Wikipedia tells me I had to wait until OS X Leopard in 2006 to first use Spaces. It does mention earlier 3rd party structures in an outside reference but the Wayback link quoted doesn't actually mention it.

I have some vague idea I'd been using it since years before, maybe even since System/Mac OS 8 or 9; but my memory is very vague and I cannot find any reference to what non-Apple substitute I had used before, or if I am simply mis-remembering.

I know I've had dual screens since the mid 90s, a 3-button mouse since around the same time (before scroll-wheels) but I can't be clear as to whether I did indeed have something akin to Spaces. Really my only truly clear recollection from so far back is ConflictCatcher, compulsory util from around that time ;)

The word 'spaces' is also a terrible word to try to google.

Can anyone help jog my memory?

  • I can't remember what Hewlett Packard called it, but HP-UX had this back in the 1980s. My normal working configuration was half a dozen different "screens" each logged on to a different remote systems. (Each "virtual screen" typically had several different terminal windows etc logged into the same system)
    – alephzero
    Feb 10 at 18:00
  • A bit of googling suggests the HP version was actually functionality of the X windows desktop, not HP specific.
    – alephzero
    Feb 10 at 18:09
  • "Spaces" and "multiple physical screens" are two orthogonal concepts.
    – alephzero
    Feb 10 at 18:27

Spaces is just the macOS name for virtual desktops, which are a very old idea. So they have indeed made it into the Mac world many times before Apple decided they should be an OS feature.

That being said, the first appearance of Spaces-esque functionality was Switcher, by Andy Herzfeld of the original Macintosh team. That was first made available in 1985, only around a year after the Macintosh; its primary purpose was to allow multiple pieces of software to run at once but Macintoshes of the time were completely single tasking — launch an application and you'd exit the Finder, removing the desktop, and get it back only when you exited your application — and Herzfeld noticed that the time it took to switch applications was noticeable so added a horizontal scroll from one application to the next in order to cover that gap.

So in the world where one screen is one application, he had in effect implemented virtual desktops, in a spatial relationship.

  • That was really the precursor to MultiFinder, which wasn't quite what I had in mind (but useful info nonetheless). My first ever Mac was on 6.0.6 so I actually saw the transition to MultiFinder. I'm thinking of later, sys 7, 8 or 9.
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 10 at 17:21
  • 1
    It took everything you could then do on your single Mac screen, and let you do that across multiple of those screens, with you scrolling between them. That seems fully to meet the definition, and you asked for the first appearance under any guise. Figuring out exactly what you used years later is kind of a different question. Not necessarily irrelevant to the site or less interesting or anything like that, just different.
    – Tommy
    Feb 10 at 17:25
  • 1
    Further on this: is your question closer to “first program to offer virtual desktops on the Mac, each desktop having the full functionality first introduced with the MultiFinder”?
    – Tommy
    Feb 10 at 18:21

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