Taming the Lion desktop

David Braue
21 November, 2011
View more articles fromthe author

Coming from Windows, the Mac OS X desktop can be a bit confusing at first. That said, the latest version of Mac OS X – 10.7, or ‘Lion’ – improves consistency and resolves some of the niggling quirks in the previous ‘Leopard’ and ‘Snow Leopard’ versions.

Aesthetically, Lion is cleaner and more minimalistic. There’s more grey overall; icons in Apple apps like iTunes are now monochrome rather than colour; and Lion is more Windows- like by finally allowing windows to be resized by grabbing and dragging any corner of the window, instead of the bottom-right corner only, as in the past.

Another long-time sore point for Windows converts, switching between applications with Alt-Tab and between documents with Alt-’, has also been addressed in Lion’s new Mission Control feature.

Swipe upwards with three fingers on your MacBook or Magic TrackPad, tap with both fingers at once on the surface of your Magic Mouse, click the Mission Control icon in your Dock or just press F3 and you get a view of all applications, documents and workspaces currently in use.

If an application has more than one document open, they’re all grouped behind the active application window; just click the preview image of the one you want. It’s a visual, far less painful way to see what you’re running, down to the animated video windows.

Apple’s efforts to extend its iPad interface are evident in Lion features like Launchpad; click the spaceship icon in your Dock and all applications on your system are arranged into an iPad-like grid.

I mentioned that Mission Control lists full-screen apps in a row across the top of the Mission Control screen. These are proper full-screen apps like the ones you get using Windows’ maximise button – which wasn’t always the case using Mac OS X’s green plus ‘zoom’ window control.

Apps must explicitly support Lion’s full-screen mode, indicated with a double-headed, diagonal arrow in the upper right-hand corner of the application window.

Once you switch an app to full- screen mode, it’s removed from your main desktop and pushed onto a full screen of its own. All child windows of the app – for example, an email you’re reading – will open on the same screen.

Switch between full-screen apps using either Control-left arrow or Control-right arrow; do a three-fingered swipe to the left or right on your MacBook or Magic TrackPad; or do a two-fingered swipe to the left or right on your Magic Mouse.

A three-fingered left swipe from the main desktop opens Dashboard, where you can arrange numerous widgets that perform specific functions. Some applications launch additional full-screen windows; for example, if you run iTunes’ music visualiser full-screen, it runs on its own screen so you can swipe back and forth between the song list and graphics.

To exit full-screen mode, mouse to the top of the screen and pause until the menu bar and double-headed arrow appear; click the arrow and everything goes back to normal.

If you’ve used a previous version of Mac OS X, you’ll appreciate one other refinement in the Lion desktop: Previews. When searching for files using Spotlight (c-space), for example, you now get previews of most items just by mousing over them. And Quick Look – which shows you a preview of the current Finder item by selecting it and hitting space – now lets you launch an item using its associated application, and stays visible even if you switch to other applications.

Sometimes, the little things make all the difference – and Lion is a perfect example. Learn how to use them, and you’ll be navigating the Lion desktop like a pro in no time.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us