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How to Get Virtual Desktops on Windows XP

This guest article was written by Emma from Laptopical.com, a site covering news and reviews for laptop computers.

Virtual desktops are an excellent tool for anybody who likes to multitask. They allow the user to run multiple desktops simultaneously from any laptop or desktop computer, which you can switch between at the touch of a button. Each of these desktops can have its own background and have its own applications loaded.

I like to use it as an easy way to separate my business applications from my leisure ones. It doesn’t come standard in XP, but there is some perfectly safe and easy to use software out there that will give you up to 4 desktops to work with.

First, go to the Microsoft PowerToys download page, and select DeskMan.exe from the right side of the screen (the file it actually downloads will be called DeskmanPowertoySetup.exe).

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Then double click the file and select “Complete” install. It usually doesn’t take very long.

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Now it’s installed, so let’s test it. Go to the bottom of the screen and right click on the taskbar, then select toolbars. You’ll see there’s now an option for Desktop Manager. Click it.

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This brings up the desktop manager toolbar, which integrates with your taskbar and looks like this:

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You guessed it, each one of those four buttons corresponds to a different desktop. The green button on the left pulls up a view that previews all four and allows you to select between them. Right clicking on any of the buttons brings up some options to set different backgrounds for each desktop, or to assign shortcut keys for easy access.

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And just like that…

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You’ve got four desktops! Simply click on any of the desktops in the preview screen above to bring that one to the front. (Note there is also a way to get virtual desktops in Windows Vista, but that’s another article.)

Download Virtual Desktop Manager from microsoft.com

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/8/08

Comments (20)

  1. Martin Wildam

    Virtuawin is far better in my opinion – see http://virtuawin.sourceforge.net/

  2. Craig Farrall

    I have this installed on my computer aswell, it comes in very useful when you have a number of different things on the go all at once, nice guest post here Emma ;)

  3. Sumesh

    VirtuaWin, Dexpot and VDM are good – I’ve used it before. Not sure of Deskman – that’s one I’ll try out in future. Maybe it would be better because it comes from MS (others have problems with specific apps, for example Photoshop).

  4. Martin Wildam

    My experience with Virtuawin was either better as Deskman. Microsoft is not always implementing it best – as there are also different people working for them and I guess none of them do know all APIs and behaviours. I further doubt that Microsoft is testing a lot with 3rd-party applications.

  5. lamanary

    Where did I saw this before? O
    I really believed this feature would be standard on Vista. Linux is using this for so long! There is no doubt of it’s utility. same for copy-on-select-paste-on-middle-click.

    Nice article, though. What about vista?

  6. Jeff

    Very interesting tool. I am currently using the sysinternals tool for multiple desktops. It works alright, but seems to put a bit of a lag on my system. I will have to give all of the above programs a try to see which one I like best. Thanks Emma!

  7. bg1256

    I use Dexpot over any other utility I’ve used for Windows thus far. I’ve found it has more useful features and more customization than any of the other tools; it also works for Vista.

    Of course, it’s nothing like Compiz Fusion for Linux… but it has to do.

  8. Jayson

    I’ve used this, but stopped because it had the following issues (for me):
    1. not very reliable when using multiple monitors
    2. I use Excel a lot and would have liked to keep different instances of Excel on different ‘desktops’ but when I tried this Excel became unresponsive.

  9. jambarama

    I’ve tried a few of different windows virtual desktop managers myself. Virtual Desktop Manager from Microsoft was ok. VirtuaWin was buggy for me, and Dexpot was clunky. Far and away, my favorite has been Virtual Dimension, I use it on all my XP desktops. It is simple, lightweight, and sufficiently customizable (e.g. hotkeys).

  10. Justin

    I’ve recently started using Desktops from Sysinternals, and am finding it an interesting alternative. The primary difference is that opens up a new instance of the desktop object for each desktop. I’ve found it responsive, though it does eat up some extra memory for each desktop.
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/cc817881.aspx

  11. Jon

    Jayson, the reason it errors out is problably because Excel is a single process no matter how many Excel windows you have open. Every MS Office application works off of a single process. Open 10 word documents and you have a single WINWORD.EXE process. One document errors out and you lose the other 9. It’s a programming/design flaw from Microsoft (go figure).

  12. Grant Johnson

    Unfortunately, the Microsoft VDM power toy does not work with multiple monitors. I would highly recommend Virtual Dimension. It seems to work very nicely, at least for me.

  13. Anthony Tietjen

    I also recommend Virtual Dimension.

    Also, you should look into 3D Cubed Desktop Managers.

  14. Ferdie

    I’m looking for software whith which I can share a PC’s CPU via 4 different screens AND keyboards AND mice (bit different than the normal virtual desktop?) This way I can have 4 people + ‘console’ user working on a single pc while I only have to buy a single processor.

    I want to make use of Windows XP SP2 or 3, but would love some freeware/GNU software to facilitate the above (One such to-pay-for package is SoftXpand).
    Any ideas?

  15. Martin Wildam

    It looks like you are searching for a free alternative to Windows Terminal Server, isn’t it?

  16. Ferdie

    Sounds like a mixture between TS and virtualization of desktops. Here’s the scenario:

    Internet CafĂ© with 3 PC boxes – 2 ‘terminal servers’ if you want and an ‘admin pc’ from which the store manager take care of payments, session management, remote admin of pcs etc. The 2 TS each facilitates 6 screens, 6 keyboards and 6 mice connected to it via USB hubs and video cards. This means I can have 12 users at any one time each doing their own thing without having to provide 12 physical PCs. The driver behind this is obviously hardware cost minimization.

  17. Liam

    Nice.

    This works particularly well with remote control software (such as PC anywhere, I use TightVNC). With one remote PC in each desktop it is a really tidy way to run multiple PC’s from a single keyboard & screen. Shame it is limited to four desktops.

    It would also have been very nice to support having Nice.

    This works particularly well with remote control software (such as PC anywhere, I use TightVNC), with one remote PC in each desktop it is a really tidy way to run multiple PC’s from one keyboard screen.

    I was a little disappointed that different sets of desktop icons for each desktop. Oh well.

  18. satyendra

    hi
    plz help me in registry hacking
    & network hacking

  19. bill

    i tried Multiple Desktop from Moonvalleysoft, could not see any problem

  20. Sridhar

    hmm… not as good as GNU/Linux :)

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