How to use OS X Lion's Mission Control

OS X Lion is now available through the Mac App Store. The new OS brings with it a slew of new features. One of those features is called Mission Control. Follow along as we explain what Mission Control is, and how to use it.

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
3 min read


The day many Mac users have been waiting for has finally arrived: OS X Lion is now available in the Mac App Store.

Apple did away with Expose and Spaces in this new OS and replaced them with Mission Control. While the functionality of the previous features hasn't changed much, it might take an adjustment period to get used to the new Mission Control.

We are going to try to help eliminate any confusion regarding Mission Control by showing you what it is, and how to use it.

Organizing and trying to keep track of what app or window is where can be a daunting task, on any computer. Apple has attempted to help alleviate user headaches by using a couple of methods with Mission Control.

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You may notice the Mission Control icon in your dock after installing Lion. When launching the app, it can be puzzling that an "app" doesn't open, instead you are presented with all the open windows and apps on your Mac.

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You will see a snapshot of each app that is currently open on the desktop you are using, allowing for fast switching among windows and apps. Across the top of Mission Control you will see a lineup of various items. One space is designated to the widget Dashboard, followed by your main desktop, and then any open apps that are currently in full-screen mode.

If you move your mouse up to the top-right portion of your screen, you will see an image similar to that of your desktop appear with a + symbol on it. Click on this icon to add another desktop to Mission Control.

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Once you have added more desktops to Mission Control, you can drag and drop any open apps to a desktop. Once they are placed on a new desktop, the app will be removed from your current desktop. To quickly move back and forth among multiple desktops and full-screen apps, swipe to the left or right with three or four fingers.

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To delete a desktop, hover your mouse in the upper-left corner of the desktop thumbnail in Mission Control and click on the x that appears. You can also hold in the Option key to display the x on all the open desktops.

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To customize Mission Control, go to System Preferences on your Mac (located under Applications). Click on the Mission Control icon.

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The top of the preferences screen for Mission Control lists three options:

  • The first option listed will leave Dashboard visible in Mission Control if selected. If you prefer not to have Mission Control display Dashboard as a thumbnail, you can still access it via your keyboard.
  • The second option listed is important, and probably the one you will want to experiment with the most. Checking the box allows Lion to arrange spaces that you currently have open by last used. If you leave the box unchecked, your spaces will be arranged in the order they were created and/or opened. 
  • The last option with a check box under Mission Control preferences is fairly straightforward. If you leave it checked, whenever you open a window for an app that is currently open and assigned to a desktop, the window will open in the desktop the app is assigned to, even if you are not currently viewing that desktop.

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The bottom half of the preferences allows you to set up keyboard shortcuts to activate various features of Mission Control.

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If you click on the Hot Corners button, you will be able to set which corner(s) of your screen turns on a feature. It is best to experiment with these options until you find a system that works well for you.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into Mission Control. For example, we covered three ways to launch it--click on the icon, keyboard shortcuts, and hot corners. We will even throw in a fourth method on the house: use a three- or four-finger swipe up on the trackpad.

Mission Control's value will vary user by user. If you are the type who uses many apps at the same time and constantly has a ton of windows open, you probably already see its potential. If you are an average user, who may use one or two apps at the same time, it might take some time for you to see the true value Mission Control has.