview of all the available virtual desktops, and customize the look and feel of the app via preferences.

TotalSpaces excels in its customization options.

TotalSpaces

In the Layout tab, you can configure the number of virtual desktops. Simply control click a number on the grid to give it a name. You can also set up grids for full-screen apps.

TotalSpaces

Enabling circulation lets you cycle through your virtual desktops. The last virtual desktop will “loop” back to your first virtual desktop. If you prefer to have your grids stacked vertically, you can enable the “Circulate vertically” option.

TotalSpaces

Like the Spaces of old, you can customize the transition animation when moving from one virtual desktop to the next. TotalSpaces works with the trackpad, but the 4 finger “Swipe to change space” takes some getting used to. I disabled it because I could never get it to work predictably.

TotalSpaces

As a keyboard shortcut junkie, you can customize the shortcuts to traverse between your virtual desktops. I changed the default shortcut settings (which involved two modifier keys and the arrow) to one modifier key and the arrow. (See below.)

TotalSpaces

With TotalSpaces, you can also assign Hotcorners to trigger an action. In general, I find Hotcorners irritating, so I left this option alone.

TotalSpaces

The Advanced tab lets you configure full screen apps as part of TotalSpace’s grid structure. I almost never use full screen apps, but it’s there for those who need that particular feature.

TotalSpaces

Finally, to see an overview of all your grids, hold down Control-Shift-Space. When presented with this view, you can move windows and apps from one virtual desktop to another. One feature that I really like is the ability to disable the desktop background from appearing in the overview grid. Doing so makes it much easier to see your windows and apps.

I use only 4 virtual desktops – it would be great to adjust their sizes in the overview grid. Maybe this feature will make its way into a future release… As it stands, the overview grid is a bit too small for me.

Total Spaces

Conclusion

TotalSpaces is $15 and works with Lion and Mountain Lion only. You can use one license on both your laptop and desktop. You won’t find TotalSpaces in the Mac App Store; it can be downloaded from the developer’s website. If you rely on virtual desktops, but hate Apple’s current implementation, give TotalSpaces a try. It’s stable, it’s fast, and it brings back much-needed functionality that Apple seems to have abandoned.

So how worthwhile is TotalSpaces?

Let me put it this way: After using it for only a few hours, I registered my copy.

TotalSpaces earns a 4.5 out of 5 Bob Weiners.

-Krishna

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About the author

Krishna Sadasivam creates custom comics and illustrations for organizations, magazines and companies. A champion of comics advocacy, Krishna speaks, blogs, and writes articles on illustration and sequential arts techniques and the importance of the comics medium in both education and brand awareness. His clients have included Microsoft, Mashable, Other World Computing and EE Times. His work has been featured on many notable websites, including TechCrunch, Gizmodo and CNET. His portfolio can be found at krishnadraws.com.

  • http://totalspaces.binaryage.com Stephen Sykes

    Hi, one thing I wanted to add – the overview grid will make itself as big as it can given its layout. So if you set yourself up with a 2×2 grid they will fit your display better and will be bigger when showing the overview (rather than 4 in a row).

    - Stephen (BinaryAge)

    • Krishna

      That worked! My only niggle with the process was it moving the desktops down to the second row. I clicked a few times – nothing happened, then the two virtual desktops appeared on the second row. Is there a specific way to move the virtual desktop grid assignments?

  • http://www.pcweenies.com Krishna

    Cool! Thanks for the tip! I’ll set my grids accordingly.