On Split Screen in Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan

Windows 10 has now been publically released, and OS X El Capitan is progressing through a series of beta builds prior to a release in the Autumn.

Neither Apple or Microsoft mind borrowing a feature for their desktop OS from one another. In OS X El Capitan, the feature that is most blatantly "inspired" by Windows is the ability to set up a split screen environment with two windows side by side. It has been a great feature in Windows since Windows 7, and a feature I've wanted over on OS X for years. There is a range of third-party apps which bring the feature to OS X: I've used an app called BetterSnapTool for some time.

Now, Apple, it seems, has brought the same feature, natively, to OS X in El Capitan. Or have they? We might assume that the El Capitan feature is a copy of the Windows feature, but they are actually quite different.

Split screen in Windows 10, as it was for Windows 7, is a feature for organising windows on the desktop. A user simply drags a window to one side of the desktop, where it locks in place to fill half the screen. Drag another window to the other side of the screen (or select a second active window in the handy "Snap Assist" popup) and you get the split screen view.  It's a wonderfully intuitive interface.

Once this process is complete, however, the two windows are no different from any other window. They can be dragged out of place. If one of the windows is resized, the other window will remain the same size. If another app is opened, its window will appear over the two split screen windows. Split screen in Windows 10 does not connect or group the two windows in any way.

In OS X El Capitan, split screen is an enhancement of the full screen apps interface. When apps are placed into split screen mode, they are locked together in a space in the Mission Control interface. If the dividing line between the two apps is dragged, both apps respond, one to take up more of the screen, the other less. When the users switches to either of these apps, the second app will always be sitting alongside it. Other windows cannot appear in front of the apps; the two windows are functionally tied to one another until the user chooses to separate them. 

Thus, while split screen in Windows 10 is a way of organising windows on the desktop, split screen in El Capitan is a way of grouping two apps together to create a single functional unit. They will remain grouped until the user chooses to pull them apart again. This, I think, is more in keeping with the way I'll tend to use split screen. If I'm researching a topic, I'll place a Safari window alongside a note from the Notes app or a MindNode mindmap. When I switch to a Mail window to respond to an email, and then switch back, I'll be jumping straight back into that research space; no additional clicks or resizing will be required.

"Inspired by" - yes, certainly. "Copied from" - not really.