Both Gnome 3 and Mac OS Lion have the concept of a linear ribbon of "workspaces" or virtual desktops. Gnome 3 lays out its workspaces vertically, while Mac OS Lion lays out its workspaces horizontally. So how do they compare on some routine workspace operations? Let's see...
Switching to Workspaces:
Gnome 3: There are two basic ways to do this: 1) Press the Windows key or swoosh mouse to left top of screen in order to activate the Activities screen. Move the mouse to the right side of the screen to make the workspace list pop out and select the workspace you wish to be in. OR: 2) Press CTRL-ALT-down to go to the next workspace down, or CTRL-ALT-up to go to the next workspace up. Mac: 1. Press F3 button on a recent Mac to go into Mission Control. You can also set a multi-touch gesture to do this (mine is three fingers up on the trackpad). Your workspaces will be listed horizontally at the top of the screen, move your mouse to and click on the one you want to go to. 2. Assign a multi-touch gesture to next-workspace and previous-workspace. Mine is three fingers left/right on the trackpad. 3. Assign a key sequence to next-workspace and previous-workspace. Mine is CTRL-left and CTRL-right. Because I have an Apple laptop, I can use multi-touch gestures to move left and right and to activate the Workspace switcher. This gives me one more option on the Mac. But reality is that navigating to a workspace is ridiculously easy on both systems, either from keyboard or via mouse/trackpad.
Gnome 3: There is always one "blank" workspace at the end of the list of workspaces. If you move to that blank workspace and open a window there, a new blank workspace is created after it automatically, without you having to do anything.
Mac OS Lion: Press the F3 function key or use the multi-touch gesture to get to Mission Control. Move your mouse pointer to the right top of the screen. A new shadowed-out workspace will pop out of the ether. Click on it. You will now have a blank workspace to work in.
The Gnome approach can be done without touching the mouse, and actually requires no intervention on your part to create the new workspace -- it simply gets created when you need it. It Just Works, which is what a computer is supposed to be -- something that Just Works, without you having to do fiddly things to make it work. It will be interesting to see whether Apple or Microsoft copy this feature in their next release.
Gnome 3: When you close the last window on a workspace, the workspace is deleted and you are then placed on the Activities screen, from whence you can select another workspace to work in using either CTRL-ALT-up/down or the workspace pop-out at the right of the screen. This prevents workspace clutter where you have lots of those automatically-created workspaces hanging around. (Note: I am aware of the "persistent workspace" plugin, I am comparing stock configurations).
Lion: Activate Mission Control. Move to the top left corner of the little workspace icon you want to zap. A little X will appear. Click on that X. The workspace will go bye-bye, and any windows on it will be moved to the first workspace.
Again the Gnome 3 approach to this appears to me to be much simpler than the Lion approach. There's no fine motor skill needed to move the mouse pointer to the exact point where the X will appear, you simply close your windows and poof, you're done. Nothing to remember, nothing to discover, it Just Works.
Moving Windows to a Workspace
For both Lion and Gnome 3 you simply move to the workspace containing the window you want to move, trigger the Activities or Mission Control screen, grab the window you want by clicking on it, and drop it on the icon of the workspace you want to move it to.
So that's workspaces. As you can see, Gnome 3 is quite competitive with the state of the art that is Mac OS Lion. So that brings up the next question: Why do so many of the hard-core Linux geeks hate Gnome 3? I'll discuss that in the next installation of this series.