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Hands-on with Spaces, Mission Control, and Split View in El Capitan

Kirk McElhearn | Oct. 1, 2015
Learn how to use these features in El Capitan to make your desktop more manageable.

el capitan split screen macbook 100595273 orig

OS X offers different tools for working with multiple applications and windows, allowing you to switch apps by clicking icons in the Dock, or by pressing Command-Tab and using the Application Switcher. But if you work with more than two or three apps, you may find that your display becomes messy. I generally have at least a half-dozen applications open at any time, and having all those windows on my display can make things confusing.

Fortunately, El Capitan lets you use Spaces, or virtual desktops, to organize your windows, and keep your apps from becoming unwieldy. Spaces are part of Mission Control, a built-in feature that lets you glance at every currently open app and window on your computer. You can access Mission Control in several ways:

  • Click the Mission Control icon in the Dock;
  • Press Control-Up Arrow;
  • Press F3;
  • Perform a three-finger upward swipe on a multitouch trackpad;
  • Move your cursor to a hot corner (see this article to learn how to set hot corners).

Why Spaces?

Spaces lets you create multiple “desktops,” organizing your apps and windows so they’re visible on separate desktops, instead of all on the same desktop. When you want to view a specific app, you can switch to that app, or to its space, and see it without obstructions. And, using Mission Control, you can get a bird’s eye view of all your spaces, and all your windows. Here’s what my Mac looks like in Mission Control:

My MacBook with Spaces.

As you can see, I have four Desktops, or spaces, and iTunes is labeled as being in its own space. (When you activate Mission Control to see spaces, you’ll first only see the names of the desktops in the top row; slide your cursor to the top of your display to see thumbnails of each of the spaces, as in the screenshot above.) iTunes gets a named space because it’s in full-screen mode (choose View > Enter Full Screen to activate this). The Dock, which is normally hidden on my display, also slides out from the side when I activate Mission Control.

In order to ensure that I can work efficiently and without interruption, I have set up my apps in different spaces. For example, the first Desktop has a Finder window and Safari. The second desktop has Tweetbot, my Twitter client. The next one has Mail. And iTunes is on its own. When I’m writing, I have whichever app I’m using for writing—today it’s iA Writer—open as well. If I need to work with other apps, I add them to other spaces. I also keep an empty space with a white desktop background for when I need to take screenshots of windows without anything distracting behind them. (You can set a different desktop background to each space.)


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