Making sense of Spaces with dual monitors

From my days of running a PC and a Mac side-by-side, I am lucky enough to still have a 22″ and a 24″ monitor sitting on my desk. The PC is hooked up to the 22″ Samsung but rarely gets switched on these days, while the Mac Pro is hooked up to both.

Two screens

Two screens

As I work from home a lot of the time, I wanted to have my work desktop running in a VMware Fusion virtual machine and visible all the time on the 22″ monitor. On the 24″ screen I wanted to use the option to use Spaces so that I could flick between various Mac applications when I felt like it. However, by simply dragging the VMware window to the 22″ screen and then choosing to switch Spaces on the main screen, I found the picture on the 22″ screen would disappear!

The reason for this is that when you use Spaces on a dual monitor setup, it couples your monitors together in each space, so in essence Spaces is running on both screens. What’s more you can’t choose which space gets displayed on each monitor, so if you are looking at ‘Space #1’ on one monitor, then ‘Space #1’ will also display on the second monitor. So looking at the above scenario, I run say Firefox in Space #1 on my 24″ then load up VMware also in Space #1 on the 24″ before dragging it across to the 22″. Now let’s say I want to run Spore in a Window in Space #2 on the 24″ screen. As soon as I switch to Space #2 on the big screen, the smaller screen also switches to Space #2 and my VMware window in Space #1 vanishes from sight!

Got all that?  😉

Mac OS X Leopard doesn’t let you run Spaces on just one monitor in a dual-head setup, but I eventually figured out the solution which is as follows:

  1. Go to your System Preferences and enable Spaces.
  2. Now, in the box in the middle of the Spaces settings that says Application Assignments, add an application using the + button.
  3. Just navigate to the chosen program in your Applications folder.
  4. Now the trick here is in the Space column to choose Every Space from the picklist.

Now, with VMware running in Space #1 and displayed on the 22″ screen, whichever Space I choose on the 24″ monitor, VMware will remain visible on the 22″ screen and won’t disappear like before. My only gripe with this solution is that as you invoke Spaces and are shown the ‘navigation’ view, it displays on both monitors. It’s only a minor niggle though because as soon as you choose which Space you want, both screens return to normal and my VMware work desktop is still in full view.

So until Apple update OS X and allow you to run Spaces on just one monitor, this is a reasonable workaround. At least I can now surf the web, catch up on newsfeeds and conquer the galaxy all while keeping an eye on the IM client and email on my work desktop!

23 Responses

  1. […] James Murff . Excerpt: On the 24″ screen I wanted to use the option to use Spaces so that I could flick between various Mac applications when I felt like it. However, by simply dragging the VMware window to the 22″ screen and then choosing to switch Spaces on … […]

  2. thanks so much, i thought about doing this but wanted to check if there was a better solution. glad to hear it works.

  3. One issues I’ve noticed with using Spaces and multiple monitors (MBP + 24″ ext) is that, very occasionally, my application windows in the larger monitor vanish – the applications are still running but the windows are not visible in the allocated space and cannot be made to appear by either selecting them from the apps’ Window menu or by clicking on the app from the dock.

    Jumping back to the view-all-spaces view also fails to reveal where the missing windows have gone.

    This is a very strange quirk in an otherwise wonderful arrangement; I would be very grateful if anyone has a solution to this problem.

  4. genius! thanks for that!

  5. Great !
    Am looking forward to doing something similar. Could you please let me know the setup.. The VGA splitter used…?


  6. Very very nice tip. Cheers!

  7. good shit!

  8. Excellent, you would think that apple would have thought of this concern but until they do, cheers to you!!!!

  9. […] I am not sure if this is what your trying to do but ….. Making sense of Spaces with dual monitors MacBitz __________________ I use windows to let in fresh […]

  10. Ah, I never noticed the “Every spaces” option. Perfect! This solves the problem I was Googling for. Thanks!!

  11. I have been trying to solve this problem, on and off, for a couple of days now. I just got a a fun little mini 9 inch DoubleSight DS-90UC USB monitor with webcam for video conferencing. This is the third monitor on my iMac, so I have been using Spaces for a couple of years now but never once noticed the ‘Every Space’ option in the Application Assignments section of Spaces preferences. Excellent article! I have secretly coveted Macs for years, in part because of the wonderful support of the end-user community. When OS X on Intel came to be, I knew my next machine could be a Mac since I could run Mac, Windows, and Unix software all on one computer, at the same time! Even though I have BootCamp set up, I dread booting into Windows, but sometimes I simply must. But while I’m there, sneakily wish for a power failure so my computer will magically turn back into a Mac!

    In other words, Thanks!

  12. Glad the article helped, and that you’re enjoying the iMac =;-)

    Work has been getting in the way a lot over the past months, but I must get back to writing articles and updating Macbitz soon – it’s actually quite fun!

  13. Exactly what I was looking for 🙂 Now my Adium windows stay put! I assume you’re going to get many more hits now that Air Display for the iPad is available. Smooth solution!

  14. Another thanks, this workaround helped me as well!

  15. Thanks a lot for that! I have been trying for ages to be able to use spaces with the monitor on without fuckin* things up. Thanks again!

  16. Thank you man!!!!!
    Now I’m able to work on my external Display while my MacBook shows me what ever else I’m running without disappearing when I switch to a different Space on my main monitor!!!


  17. This isn’t a new post, but it did the trick for me with Snow Leopard. Thank you!

  18. Works great for a desktop setup. I keep my email on the laptop display (secondary) while at my desk setting it for all spaces, then I can flick through my other spaces keeping my email in view. Only issue I see is that when I’m traveling and using the laptop on it’s own, I want my email in it’s own space. So here I’d have to switch it in settings every time I’m traveling then back at my desk. Apple really needs to catch up here!

  19. Ahhh, brilliant. Thanks a bunch!

  20. Thank you so much. I was frustrated about dual monitors on OSX until I read this.

  21. great post, I am using Lion and I don’t see a setting for spaces anymore. You have have any ideas how to work around the problem with Lion?

  22. Got exactly the same issue… But in 2012 with Lion !! And Hyperspaces on Snow Leo wich could resolve our problem does not work on Lion. Do you have any idea how solve this ? Thank you.

  23. With my MacBook I use one external monitor for web TV, and it was SO annoying to have the picture disappear every time I switched spaces….
    How come these things can be right in front of us, but we just don’t see it?
    Thank you for revealing this!
    Another of life’s niggling annoyances obliterated!

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