My favorite feature in OS X is...

Mac OS X 10.5 has some amazing features and as a recent switcher from Windows to Mac I've spent a lot of time using as many of them as I could so that I could really become proficient with my Mac. This morning I got to thinking: if I had to choose one single feature in OS X that I would have a difficult time without, what would it be?

For me that feature is Spaces.

My use of Spaces has become highly tuned now. On my dual screen Mac Pro I have 6 Spaces and keep certain types of application targeted in each of them. Here's how I use them:

 1) NetNewsWire  2) iTunes 
 3) Safari / Adium  4) Open work area 
 5) Rails development area  6) VMware Fusion / Windows XP 

Which means that when activated it looks like this:
I have mouse button 6 on my Logitech mouse dedicated to Spaces so I can quickly navigate when I'm in "mouse mode", I have F5 dedicated to Spaces on the keyboard when I'm in touch type mode and I use either Control-Option-Arrow to move between spaces quickly or hit Control-Number to pop directly to a window. If I'm alternating between two applications quickly I'm hitting Command-Tab.

On my MacBook with its limited screen real estate Spaces is even more important.

What's your favorite?
So there you have it - my most used and valued feature of OS X - the one I would have a really hard time without. Apple says there are over 300 new features in OS X - if you had to choose one single feature on your Mac (Finder doesn't count!) that you couldn't live without, what would it be?


Reed said…

The one feature that I can't live without. I use it constantly and everytime I touch a Mac with 10.4 on it I dread having to open files in some bloated application just to see if it is the file that I want to email.
Chris Howard said…
I wish I could use Spaces. I liked it a lot when I've tried it. However, I run Adobe CS3 and it has glitches such as where the palettes don't redraw after switching back to a CS app. And it's too annoying to live with.

As far as favourite feature goes? That's really hard to answer because things become so second-nature you forget they're there.

Some that I like though are: right click dictionary lookup (it's great when I come across a word I don't know); Spotlight; in-built hardware support for multiple displays (ok, technically not a part of OS X); Software update (just love how much easier this is than other OSes); Time Machine (although I still use SuperDuper for specific backups, to mirror my system and to backup my iPod); Services (found under the application menu. Prob one of the most under-rated and under used features of OS X); and Quickview - gotta love it though I still often forget it's there.
Anonymous said…
Hi David,

Spaces is significant step forward for Mac, especially considering the number of UNIX users who were used to that function. However it wasn't that stunning for me personally as I'd been using CodeTek's Virtual Desktops for several years before Leopard. I think the feature of Leopard I use most often and therefore recognize as outstanding is Quick Look. I deal with lots of graphics each day and Quick Look makes the process much simpler. If you haven't been introduced to the Quick Look plugins list which provides interesting and very useful extensions to this very handy feature...

@Chris. There are two workarouds for the CS3/Spaces glitch. Hit the Tab Key twice does it. Alternatively use a spaces hot corner and navigate that way rather than using Command Tab or dock icons.
semioticmonkey said…
OS X wise related, i must say spring loaded folder. When i'm on Win/Linux i miss this oh-so-used feature so much. The keyboard navigation as a good second option (cmd+arrow, enter to rename and cmd+down arrow to open, for example).

In Leo i use more and more QuickLook. With some useful plugins it is a necessity in my everyday workflow.
Unknown said…
quicklook. cant live without it now. though 10.5.2 broke the mkv quicklook plug-in, still.
but if you're a fan of spaces, uyou will love warp, especially on your macbook. try it out. i don't use any other method to switch spaces anymore.
David Alison said…
@All: I really like Quicklook - though I haven't installed any plugins for it.

@Welles: Thanks for the link - very helpful!
RG-6 said…
Pick just one - that is cruel.

Right up at the top is Quick Look & Time Machine (something I dismissed (at first)).

But - the feature I would miss most if it was gone would be.....

Anonymous said…
you have two monitors and you use spaces, thats hilarious
David Alison said…
@Anon: There is no true substitute for screen real estate - I'll always get as much as I can fit on the desk and in the budget. That said, Spaces makes it even better.
Anonymous said…

Couldn't live without it..
Anonymous said…
Spaces is pretty awesome. (I also use two monitors and Spaces. I love loading my menus and crap off on the second monitor, or a document that contains notes about what I am working on...or

Quicklook is also pretty rad.

But, the thing I use the most in 10.5 is the improved Spotlight. I use it to launch apps constantly. I probably go all week using my dock two or three times.

BTW - Your blog is awesome. My father is finally switching and I've been pointing him here for help a lot. Thanks a ton.
Anonymous said…
For 10.5, probably Time Machine. It's really nice to have an unobtrusive backup solution that I actually use. I've been bad about backups in the past, usually lucking out that I could recover data before a drive blew up, even though I knew the importance of backing up.

Now that I have something I know is working, and I see kick in every hour, I'm much less worried about not only drive failure, but also screwing something up on my own. I had my drive in my laptop die a few days into a 3 week vacation back in December. While I got most of the data off the drive before it went completely under, I knew the rest of it was waiting for me back home on my NAS.

Plus it's been real handy for experimenting with data. It's almost like an automatic version control system, so I've used it to tinker with new variants of World of Warcraft interface mods. Something doesn't go quite right, and I just hit Time Machine and restore the older files.

I've been quite impressed with every version of OS X adding at least a few things I wonder how I lived without. 10.2 introduced me to iSync and Address Book, causing me to make sure every cell phone I bought in the future had bluetooth. 10.3, Expose. 10.4, Spotlight, and now 10.5, Time Machine. Sure, there were ways to do what these features added before they were in OS X, but the Apple layer of polish and refinement added them to my daily life on a computer.

Now to impatiently wait and see what 10.6 brings...
Anonymous said…
In contrast to Windows...I could not live without Exposé.

In contrast to Tiger, I could not live without Quicklook.
Anonymous said…
For me Exposé makes Spaces redundant since I can see everything at a glance and still have everything directly in sight.
Which is one reason why I would also say Exposé is my favourite.

Now if somebody could create Exposé for real-world desktops, we'd definitely be in business! 8-)
Carl Blaise said…
I've tried Spaces twice and still can't get used to it. Between Quicksilver (which is not native to OSX, yes, I know) and Expose I move much more efficiently.
Anonymous said…
not trying to hijack this thread, but hamachix now runs on leopard - best vpn software out there.
I can not live without Expose. When working with multiple files in Photoshop. It's nice to hit a key and see all the images that are open in one screen and then choose what you want.

Also Spotlight is another I use daily.
Jalada said…
Coming from Linux straight to Leopard I use Spaces automatically without appreciating it, though I must say it's definitely a useful feature - I love virtual workspaces. Moving between them and moving windows between them in Mac works just how I want it - being able to drag windows around while look at all the Spaces is awesome (non-Compiz Linux users have to use a menu on each window most of the time).

But I have to say, my favourite feature is Quicklook, I find myself constantly wanting it on Linux/Windows.
David Alison said…
Sounds like if we had to round out a top 5 it would be Spaces, Expose, Quicklook, Time Machine and Spotlight. I use all of these features myself and find each to be incredibly valuable.

The interesting thing coming from Windows is that it natively does not have Spaces, Expose or Time Machine type functionality. Technically Vista has a Spotlight-like feature but it's... meh and with some file types you can see a small preview in certain classes of Explorer windows though Quicklook blows the doors off that.

@Jon: Thanks for the nice comments man. I assume the value of this blog for a lot of people is also in the comments - I can't tell you how many great tips and applications I find as a result of the comments.
Unknown said…
I have to say as a new Mac user myself, I have found this blog incredibly helpful. While I use my iMac for personal use, you have been very helpful in pointing me to shortcuts and cool programs that make my experience so much more enjoyable.

Also, my wife is addicted to Alex -- she does consulting work where she is constantly writing up 3-4 paragraph reports. Being able to have material read back to her means she doesn't have to call me over to proofread before she sends stuff off to her client.
Hendrik said…
I guess Quicksilver doesn't count. But that is the first thing I miss when using another computer. Although I find myself using Spotlight more and more lately.

Other than that I completely agree with the top 5 list (although I don't use Expose that much).
I would also add: access to a Unixy terminal with all the tools and commands that come with that. Cygwin on Windows is just not the same.
Paul Thompson said…
Agreed, for me it's:-

Expose, Time Machine, Spotlight, Spaces, the Dock.

I had previously tried using Spaces but hadn't got the hang of it. Your posts about it persuaded me to give it another go, and I've now got it incorporated in a stable setup where it enhances my efficiency.
Chris Howard said…
Welles, thanks! I'll go with the double-tab. Corners won't work for me coz I actually don't use Spaces shortcuts. What makes it so good for me is you just select the app in the Dock and it switches to the right space. Which means nothing's changed in my workflow, but I get an tidy and organized desktop.

I also run dual monitors and love it with Spaces - and I actually prefer dual monitors (17" iMac and 17" LCD turned on it's side for portrait view) to the 24" iMacs where I'm studying. Dual monitors provide better organization.

It's interesting no one mentioned Dashboard. I'm sure most of us have one widget we couldn't live without. My faves there are Corporate Ipsum (a text generator) and my ISP usage meter.
Xcalybur said…
Easily for me I have a tie.

Quicklook and Spaces

If I had to choose it would be Quicklook because Windows can be made to so virtual desktop, just not as well as OS X. Quicklook cannot be duplicated in Windows currently. Microsoft would have to integrate it into the OS. I couldn't see a 3rd party developer doing this because they wouldn't have any pull over other vendors including Microsoft.
Shearn said…
I really like the non-active window scrolling feature. Since it's common for me to have to reference materials from two or more windows/applications, I just love how I don't have to click on the window to scroll to the required section. Just mouse over and scroll and you can continue to type away on the window you're working on
Anonymous said…
I would also have to say Spaces. I just wish you could set the desktop background in each space.

I also love Spotlight, Time Machine, and Quicklook.
Anonymous said…
I was really excited about Spaces when it was first announced. I upgraded to 10.5, and it was one of the first things I started playing with (much like Dashboard in Tiger). But, eerily similarly to my experience with Dashboard, after I stopped *playing* with it and tried to start incorporating it into my actual daily *use* of my computer, I found it not as useful as I had hoped.

I think I did everything right. Specifying different apps to certain Spaces, etc. to take advantage of the automatic switching features. I think the killer is that it made something that I do regularly, dragging and dropping between applications, harder. I could still do it, but I had to add in an extra step, or at least an extra split second of time or thought.

In the end, I turned it off and just went back to my old tried and true ways. (I sound like such an old codger.)

I should probably give it another shot, and it would probably serve me well to read other posts like yours to see how others are using it. It's obviously meant to be a productivity booster, so it's entirely possible I just missed the boat on the best way to implement it into my workflow. Wouldn't be the first time.

Thanks for another great post, Dave, and for putting Spaces back into my brain again. I'll let you know how it goes...
Anonymous said…
Oh, and to answer the question...

The new, faster Spotlight
This Add a 'recent things' stack to the Dock tip.
David Alison said…
@Nicholas: Very cool tip on the add recent items to the Dock. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Spaces, yes. I have had my iMac(my first Mac) for about 3 months and Spaces is great. I have one sort of regular space, a web development work area for Dreamweaver, PhotoShop, CSSEdit, etc. and I run my Windows VM in a third space. As you said in a previous entry, it's hard for Windows users to "think" Leopard and I'm a ways from fine tuning my Spaces, but what a great idea. If you count Spaces and VM's I must have at least 6 computers in this iMac.
Unknown said…
It'll have to be Spaces for me.

I use to have two 21" monitors on my Win2K machine. Since switching to the Mac, I had one 28" screen. However, after some issues with reading some online web manuals and while trying to develop at the same time, I've broken down and attached a 17" LCD onto my setup. So now Spaces is even better!

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