AMITIAE - Tuesday 29 October 2013

System Preferences in OS X 10.9, Mavericks: Mission Control

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By Graham K. Rogers

Some changes to System Preferences in OS X 10.9, Mavericks, have been subtle, while other preferences have seen major changes. The preferences pane for Mission Control has been changed slightly. Mission Control provides settings to give users an overview of all open windows, applications and Dashboard.

What was called Exposé & Spaces in earlier versions of OS X was replaced by Mission Control. This has a single panel, in two sections. At the top are checkboxes for Mission Control and Dashboard. This has one addition that affects the way displays can be used. At the bottom are Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts, with a button for Hot Corners at bottom left.

Mission Control

Mission Control

Mission Control is activated by using its icon in the Dock, using gestures (see Trackpad Preferences), or via Key Commands. Apple has returned to using "Spaces" with the upper case "S" (Spaces). There are now five checkboxes for activating features with Mission Control (up from four in 10.8):

  • Show Dashboard as a Space. When Mission Control is used, a thumbnail display of Dashboard is shown to the left of the thumbnails of any desktops that are active. When deselected, to access Dashboard the F12 key (Fn + F12) is used by default.

  • Automatically rearrange Spaces based on most recent use. This can be used in conjunction with the Dock menu which allows a user to specify a Space for an application (see Notes).

  • When switching to an application, switch to a Space with open windows for the application.

  • Group windows by application

  • Displays have separate Spaces (new option). This works in conjunction with Displays preferences: when Mirroring is Off, new features are available. External displays behave as in previous versions of OS X when this box is checked.

Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts

Within the Mission Control Panel users may allocate specific keys for some of the operations which are similar to those that had been available in Exposé. Four operations are available, with eight buttons shown in two columns. The first is for key commands; the second for mouse controls:

  • Mission Control: default key is F9 (fn + F9 if the fn option is used on notebooks). Mission Control activates, showing all open applications and spaces;

  • Application windows: default key is F10 (or fn + F10). All open panels of the front application are shown. Any minimized panels are shown as smaller thumbnail panels;

  • Show Desktop: default key is F11 (fn + F11). All application panels are moved off to the sides and the desktop is visible with any files there shown;

  • Show Dashboard: default key is F12 (fn + F12). The desktop is moved to the right and the user has access to the Dashboard and any Widgets installed.

When clicked, each button in the first column reveals a list of keys which may be used to reallocate the command. For example, instead of the default F9 for Mission Control, we may choose Right Shift. When selecting a key, pressing on a modifier key (e.g. Control) adds that to the command. Re-allocation takes affect immediately.

Mission Control

Alongside the key commands is the second column of buttons. These are initially unallocated and a dash is shown. Users may choose to have one or more of the above features activated with a mouse click. On my installation I may choose only Secondary Mouse Button or Middle Mouse Button. If any of the control keys (Shift, Control, Option, Command) is pressed - alone or in combination - these also appear in the menu. They are accepted (or removed) by clicking the mouse.

Hot Corners

Specific actions may be allocated to any of the four corners of the screen. As the cursor moves to the corner, an action is carried out. Options available are Mission Control, Application Windows, Desktop, Dashboard, Notification Center, Launchpad, Start Screensaver, Disable Screensaver, Put Display to Sleep and - (no action).

Mission Control


Mission Control manages Spaces. On new installations there is a single Space (plus Dashboard). On Macs that have used Spaces before, the same number is available with the update to OS X, 10.9, Mavericks. If Spaces has not been used before, a default single space is available.

New Spaces can be added when Mission Control is being used - click the icon in the Dock - by moving the cursor towards the top right of the screen. A new, semi-transparent Space appears (using the desktop image from Space 1). By clicking in that new Space, it becomes active and is allocated a consecutive number (e.g. Desktop 7). This then also appears in Key Commands.

To remove a Space, slide the cursor towards the Space display when Mission Control is being used. An X will appear at the top left of the Space thumbnail. Clicking on this removes the Space.

When an application icon is shown in the Dock (open or not), click on the icon and use the Options menu to Assign the application to "All Desktops" (previously "All Spaces") or "This Desktop" or "None". The last is available when the application has already been assigned to a specific Space.

As pointed out to me in an email from Greg of Imaja Software, when discussing an earlier version of OS X, another useful feature is that when Mission Control is used to view all open windows, the miniature views of the application panels can be enlarged by moving the cursor over the specific pane and pressing the space bar (as in Quick View).

See Also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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