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The Best Free Programs for Using Virtual Desktops in Windows

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If you often open a lot of applications at once, a virtual desktop program can help you keep all those windows on your desktop organized. A virtual desktop program allows you to put open applications into separate virtual desktops, cutting down on your desktop clutter.

We’ve collected links to and information about several free virtual desktop managers you can use to organize your Windows desktop.

Dexpot

Dexpot is a free (for personal use) virtual desktop manager that allows you to organize open programs on your desktop using up to 20 separate virtual desktops. You can set rules that determine on which desktops applications end up when launched. Each desktop can have its own wallpaper and screen resolution, as well. Navigation among the desktops is easy and Dexpot provides multiple ways to do this, including keyboard shortcuts, small thumbnails of your active desktops, and a full-screen preview of all desktops.

You can also extend the functionality of Dexpot using plugins.

For more information about using Dexpot, see our article.

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Yet an other Desktop Manager 3D (Yod’m 3D)

Yod’m 3D  is a virtual desktop manager for Windows that offers a cube-style desktop switching feature. You can customize the background of the cube and the command used to rotate the cube and you can choose to run Yod’m 3D when Windows starts. Yod’m 3D does not need to be installed. Simply run the program and access the options from the system tray icon popup menu.

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Virtual Dimension

Virtual Dimension is a free, fast virtual desktop manager for Windows with a lot of useful features. It allows you to have an unlimited number of desktops and to set different settings, such as wallpaper, desktop background color, and name, for each desktop. You can also move a window to a different desktop and have specific windows be available on all desktops. The hotkeys for operating the program are also customizable.

Other useful features of Virtual Dimension include the ability to make any window be “always on top,” minimize any window to the system tray, and the ability to use drag-and-drop to move a window to another desktop.

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VirtuaWin

VirtuaWin is a free virtual desktop manager for Windows that allows you to organize your applications onto four virtual desktops, or “workspaces.” It is highly customizable and extensible. VirtuaWin allows you to customize settings for each desktop separately, including the wallpaper and which icons on each desktop are enabled and disabled. You can also move windows to different desktops and select windows to always show on all desktops.

VirtuaWin is extensible using their large library of plugins or modules, including one that allows you to track how much time you spend in each virtual desktop. This could be useful if you use a different desktop for each project you are working on. You can also download additional icon sets to replace the default taskbar icon set.

VirtuaWin is also available in a portable version that allows you to easily use it on multiple computers.

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nSpaces

nSpaces allows you to use multiple virtual desktops in Windows in which you can have different applications open. You can name each desktop; the names are shown on the space switcher. Each virtual desktop can have a custom wallpaper or background image and a password to protect your space. nSpaces has customizable hotkeys for each desktop you create. You can also drag and drop applications into each virtual desktop on the space switcher.

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Finestra Virtual Desktops

Finestra is an easy-to-use virtual desktop manager for Windows that allows you to set up an unlimited number of desktops only limited by the amount of memory in your computer. The program uses thumbnail window previews in Windows 7 and Vista (Finestra also works in XP) to provide full-screen previews of all your desktops in the window manager/switcher. You can use the number keys on the number pad for up to 9 of your desktops, as well as hotkeys for sending windows to other desktops.

Other useful features include multiple monitor support, a system tray icon with a menu containing items for every desktop, an option to have one system tray icon per desktop, sticky windows that display on all desktops, a different background in each desktop, and rules for locking programs onto desktops.

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Tri-Desk-A-Top

Tri-Desk-A-Top is a free virtual desktop manager for Windows that provides three virtual desktops activated using system tray icons or pre-defined hotkeys. Each desktop can be accessed using a small, numbered icon on the system tray. You can also cycle through the desktops using hotkeys and move open application windows to different desktops. When you select a window on the currently active desktop, additional options are available, including Minimize, Maximize, Restore, Bring to Front, Close, and Kill.

Tri-Desk-A-Top requires Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 or later to install and run. If the .NET Framework is not installed on your computer, the installation process opens a browser to the Microsoft website where you can download and install it.

The Tri-Desk-A-Top website provides additional information about available hotkeys for navigating and moving windows among the three desktops.

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mDesktop

mDesktop is a lightweight virtual desktop manager for Windows that provides up to 10 virtual desktops to organize your open applications and folders. You can use hotkeys to navigate among the desktops, move windows among the desktops, and specify certain open programs or folders to be available on all desktops. It’s a portable program that does not need to be installed. Simply run the program and right-click on the system tray icon to access the desktops and options for the program. You can also hide the system tray icon.

For more information about using mDesktop, see our article.

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Xilisoft Multiple Desktops

Xilisoft Multiple Desktops is a free virtual desktop manager for Windows that allows you to create up to nine multiple desktops and switch among them using customizable hotkeys, numbers keys, or mouse clicks. You can also arrange the desktops on a virtual screen and protect each desktop with a password.

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Screen-It

Screen-It is a free, simple virtual desktop program for 32-bit Windows systems that allows you to have two virtual desktops to group your open programs. You can also launch programs automatically when Screen-It starts into a new virtual desktop using Screen-It’s Job Maker tool.

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If you’ve found other useful virtual desktop programs, let us know.

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 12/8/12

Comments (15)

  1. Claude LaFrenière

    Hi

    An other one but only for ATI Radeon graphic cards:

    HydraVision: http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/hydravision.aspx

    :)

  2. trm96

    I used to use Dexpot all the time.

  3. RA

    There’s also Microsoft Sysinternals desktops:
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/cc817881

  4. Tulitanssi

    Thanks Lori for a great overview about virtual desktops.

  5. TechnoGeek

    I haven’t used Dexpot actively for a while, but it’s always what I start up when I need to work on several separate projects simultaneously

  6. Dark Reality

    Dexpot is amazing, but it takes a bit of work to get set up how I like (essentially, how Linux has it). The others I’ve tried all come up short.

  7. JahPickney

    I use Dexpot all the time. I’ve had a couple issues with eye-candy features, otherwise it works great. I easily got it set up just like my Linux box.

  8. DW

    Hm? I see the “Virtual Desktop Manager” by M$ was left out, the first and only one I have used for the past decade on XP machiens. One of the few things M$ actually got right!

  9. Seban

    VirtuaWin can handle up to 20 virtual desktops, not just 4 as mentioned in the description.

  10. Gabriel M A

    VirtualWin is kinda rustic in it’s look, but it’s very, very flexible. It would be nice to have a feature comparison, you know…

  11. dwn

    I’ve been wondering why this hasn’t been introduced natively in Windows when its been in Linux et all for ages? Don’t these guys just rip off each others best stuff and deal with the lawsuits later?

  12. Bill

    My issue is with multiple monitors and the feature Eyefinity on my video card. Eyefinity is a bit frustrating because, with three monitors, it doesn’t allow good control (at least I haven’t found a way) to assign the primary desktop to the center monitor. To work around this, I use two settings: one I call Desktop and one Eyefinity. I use Eyefinity for gaming and all other work on the three desktops. That way, I can have source code open on one screen, browsers to test on another and a window either into my server or a TV app on the third. Was thinking I’d try one of these. Anyone have similar issues??

  13. Roman Berry

    Can’t believe that Sysinternals Desktops isn’t on the list here. Nothing fancy. Just works.

  14. boral

    I installed nSpace. Switched to a particular desktop and everything went wrong. I can’t exit the application nor windows task manager is working. I have to force shutdown my laptop.
    Don’t know why this happened to me. Please beware when you use this application.

    Dexpot works well.

  15. ... but you can call me AL

    Maybe it’s me, but does anyone else think Microsoft seriously dropped the ball here?

    Utilities like virtual desktop clients really just allow more “windows” to be open in a way that makes sense to the user rather than just cramming everything into a task bar.

    Not having virtual desktops in Windows is a bit like trying to talk to someone with only one walkie-talkie between the two of you. If you’re scratching your head and asking “what the heck?” then, point made. (Why the heck doesn’t Microsoft have a virtual desktop utility built in to Windows?)

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