Mission Control Is Terrible, Exposé + Spaces Had It Right

This is a rant. (And it has a few swears) This is me getting way too nerdily worked up over tiny little shit, but it’s what I do for a living so I figured I’d put this up.

I grew up on Windows. My first memories of a computer were playing The Tortoise and the Hare Living Books point and click adventure on my dad’s MidWest Micro. Watching animated turtles and rabbits was my primary concern, not window management.

Then came art school, where the entire school was on MacBook Pro’s. Fine, okay, whatever — I’ll switch over to the glorified $2000 Coloring Book™. It was bizarre at first, and you can imagine I was as calm and patient with the transition as I am while writing this rant…

Get to the point, no one cares about your childhood.

I started on OSX 10.5 Leopard. Things that bugged the hell out of me:

  • OSX’s “smart” maximize button that never works the way you want it to.
  • The application file menu is in the OS taskbar, not attached to the window.
  • Double clicking the application bar minimizes instead of maximizing.

What didn’t bug the hell out of me: Exposé.

Exposé: The Best Window Management Shit Ever

Exposé: One click and you could see every window on your screen. Fucking brilliant. Quick, one keystroke, easy, simple, perfect. It just makes perfect sense: “Show me everything.” You lost track of where some window was, or what was open. Hit F3, BOOM — not anymore. You could see all of that shit immediately. (F3 is the key that is by default mapped to enacting Exposé on OSX)

Furthermore, the transitions in Exposé were critical. Enacting Exposé slid and zoomed every window from it’s current position to it’s new position, giving you context for where each window was.

Then, a college dorm mate came and showed me Spaces. I really was doing just fine with Exposé, I honestly wasn’t ready to have my mind blown all over again.

Spaces: The Best Window Management Shit Ever, On Crack

With Spaces, you could make multiple desktops, and lay them out in a grid to your choosing. You want 2 desktops in a single column? Done. You want all your desktops in a single row (i.e. the only way that Mission Control can lay out desktops)? Done, no problem with Spaces.

The best thing in the entire goddamn fucking world: Having 20 windows open across 4 different desktops. You hit Command+F3 for Spaces, then F3 for Exposé, and you can see ALL 20 goddamn windows on 4 desktops. It used your entire computer screen, all windows were as large as they could fit on screen, with perfect zooming/sliding transitions to give you spatial awareness of window location.

This felt great again because of the transitions: enacting Spaces zoomed out revealing 4 desktops, taking up my entire screen with equal space. Then, F3 enacted Exposé within each desktop, revealing every window in every desktop, at the largest viewable size. That transition felt like I was zooming out to see a larger portion of my desk, and then diving into a specific area of my desk to focus on. Every window had real positional relativity, and I had a crystal clear mental interpretation of where windows were.

Sure, if you had 16 desktops and 20 windows open on each, it could be cluttered — but don’t try and tell me that Missions Control handles that any better.

Command+F3, then F3, was a reflex of my workflow. Computer inputs and their interfaces should be an extension of your hands — no part of your mind should be thinking how to interact or interface with it while your working.

When It All Started to Turn to Shit: OSX Lion

OSX 10.7 Lion introduced Mission Control, a revamp of Exposé + Spaces.

I totally get it: when new products come out you have to introduce new features to make people want to buy the new product. My issue lies with those new features being terrible and not letting me revert. When Windows 8 came out, I thought about the Start menu and I really didn’t care if they got rid of it — as long as whatever they replaced it with was better. (As many probably agree, they did not meet that goal until Windows 10).

With Mission Control, it basically made Exposé + Spaces awful, but looked fine on paper:

  • “Your application windows will now be grouped together for the same application.” Great, now I can’t see half of my windows because they’re STILL HIDDEN BEHIND OTHER WINDOWS. (You can turn the grouping off, or press space bar over the group of windows to show all the applications windows — not helpful, ended up turning it off entirely.)
  • “Your desktops will be in a nice row up at the top of the screen.” Wonderful, now all I can see is a thumbnail of other desktops, and to see every window on those desktops, I have to switch to them.

I would have been okay with them replacing Exposé + Spaces with Mission Control, as long as Mission Control was better. But, it wasn’t. Honestly, all they needed to do was add in System Preferences, “Show my desktops in a custom grid layout” and we’d basically have Exposé + Spaces still. But no, instead it got shittier.

When It All Turned to Shit: OSX El Capiturd

So today I installed OSX 10.11 because Jony Ive told me to. As I expected, they made it worse.

Notice the difference? The top row that used to have thumbnails of individual desktops, now just has text. You have to roll over the top bar to expose the thumbnails.

  • It takes up hardly any less space than the thumbnails, and it is hiding even more information from the user than a thumbnail.
  • Put an option in the System Preferences, “Expose Mission Control Desktop thumbnails by default.” Simple, not a hard UI fix.

How This Rant Started and Why I’m Writing This Shit

I need the computer to feel like an extension of my hand. When it doesn’t, I feel a total barrier between my ideas and my work. When I lived 5 minutes from Fry’s electronics, I individually bought and returned 8 different models of computer mice until I found the one that was perfect, and then I bought 3 of that model. So, considering that Exposé + Spaces was a “reflex of my workflow,” I’ve had this rant building up ever since Mission Control was implemented and totally fucked it up.

Apple today is focused on making their OSX products and iOS products feel and act as much like each other as possible. This is fine, except for when it’s not. There was absolutely nothing wrong with maximizing a window to fill the screen. Then, along comes full screen apps, solving a problem that wasn’t there. Full screen apps were a problem that was so nonexistent, their creation introduced a brand new problem: having multiple windows on screen at once. So, El Capitan introduced Full Screen Split View: the worst solution since CAPTCHA codes.

I remember seeing a joke online (and I can’t currently find it) about a dad buying his son two iPads for college so that he could multitask with a PDF on one iPad and writing a paper on the other iPad. As you can imagine, PC Master Race shit themselves laughing. The Full Screen Split View solution is targeted towards people who full screen apps and wish they could see more than one app. I had written a sentence here describing how stupid that is, but I’m assuming my audience knows how stupid that is and doesn’t need it explained to them.

I don’t understand why Apple didn’t put the onus of full screen applications on the individual developers. Chrome has had Presentation mode forever, Adobe applications have a full screen mode built in, etc. I realize that can cause some inconsistency between applications, but I’ve never found forced hiding of the dock and task bar helpful.

Getting full screen applications to work better on a Mac is bad design and is turning the OS to shit — the focus needs to be on making window management amazeballs and effortless. With each iteration of OSX, it has moved further away from that. OSX and iOS can and should match aesthetically, but window management is not something that iOS features were designed for.

So, after trying out Full Screen Split View, I finally decided to write this rant that you are now currently reading, starting with a bitchfest about Mission Control.


TotalSpaces by binaryage is a solution to bring back Spaces to OSX, post Snow Leopard. I purchased it immediately, and while it is in the right direction, it just isn’t as slick/usable as Exposé+Spaces was.

A few things, at least from when I used it about a year ago:

  • Mission Control stays intact, but you can enact TotalSpaces and that flicks the screen to show a layout like Spaces did. There wasn’t a transition between like in Spaces though, removing spatial awareness of where desktops and windows were.
  • I use Adobe applications often, and as Adobe doesn’t give a shit about playing ball with native OSX application frames, they really didn’t play ball well with TotalSpaces.
  • Even though I stopped using it, I would pay for it again in hopes of getting Exposé+Spaces back. Again, the above two comments might be dated.

What I Wish Would Happen

I hate when you’re forced to comply with design choices for reasons that look good on paper. I’m okay with El Capitan’s Mission Control being the default setup, but give users the option to customize it how they see fit. Removing nonessential UI and streamlining workflow is definitely part of interaction design — but desktop computers are for power users: we have 30 windows open all the time, we have hundreds of files scattered all over our desktops, and we have to reinstall the entire OS because who the fuck knows why something doesn’t work anymore. Let us be power users and customize it for how we interact with it.

This is just an opinionated, picky rant. Lots of people hate OSX and prefer Windows. I get it. If you’ve found a workflow that is perfect for you, power to you. Windows 10 has definitely been appealing to me as it has an Exposé-like feature, but the desktops act just like Mission Control. I realize asking for feature requests on an Apple product is yelling into the void, but I hope that expresses how much I loved Exposé+Spaces. I’m definitely curious if I’m on point with this train of thought or way off in Crazyland™.

Me? I'm retired, I invented dice when I was 8.

Me? I'm retired, I invented dice when I was 8.