macOS Stage Manager Impression

Stage Manager is a marquee new feature in macOS Ventura, which released to the general public this October. I updated my MacBook Air right away, eager to try it out. After several weeks of using it off and on, I’ve been reminded of the already impressive multi-tasking capabilities with good ol’ fashioned windows on the Mac. Exiting the stage, I’m happy to manage apps and their windows myself.

I think one reason Stage Manager is a prominent addition to the Mac is simply because its so visual. App windows quickly and easily swap out with each other automatically. I’ve tried to nail down the best understanding of what Stage Manager is actually managing: windows, apps, or tasks. I think the answer is, “Yes” to all three.

Essentially, apps and their windows are tools for users to complete tasks. So juggling multiple windows and apps — multi-tasking — is what Stage Manager is supposed to help you do. Most people, though, do one thing at a time and, at most, reference some other thing alongside. So it’s not uncommon to have two apps side-by-side and sometimes three. 

Stage Manager lets users set up multiple apps or windows in groups and then switches between either groups of apps or single app windows. In practice, though, I found the set up portion to be cumbersome and the auto-switching part to be a bit too jarring sometimes. Once set up, it’s simply hard to mentally track what apps and windows are where, especially if you also use Spaces (multiple desktops).

For the sake of brevity, avoiding the technical bits, suffice to say that Stage Manager helped me re-evaluate the Mac’s previously established multi-tasking features: Mission Control, Spaces, and Exposé. And to a small degree, also command-tab app switcher.

I realized how good these features already are and how much I appreciate them. So after several weeks of leaving Stage Manager on, I turned it off. Tellingly, I don’t miss it.

In fact, I now much prefer my new simpler approach: fully zoomed (not full-screen) windows on one desktop Space. I love the Dock for its ability to both launch and switch between apps in a visual way. Its always present, at the ready, and serves as an anchor for the desktop. And I like to keep multiple Pages and Numbers files open. For those, I simply use tabs in their respective apps.

I wanted to like Stage Manager, but one of my initial reactions to it turned out true: it’s redundant. The Mac’s other multi-tasking options were already enough. I think Stage Manager has potential if Apple improves it.

One simple way to make it better would be to allow an option to always show more than four (the current max.) piles or groups at once on a 13” MacBook Air. The app or window I wanted to switch to was often pushed out of view simply because it wasn’t in the four onscreen. Another weak spot that needs work is streamlining the set up process. Somehow, apps and windows should be able to be grouped without also switching back and forth and dragging them back out of their piles.

That said, I find it easier to go full-manual, relying on the complete flexibility and total freedom of windows and apps being in one place, right on the desktop where I left them. To switch between them, I just click the app icon in the Dock. Since my apps are full-zoom most of the time, the app window I want pops into view, totally covering the previous window, which effectively switches it out and keeps my desktop clutter free.

In the end, though Stage Manager managed apps and windows to some degree, I still had to manage Stage Manager itself by setting up groups and mentally tracking where things were. 

Thanks, Stage Manager, for showing me how effective the other long-standing methods of Mac multi-tasking are. I’ll take it from here.

Have you tried it; do you like, dislike, or can’t make up your mind about Stage Manager?