Lion Tip 'O the Day: Stop Automatic Space Reordering

The Skinny

  1. Go to System Preferences –> Mission Control
  2. Uncheck “Automatically rearrange spaces based on most recent use”


This is an absolute mis-feature of OS X Lion. The default setting, “Automatically rearrange spaces based on most recent use”, causes spaces to rearrange themselves outside of my view. The result? Things are no longer where I left them when I return.

What I cannot fathom is why anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place. Apple, since when do the rooms of my house rearrange themselves “based on most recent use”? This setting defeats the physical analogy of “spaces” and the natural leverage that provides to gesture-based navigation. Users form a mental map of their work when using virtual desktops like OS X’s Spaces. This little bit of automation neatly scuttles that intuitive “body knowledge”. Imagine how frustrating it would be to read a textbook whose pages rearranged themselves according to “what did I look at most recently” logic. Is the page you want to the left or right?

This is exactly the same design failure that Microsoft made with tabs in its Visual Studio development suite. Unlike modern browser-based tab navigation, there’s no way in Visual Studio to simply navigate to tabs left or right. Instead, navigation always occurs via a “most recently used” rubric when using next or previous keys. The user is burdened with having to maintain a historical knowledge of visited tabs that must match that invisible record kept by the computer. Thus it is with OS X Lion’s Spaces.