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Spaces downfall

Sat May 02, 2009 3:43 am

So having started writing a final paper for one of my classes, i thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of Spaces, one of the new features introduced with Leopard. Having to work with various safari windows open (3+, not including tabs), multiple word documents open (3+), powerpoint, bunch of PDF's and Preview as well, managing all those windows would of been a hell hole on a 15inch screen (Macbook Pro). But with Spaces it actually made it feasible to work efficiently. For the non-mac users, Spaces lets you create up to 16 desktops, each with its own independent desktop space. Im only using 4 "Spaces" and while it is a great feature that increases productivity, it does have some downfalls, more specifically bugs that Apple should have ironed out by now.

As i opened up more and more application, spaces became harder to manage by arranging what program i wanted in a specific space, once arranged it was a breeze to go to a specific space either by Expose (i use bottom left corner), or by command + arrow keys. Some of the bugs im referring to includes Preview disappearing on me completely, it seemed as though it was hiding behind an invisible app in another "Space", with only one specific corner not covering Preview. To fix this i had to move preview to another space and move it back. When trying to move a specific window to a different space, often times this program wouldn't budge. When trying to move one individual Word document away from my cluster f*** of other word documents into another space, the one word document would move along with the all the rest of its buddies. It worked out okay when moving the rebels back to where they belong, keeping the one word document where i needed it in the first place. Sometimes move a program to another Space it would disappear in some unknown parallel universe, having to reopen it completely. Also when changing between windows within a space using command + `, it would sometimes switch me to a complete different space.

As far as computer performance goes, with 3 safari windows open with a total of 15 tabs, 1 powerpoint, 4 word documents, 1 preview window, itunes, and mail open, the computer is still very usually. I dont feel a difference at all from when i only have safari and mail open. With only 2 gigs of ram, istat is reporting as 1.15gb active, 326mb as inactive, and 356mb as free, and 184mb as wired, and with 90% cpu being idle. This is under the "better battery life" option in power preference. The only time it felt semi-sluggish is when scrolling through large PDFs, but overall very fast and smooth.

Overall, i know Spaces is a darn good idea. And as long as your not juggling a huge amount of windows/programs, it is very efficient and very manageable. Once the number of programs climb, so does your frustration level in managing it, but once that is settled with, it is a very rewarding experience.

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Re: Spaces downfall

Sat May 02, 2009 5:29 am

Can you plug additional monitors into a Mac Book Pro? If it's rare that you need to have that many programs open, it's probably not worth it, but if you frequently run into this issue it might be worth looking at another monitor to plug in for the additional space. Really helped me back in my paper-writing days.
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Re: Spaces downfall

Sat May 02, 2009 1:29 pm

Spaces is awesome; I've never had any of the issues you describe and I've opened up tons of windows and programs many times. I suspect your issue is Microsoft Office. I only have 2004 and have largely migrated to iWork, but I've heard that Office 2008 has some serious issues working with Spaces. :(
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Re: Spaces downfall

Sat May 02, 2009 2:16 pm

Personally, I'd rather use dual monitors than virtual desktops.

MacBU developer blog on the Spaces issue with Office 2008:

The relevant portion:

Bear with me while I shift gears now, and talk about another issue that the MacBU has heard a lot about: Office 2008 and the OS X feature called Spaces. If you read through the links in that previous sentence, a couple of themes pop up:

1. Mac Office 2008 doesn’t work properly with Spaces
2. It happens most often in Word or when the Formatting Palette is open
3. People rarely see the bug in non-Microsoft applications
4. People assume the Mac Office 2008 code base is the cause of the problem

Let me give you some of the background of the Formatting Palette, to help explain why the problem shows up so much more readily in Office 2008 than in Office 2004 or in other applications.

When people talk about the “Formatting Palette” in Office 2008, they usually mean the Toolbox window. The Toolbox is actually two separate windows, bound together by Carbon Window Groups. The first window has the title bar and the row of buttons across the top (the buttons that toggle between the Formatting Palette, the Scrapbook, the Reference Tools, the Object Palette, and whatever else is there that I can’t remember off the top of my head.) That first window is a true floating window created by OS APIs. The second window is everything below that row of buttons, and is the instantiation of one of those toolbox items. These windows are slightly customized, in that we tell the OS to create them with no border or shadow, again through OS APIs. When the Formatting Palette is showing, you’ve actually got the root toolbox window showing first and then the FP window bound tightly to it, on top in the z-order. If you click on the Scrapbook button, the FP window is destroyed and a new window is created to hold the scrapbook, and that new window is bound against the root window. I think that Spaces and Exposé don’t take the window bindings into account (my understanding is that they manipulate windows at the Core Graphics level, which is a lower-level private system interface upon which both Cocoa and Carbon windows sit), and that is why Spaces and Exposé seem to get confused by the root floating window and the upper child window.

The reason MacBU uses this window separation is that most of these child windows are hosted in different modules of code, most of which have their origins in different architectures. The Carbon Window Group APIs allow for very rich and precise control over how windows are presented to the user, and gave us the ability to combine UI from a variety of sources in our codebase with minimal rearchitecting of each of the individual components. The Scrapbook window, for example, is a PowerPlant window because it actually lives deep in the Entourage code (due to the fact that Entourage is currently PowerPlant-based, and that was the easiest way to get access to the Entourage database). PowerPlant is very picky about owning its entire window, which is why we use a separate window here — it misbehaves rather badly if you try to put PowerPlant objects in a sub-frame of a window that is not fully under PowerPlant’s own control. The Formatting Palette is actually a special instantiation of the toolbar code, which has its own assumptions about the sort of window it lives in, and the Compatibilty Report is actually an instantiation of what was originally a modeless dialog.

We have long-term plans to overhaul the entire architecture of the Toolbox and all its clients to use Cocoa, but that didn’t happen in 2008. The Cocoa AppKit window APIs do not yet contain functionality that supports the full richness of window management features that the Carbon APIs do. The Toolbox and its use of Carbon Window Groups were introduced in Office 2004 and predate both Spaces and Exposé. The Office 2004 Toolbox has the same issues with Spaces and Exposé, but you only notice it if you show the Toolbox. In Office 2004, the Formatting Palette was separate from the Toolbox, so the Toolbox was not shown by default. In order to reduce the amount of screen space the Toolbox and Formatting Palette obscured at the same time, we merged the two together early in the 2008 cycle, long before Leopard and Spaces were demoed or available for us to test with in beta.

After we received a beta of Leopard with Spaces, we tested our apps and identified a number of issues that our apps have with the feature. We had an engineer spend several days digging into these issues. He did some serious spelunking into our windowing code and determined that we were not moving the windows incorrectly in our code so we reported them to Apple to investigate. Apple has fixed a number of problems with Spaces in OS X 10.5.3, but some still remain.
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Re: Spaces downfall

Wed Jun 10, 2009 1:58 pm

I have had occasional issues with Office apps getting confused and Spaces not working properly from one window to the next. I'd suspect that some of their window coding is sketchy and isn't letting the GUI do some of the work it should be.

That said, even with a 24" iMac I still use four Spaces. I've been a dual-monitor user for a decade, and have a pair of 22" Acers on a PC for work, but I do think that virtual desktops, when executed right, can be even better than multiple monitors.
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