Assign apps to a desktop in OS X Lion

If you are like us, the lack of Spaces on OS X Lion has been a bit irritating. We finally figured out how to assign apps to a desktop, allowing for a little bit more control over app organization.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
2 min read


We have already gone over how to use Mission Control and the new Launch Pad feature in OS X Lion, but users are still having issues adjusting to the lack of some features. One frustration stems from Snow Leopard's Spaces feature, which allowed users to assign apps to windows, or desktops.

Read on to find out how to accomplish the same thing in OS X Lion; it's surprisingly easy.

OS X Lion allows users to move apps to newly created desktops. One thing that isn't so clear is how to force an app to open on a particular desktop, and only that desktop. This is how Spaces would work on Snow Leopard, Lion's predecessor. Spaces has a preference pane that allowed users to assign an app to a space, and going forward that app would only open in the space set in preferences. Doing so allowed a user to set up several different desktops that could be duplicated consistently and easily.

The preference pane for Mission Control does not offer a way to assign apps to desktops. We dug around looking for a solution, thinking that surely Apple hadn't done away with a method of setting this must-have preference. Then, a Twitter follower came to the rescue.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani

There it was. Hidden right under our nose. To assign an app to a desktop follow these easy steps:

  • Make sure the app you want to assign to a desktop is open and running.
  • Enter Mission Control (three finger swipe up on trackpad).
  • Move the app to the desktop you would like it to run on (create a new desktop if needed).
  • Right-click on the icon for that app in the dock and select Options > Assign To.
  • Select This Desktop.

There is one catch with the new method: you will have to leave the assigned desktop open indefinitely. If you close the assigned desktop, the preference is lost and the app will act as if it isn't assigned a specific desktop.

Though this isn't as convenient or straightforward as the old Spaces method, it is sure to get the job done just as well, if not better (after users have finally adjusted to Lion).