New versions of Apple‘s macOS typically feel like taking your car for regular maintenance: Oil and filters may have been changed, and the car may run a bit more smoothly, but visually and functionally, it’s the same old car.
But Apple’s macOS Ventura is different. It brings one major feature that has the potential to change the way you interact with your apps: Stage Manager. It’s a deceptively simple feature, turned off by default and turned on in the System Preferences (If you have macOS Ventura beta installed, scroll down to Desktop & Dock and turn it on). At first, it resembles another set of widgets on the left side of your display; but it’s actually a powerful tool, though not without room for improvement.
First, a little personal history: A decade and a half ago, I was obsessed with the user interface on the desktop. I was using Windows XP at the time, and though I liked the functionality of its taskbar, I hated the aesthetic, so I experimented with different “shells” that allowed me to remove the taskbar (pints are on me if you remember the Blackbox Windows port from Linux) and replace it with something more powerful and nicer-looking.
Then I switched to the Mac, whose macOS wowed me with its beautiful, animated Dock and multiple screen options. Unfortunately, the Dock, while visually pleasing to have on the bottom of my display, wasn’t that great to use — it was good as a shortcut bar, but horrible as a manger of apps already open. This hasn’t changed to this day, though it’s been improved through additions such as Mission Control, which gives you an overview of all open apps with a three-finger swipe up. Apple offers other tools to help organize your apps, including App Switcher and Exposé, none of which are very helpful to my workflow.
Enter Stage Manager. It is, simply put, another way to organize all of your open apps. Open an app. Then open another. The old app will move to the Stage Manager strip of apps on the left side of the display, while the new app will move to the center of your screen. All your apps are available on the left; if the Stage Manager is hidden, move your cursor to the edge of your display on the left to see your apps.
Stage Manager has a trick that makes it more than just an overview of open apps.
So far, so good. But Stage Manager has a trick that makes it more than just an overview of open apps. Open an app, then drag another app from the Stage Manager’s strip to the center of your display. Now, those two apps are grouped. Switch to another app, and you’ll see that these two apps appear as a group.
Grouping windows together is what makes the difference.
Credit: Stan Schroeder / Mashable
Whether you’ll like this or not depends on your personal preferences. It fits perfectly into my workflow. Prior to Stage Manager, I’d create groups of apps (two Chrome windows + Slack is one group, for example), position the windows as I like, and then put each group into a different virtual Desktop. This works well, though it does require constant tweaking and some extra effort each time you restart your machine. Stage Manager does this semi-automatically, as it automatically puts some apps (such as Safari) onto the same pile, and makes it easier to create groups of apps. It also remembers how you positioned and sized your app windows, so you’ll get the same experience each time you switch to another group of apps.
If this is helpful, but you don’t want to completely ditch your old workflow just yet, that’s fine. Stage Manager works quite well in conjunction with virtual Desktop windows, with each Desktop having its own set of Stage Manager apps and app groups. It also works well with the Dock, even if you keep it on the left side of your display. Personally, I like the combo of Stage Manager for organizing my apps and Mission Control for quickly finding the app I need.
Stage Manager is not without drawbacks. The app “icons” are quite big and only six will show up at a time. You can have more apps open, but then they’ll switch between one another in the Stage Manager, making the experience a lot more confusing. Also, some apps weren’t behaving as I wanted them to. In the example I gave above — Slack plus two Chrome windows — one of the Chrome windows was inexplicably persistent on the screen as I switched between different groups of apps. Finally, ungrouping apps is clunky. If the Stage Manager strip is visible, you can drag the app back there to ungroup it from the other apps, but if it’s not visible, dragging an app to the left won’t do anything — you have to minimize it to ungroup it.
Stage Manager doesn’t exactly offer many option.
Credit: Stan Schroeder/Mashable
Furthermore, Stage Manager has very few options, and even those are quite confusing. In System Preferences, you can choose to turn off the strip on the left, which basically means it will auto hide when not in use. You can also choose to show or hide desktop items; if you hide them, you can get them back by clicking anywhere on your desktop. But Stage Manager can also be turned on or off from the Control Center. There, an additional mouse click will give you the option to show or hide recent apps, which again means the strip will auto hide when not in use.
Stage Manager has the potential to become more than just another tool in your macOS arsenal; it could become the primary way you organize open apps on your Mac.
This is just the first public beta of macOS Ventura, and Apple may tweak the feature or add more options before the final release. Personally, I’d like to see an option added to show more than six items in the strip, as well as an option to treat instances of the same app (such as Chrome) as different apps (meaning they’re not automatically “piled” together). But Stage Manager has the potential to become more than just another tool in your macOS arsenal; it could become the primary way you organize open apps on your Mac.