Monday, September 29, 2008

Virtual Desktop Managers for XP

Linux has had desktop managers for ages - it was one of the biggest things that impressed me right off when I started using Linux years ago.

On Windows XP, I have been using Virtual Dimension 0.94 for quite some time and enjoyed it a lot. The things I like best about it are: 1) switching between desktops with different wall papers, 2) having only those apps in the desktop shown in the task bar.

Unfortunately, Virtual Dimension hasn't been updated for some time and is occasionally flaky.

  • Microsoft Outlook 2003 using Winword as the editor can often freeze Virtual Dimension, but I can usually fix that by killing Winword or Outlook in the Task Manager.
  • However, sometimes it freezes for other reasons, and if I kill it - the other desktops, and the programs stored therein - are lost to me and I need to re-boot.
  • Virtual Dimension doesn't have shortcuts for arbitrarily moving programs around desktops: up, down, left and right. You can only set short cuts for moving programs to the next/previous desktop or brining up a context menu to switch it to a selected desktop.
  • It does now always remember my settings between re-boots, particularly crashy re-boots.
  • The most annoying thing is that often a window goes nuts if you switch desktops while it is still doing something i.e. has the CPU. When that happens, the program appears on all desktops by mistake - and the application's icon doesn't appear in all desktops in the desktop tray either. You have to close and re-open the program, which is awkward.

None of these are huge errors in an of themselves, but since there is no movement in the project, I am willing to try something else.

As of this morning I am trying Vista/XP Virtual Desktop Manager, the port of the Vista Windows Desktop Manager. So far it seems a match in functionality - plus it has shortcuts to move applications up, down, left and right.

Virtual Dimension used about 8.2 MB for four desktops. Virtual Desktops right now is using 28.1 MB for four desktops. I will post more as I get to know it better.

Other desktop managers exist.

  • Another desktop manager for XP that I have not tried is VirtuaWin. It didn't win me over after reading Dennis O'Reilly's article Add virtual desktops to Windows XP, Vista.
  • XP has had a Virtual Desktop Manager power toy for some time, but it is very limited. 1) It has no shortcuts for moving applications to different desktops. 2) It doesn't hide applications. 3) And (most annoying) is the UI sits in the start menu taking up space rather than having just an icon in the tray.