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Virtual Desktops on Windows? 121

raist_online asks: "After long years of X11 (and recently Mac OS X) I'm now in a job that mandates Windows and uses some Windows-only tools, providing us with XP Pro installs. Using VMWare with dual heads means I can still mostly live in X11-based goodness but I'm really missing a virtual desktop when I have to use Windows. The MS Powertoy doesn't really cut it for me and I've been trying out Cooldesk (some task-bar integration but not behaving well) and altdesk (which is OK but doesn't integrate into the task-bar). I'm really looking for something as simple as the standard X11 pager. Please note that I HAVE to use native Windows for some things so suggestions for Wine / VMWare inside Linux are missing the point. Slashdot, what are your suggestions?"
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Virtual Desktops on Windows?

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  • by RLiegh ( 247921 ) * on Friday October 13, 2006 @02:07AM (#16419575) Homepage Journal
    I don't have them set up at the moment, so I don't remember what they're called offhand; but one of the utilities that nvidia gives you gives you virtual desktops; though they're a lot clunkier (IMHO) to navigate than what you get with either GNOME or KDE. But, none-the-less; they're there. The downside being you have to have an nvidia card, of course.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Wouldn't recommend it. It sucks just as much as the MS Powertoys thingy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I've been using it for years; I just bound the previous/next desktop to the same keys used under gnome (CTRL+ALT+Left/Right), and it works just fine. Not as cool as the spinning cube in xgl/aiglx though... ;)
      • by WgT2 ( 591074 )

        I agree.

        In the past it's been unstable and now it's just clunky and doesn't seem as smart as traditional X11 desktopping.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by refitman ( 958341 )

      At work I use a program called multidesk []. This has the added bonus of being free. It can support up to 9 desktops and you can map your own hot-keys for switching.

      It loads into the taskbar and has a nice GUI where you can drag windows from desktop to desktop.

    • Secretly y .html []

      It is the fastest virtual desktop switcher out there, no pause, no hesitation whatsoever. Icons for the most part stay on their own virtual desktop. There is no gui,everything works by hotkey. It is the only virtual desktop manager that just stays out of my way and works.

      Most virtual desktop managers for windows are dog slow, you can watch the minimized icons dissapear one by one, then the desktop switches, then the icons for that desktop

  • I use WinScroll [] (English version here []). It might have problems if you have multiple desktops, I use a triple-head system that only presents a single, unified desktop to Windows.
  • Virtual Dimension (Score:5, Informative)

    by no-body ( 127863 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @02:11AM (#16419595)
    does it for me pretty good: []

    the power toys - or whatever the junk is from M$ - sucks!

    • by kjart ( 941720 )

      Looks interesting - I'll have to try it. I'm curious how well it performs though. The only real complaint I have for the powertoy is that it's a little slow. If virtual dimension is noticeably faster then that's good enough for me (especially with that apparent transparency affect).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JamesTRexx ( 675890 )
        I can't compare to the powertoys, but Virtual Dimension performs very well. I've been using it for years on Windows 2000 and now XP, and the only real complaint I have that on rare occasions I can't switch desktops, but that could be related to the use of Synergy2 and VMware/Virtual PC at the same time. (one can only use so much keyboard grabbing software constantly at the same time..) I highly recommend trying this one.
        • I would just like to comment that I am also using synergy and I'm using the microsoft powertoy. Is it slow? Maybe. Is windows slow? Indubitably. So do I let it bother me? Nope :) Besides, it supports a unique background per desktop and it has a preview view, what more do I need?
      • Virtual Dimension works MUCH better than the powertoy in every aspect, it's much faster, much cleaner, and has more features.
      • by pasamio ( 737659 )
        I'm a fan of virtual dimension, I use it at work to seperate stuff up so that I don't have to alt tab through a horribly long list of windows, half of which are irrelevant to the present task.
    • by RuBLed ( 995686 )
      Thanks for the link! I learn something new from you people each day. (Well except for exploding radioactive bunnies)
    • by imess ( 805488 )
      I've tried a few virtual desktops, including virtual dimension and another open source one that has quite a few plugins. One thing I like about virtual dimension is the ability to change transparency for almost every window, but like most other virtual desktops on windows, it's not stable, and most of the time when a modal dialog pops up from another desktop the parent window of that dialog will either disappear (I can still spy on the handle, and make an api call to show it again), or simply lock up explor
    • Looks really good, and it's even working on x64 (except shell integration, I might try porting it if I have time).

      Couple of wishes, but they're probably already there if I get shell integration working. (Like 'Move to Desktop').

      Anyone know if you can set a hotkey to show/hide the desktops window? I don't want it there all the time, but want to get it to show on a hotkey...

      On the whole it's far better than the last ones I tried (which were slow and kept losing windows).
    • by Bandman ( 86149 )
      The one thing I really like about the powertoy that I wish other pagers did is the tile function, where they display all the desktops, and you click to select which one you want.

      I mean, with 3desk I have a cooler select method, but I like the "tile" thing too.
    • by Toba82 ( 871257 )
      I used virtual dimension before I switched to linux and while it doesn't have the same quality X11 does, it's very good.
  • Virtuawin? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @02:11AM (#16419597)
    Never really used it, but it might do what you want... []
    • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @03:30AM (#16420035) Homepage Journal
      VirtuaWin [] is a mandatory component of any new machine I set up for myself. I have it installed at home and at work, and I use it constantly. Windows is nearly unusable without it. And it's Free Software. Highly, highly recommended.


      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Eric Pierce ( 636318 )
        I can vouch for this. I've used VirtuaWin for ~3 years, and it is hands down the best virtual windowing utility for Windows I've tried.

        It's open source too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by couchslug ( 175151 )
        "Highly, highly recommended."

        Especially with the Cool Desktop Switcher module.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by eegreg ( 970843 )
      I have tried out most of the free virtual desktops, and VirtuaWin is what I use. It does not show a graphical preview of other desktops. If you want that feature you may want to try dm2. If you are a real power user you way want to look at PowerPro. For any that you try out, just don't forget to try out all the options and configurations- they can make a big difference. But don't forget that multiple desktops on Windows is always a big hack. If you stick with just one desktop you may want to try TaskS
  • Not a full desktop but I found Ultramon [] to be a great little item. Its also lightweight and non obtrusive, which were two features I found lacking when I tried other desktops out.
    • by kjart ( 941720 )

      Yeah, I use Ultramon at work since I have two LCDs there. It's a great little app and makes dual monitors that much better. The two key features for me are the non-mirroring taskbars (i.e. apps open on one monitor will only show up in the taskbar for that monitor) and the button beside minimize that quickly lets you move a window from one monitor to another. Killer app.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 )
      However, it costs $40 if that matters to people who prefer free software like VirtuaWin.
  • GoScreen [] is the best virtual desktop manager that my friends and I found and use. It is not free after 30(?) days, but it is cheap and worth it. It still supports old Windows 95 to the newest (XP). Very low resources. We use it at home and work.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Another vote for GoScreen. It is rock solid, and has lots of nice features.
  • Virtuawin (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ( 742168 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @02:38AM (#16419755) Homepage

    Back in the days when I was still using windows, I used Virtuawin. It works very nicely, has a rich feature set, but ... 9 virtual desktops, each one filled with application, sometimes brought Windows to its knees ;-) []

    See also my previous post about Virtuawin an other posts in reply to an article about "Improving the Windows XP User Interface" containing other useful applications in the same line: 18218&tid=201 []

    • I wouldn't last long on a Windows desktop without VirtuaWin, myself. Highly recommended.
      Just putting another drop in the ocean, here.
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @02:49AM (#16419823)
    If you've read any reliable reports you will know that the total cost of owership of a MS-based PC is far less than a Linux one. Therefore your company should be able to afford to fit many PCs on your desk and you won't have to use virtual desktops.
  • You mean like this [] ?

    Torrent here [] . Enjoy.

  • by Mr. Gus ( 58458 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @03:27AM (#16420019) Homepage
    I haven't used any myself in quite a while, but there are alternative shells [] for windows that replace explorer (start menu et al) that are very unixy. I used to use LiteStep [], which made it seem a lot like AfterStep. I even had a theme that made it seem kinda' WindowMaker-y (though it was a bit cheesy). I'm not current, don't know what's "the best" these days, but it's a direction you might want to look in to, if you're employers will let you do it.
    • by Kris_J ( 10111 ) *
      Litestep's virtual window manager was brilliant, but installing the shell under XP is a PITA -- even piecing together the latest version of Litestep itself is a bit of a hassle. I really should archive off the Litestep directory from my old 98SE laptop.
      • by hwolfe ( 531 )
        I used to love Litestep, then development slowed, and I held off on upgrading. When I decided to try and upgrade with a new installer, it just hosed my old setup, overwritting my rc files.
      • by WgT2 ( 591074 )

        The only PITA about installing it that I found was practically not finding the installer!

        But, I just stopped using it this week because I enabled the X-Mouse feature of 'focus-follows mouse' (via TweakUI) and that didn't didn't play well with the Lite-Step's (or the default theme somehow?) menus.

        But the great news is that this post showed up the next day after I installed MS's powertoy desktop imitater.

      • by syukton ( 256348 )
        Litestep is a modular shell composed of many DLLs. There are multiple VWMs available for Litestep, with ckVWM and rabidVWM coming immediately to mind. I use rabidVWM myself, as it has native support for iconified windows in the VWM display (each window is a miniature picture of what the actual window looks like). I run a 2x2 VWM using a heavily modified austerity (the default) theme. I am working on creating a new theme that meets all of my needs, which is something I highly encourage all users of LiteStep
    • by 15Bit ( 940730 )
      I used litestep for several years on NT4 and Win2K, and whilst i haven't tried recent incarnations of it on WinXP i'd definitely recommend it based on my experience.

      I'm not sure what the current state of the litestep community is like - it seemed to undergo some sort of implosion a few years back, and the main litestep sites closed up shop. Was kinda sad, given how well the shell worked. Anyone here know how things are currently?

    • I use LiteStep some two years and like it, although it has some bugs. The most serious for me is the infamous "lost windows" one (the window gets somewhere out of the viewable area and it's impossible to get it back - you need the DeskLite [] utility for that).

      Otherwise, it's lightweight, nice, clean, customizable and there's quite a lot of themes available.
      Just my $0.02.
  • ...what is it about the Powertoy that DOESN'T suit your needs?

    Note: Having Microsoft's name attached doesn't count.

    • by myc_lykaon ( 645662 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @05:38AM (#16420745)
      I have use it constantly (at work) for the last 2 years.

      1) It's slow, very slow.
      2) Dialogs (such as VS.NET pops up a dialog when a file has changed) pop up on the visible screen, not on the screen occupied by the parent. You can waste time wondering why your app appears to have locked up - it's just waiting for you to clear a dialog on another desktop.
      3) MS Excel looses all it's toolbars if you flip between virtual desktops.
      4) Some apps don't behave well to being switched and the window contents 'slide' down inside their container.
      5) If an app on one of the other desktops wanders off into the long grass and consumes lots of CPU, it's the devils own job to switch desktops. I find after starting using MSVDM I use taskmgr much more frequently.

      That said, it's definately the best of a bad bunch.

      • #2 happens to me all the time. There also isn't an easy way to move apps between virtual desktops, but I've learned to live with it.

        On OS/2, I use the virtual desktop utility that came bundled with Hummingbird eXceed, and it seems to be much more "conventional" with an X x Y pane panel (I use 2x2) and the ability to drag apps between desktops using the mini window images. Maybe I need to get a copy of eXceed for Windows? :-)
      • by WgT2 ( 591074 )

        Is that after having also tried VirtuaWin? I just installed it yesterday at the end of my shift and don't have any millage on it. I had installed Virt-Dimension just before that but found it to be very clumsy.

        One thing I do not like about MS's offering is the difficulty of isolating a window to a desktop and the lack of a sticky feature. Which basically equals individual window-to-desktop management.

    • by commadore_sponsz ( 995989 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @05:44AM (#16420771)
      I'm using it at the moment and, whilst it does give you virtual desktops, it has its problems:
      • I have yet to find a way to send windows to another desktop - they stay where you open them. This can lead to dialogue boxes on a different desktop to it's parent program.
      • Some programs don't get on well with it, Excel 2003 loses the tool bars and one of our in-house apps hangs if you change desktop.
      • If a program freezes it will lock things up when you try and change desktop - ctrl-alt-del is the only way I've found to get round this and killing the stuck process can kill explorer and bring everything back to destop 1.
      • It can be slow to change desktops and will often re-arrange the order of windows and their buttons on the task bar when you return to a desktop.
      It's better than no vrtual desktops but not by much. However, it does have the virtue of not showing up on our internal software audit scans as a verboten software install.
      • by hwolfe ( 531 )
        The first one is rather obvious. Switch, momentarily, to shared desktops, alt-tab to the app you want on the current desktop, then turn off shared desktops.

        I agree that the 2nd is a problem. I had that issue with Access, when working with it for a database class. Odd that these particular MS products don't work well together.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Yep, that does work but it's a long winded way of doing something I am used to doing with two mouse clicks in X. A menu item of 'Send to Desktop [n]' is what I call rather obvious, this I call an obscure workround, but that's semantics for you.
  • []

    I have used this for more years than I care to remember (more than 10). It is the second thing to get installed on any Windows system that I have to use. Immediately after GoBack.

  • quite simple, but does the job. i've been rummaging through various multiple desktop environments for windows for years, and have come back to desktop twister regularly.

    download: ip []
  • Free for personal use last time I used it. []
    • I highly recommend this software. I use it every day and it is the least flaky of all of the virtual desktop programs I have used. It's loads more configurable than the downloadable MS tool, for instance you can set it up to switch desktops with a key combination.
    • dexpot is really an effective solution, I'm using it over a year and never crashed or stumbled under the heavy load of 4 desktops full of applications running. Besides its freeware !!
  • Odd... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Mr. Samuel ( 950418 )
    I've always considered Windows itself a virtual desktop.
  • by SpiritOfGrandeur ( 686449 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @06:11AM (#16420885)
    I currently use bbLean []. It has not been updated in awhile but it is reliable.
  • []
    Granted it's not been updated for almost a year now, but I use it at work for the very same reason. I use the edge flipping and mousewheel plugins with the pager so I have a lot of flexibility in how I move from desktop to desktop. It gives me Unix like interface and with Cygwin (which also has an option to run X windows but I've not played with it much) augmenting my command line, I'm almost happy with it.
    I've used various Blackbox for Windows branches, and xoblite seems to be the
  • Do what I do whenever they stick a Windows-machine in my face. Get a second machine running Linux to do all the real work; and use the Windows-machine only for those programs for which there is no easy alternative.

    I've had a machine to run only Outlook that way, and now I have one that's dedicated to compiling code that I edit and do version control with on my Linux laptop. The laptop runs Samba, and the compiler has to get the source over CIFS.

  • Wiki Article (Score:4, Informative)

    by Corbets ( 169101 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:26AM (#16421265) Homepage
    i figured someone would save me the trouble of posting this, but an hour or so later, no one has.... so here you go. []

    They list a bunch of alternatives on there. I hooked a friend up with Dextop, it works pretty slick.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    its supposed to be a shell replacement but you can just use the virtual desktop part []
  • Vern (Score:3, Informative)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @08:17AM (#16421511) Journal
    Vern []
  • Try [] it's very good
  • So rather than page through your individual applications, you want to page through 'desktops' showing your applications already maximized?

    Virtual desktops are so early 90s.
    • No, I generally don't use maximized windows for a lot of things. What I want are sets of Windows. If I'm programming I generally have an 2 xterms (one for compiling the other for running tests, and sometimes a 3rd for debugging) and emacs open on one desktop. If I'm image editing I have all of GIMP's windows open on another. If I'm browsing the web then I do have a maximized copy of the browser open. When I switch between desktops I want to switch between a WORKSPACE (which may well have lots of progra
    • by Chirs ( 87576 )
      No, you can combine virtual desktops and non-maximized apps. I use it to group my windows by function.

      Currently I have the following desktops open on my linux box:

      1: shell, web browser
      2: IM client, shell, two special-purpose web browser windows
      3: 2 shells, 2 editor windows for ppc development
      4: shell, irc client for lab testing
      5: shell, 10 editor windows for x86 development
      6: email, calendar, shell
      7: vmware, shell
      8: remote shell for code submission

      Why would I want to put them all in one desktop when I don'
    • Maximized applications are so early 90s.

      Normally I will have a dozen Firefox windows (each with a dozen tabs, so don't bother suggesting tabs) and three dozen xterms. Often I will also have several PDFs open, a couple spreadsheets, and an image editor.

      So, how usable is your taskbar with 60 apps running?

  • I've been using Multidesk [] (or possibly Mutidesk2001 [] - I don't have my work machine to hand to check) for years now, long before the PowerToy came out. It gives you:
    • up to nine desktops (MSVDM only gives you four)
    • hot keys to switch desktops
    • a workable, if inelegant, mechanism to move windows between desktops

    It's by no means flawless, though - it's freeware, but not Free; and the code is old, having not been updated since Win98 days. But my Windows days at work would be vastly more painful without it.

    I will be

  • BossKey (Score:2, Informative)

    by erykjj ( 213892 )
    10 desktops, lightweight, free, portable, allows window exclusion - works great []
  • I've used something called XDesk [] for quite a while on my remaining windows machine. Before settling on that, I tried just about every one I could find and felt this handled just about everything better than the others.

    I do turn some of the "bells and whistles" off. For example, I really don't need to see representations of the individual windows. From my point of view, that usually just gets in the way.

    I believe the purchase provided updates for one year. Since I really don't use windows all that much

    • by MagicM ( 85041 )
      I second XDesk. Both the app and the website look and feel like they were created in the 80s, but I could not find a better virtual desktop manager that gives me a pop-up preview window of my desktops.

      If you just want to switch between desktops using hotkeys and nothing else, then you could probably do with something less bloated. But otherwise, give XDesk a try. They have a free trial.
  • I use SDesk [] even though it's "closed as of 2000" whatever that means. This is exactly like the FVWM desktop switcher and I've mapped ctrl-arrow key combinations to move around, just like on my Linux system. It's GPLed, so you can theoretically modify it if you want. It's written in Delphi?? I don't even know what that is.

    My only complaint is that SDesk seems to take a really low process priority. So that when an application is busy, it's difficult to change desktops. In practice, this doesn't seem

    • Yaah, another sDesk fan!! Yes, sDesk is the best pager I have ever used.

      I like that I can drag around the windows directly from the Visual Pager, which is a graphical representation of all the open windows. You can customize it to have a lot of windows (I'm using 24 currently).

  • I use altdesk and I'm very happy with it. I've been using it for about a year and a half since entering the financial software dev world. I was all Linux and Macs until then. Now I'm all Linux and Macs at home and all Windows and Linux in the office. My entire setup is actually kinda neat. I hide the desktop icons, use cygwin, but with a putty shell interface (search for puttycyg), aquadock (an apple style launcher) and altdesk. Combine that with iTunes and Firefox and you won't really mind windows so much
  • []

    Very easy to move apps from one VD to another. You can also make them sticky.
    Customizable keyboard shortcuts for moving between windows as well as other
    process/.exe-specific handling if you desire.

    I've been using it for at least 5 years. There's a try-before-you-by period,
    cost is $25.

    Best feature -- it's FAST.

  • It's not well-known, and we haven't hacked on it since 2001, but it works pretty well as is. And it's GPL. It requires no installation, and the zip file is only 117kB.

    The sourceforge page has since lasped, but here's the last version we released (with source): []. Try it out; if someone wants to do more with the code, by all means.

  • From Enable Software at [] Works pretty much just like an X11 desktop pager, you can drag apps from window to window and they behave as expected. It also has a set of 'rules' that you can implement to handle apps that don't play nice. I have been using this software for 8 years now, it just works.
  • You mean for games right?

    Run X11 and use Terminal Services to connect to your Windows servers for anything you could ever want to do (except games).
  • What is the standard X11 pager?
  • If you can get your hands on the windows nt resourse kit, there's a utility called VDesk.exe. One of the best desktop managers I've come across. Maintains separate login sessions for each desktop. 12 desktops maximum. Only annoyance: cannot change the hotkey - linked to CTRL+Fn. Best feature: hooks into the virtual screen, so xp terminal services mode does not work. Bliss :)
  • It might not work if the group policy makes your box essentially a dummy terminal or wipes a lot of settings, but replacing your shell with litestep has always been my choice if I needed virtual desktops, as it has some themes that can look pretty much like your favorite *nix windowmanager. [] should have all the stuff necessary for litestep's needs.

  • I have used x-desk 1.4 which I liked because it was lightweight and seem to have a fast refresh when switching (it also normally kept the windows in the taskbar in the same order which some virtual desktop programs have problems with). Development was halted, so it's kinda dead, but it still works great: op/Virtual_Desktop_Managers/X_Desk.html [] Suggest you change the default to "alt-arrow" for changing desktops.
  • by xate ( 784379 )
    Free apps are everywhere. google it
  • By far the best one I've used is calll Virtual Dimension. I can set it up to behave just like GNOME, with CTRL + ALT + RIGHT to move to the desk at the right, and CTRL + ALT + LEFT to move left. One can also drag and drop icons from desk to desk, or make a window appear on all desks. It's also integrated into Window's shell.
    Check it out: []
  • Which of these various virtual desktop systems hide windows NOT on the current taskbar?

    I have KDE and GNOME both set up to do that. If I'm on desktop 2, I don't want to see the window entries from desktop 1.
  • JSPager. It used to be located here: []

    Unfortunately, it's gone. It was the best windows virtual desktop pager I've found. Very simple and lightweight, and none of the fluffy bloated options on any of the other ones. Completely configurable too. If you manage to find it, post the link here, I've been looking for it.
  • You can get a free trial, and this works better than the NVidea solution. You can even make your desktop look like your favorite Linux flavor.
  • Kinda surprised nobody has mentioned this...

    If you've got an ATI card, you should try Hydravision. It will allow you to set up multiple virtual desktops and has a pager...

    If you don't have an ATI card it might even still work (it doesn't seem to be hooked into the ATI drivers). More info on ATI's site [].
  • I recommend the Litestep alternative shell. Please see the comment I wrote to another commenter here [] for details about installers, upgrades, and a little bit of recent news on development.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"