How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: How Do You Take Advantage Of Virtual Desktops?

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Whether you use one monitor or three, it can be quite useful to extend the reaches of your desktop beyond the physical space your monitor(s) allow with a virtual desktop. This week we’re interested in hearing all about how you deploy and use virtual desktop tools.

Image from the How to Get Virtual Desktops on Windows with Dexpot.

What virtual desktop tools do you use? Are there specific features that set them apart from other apps? More importantly, once you have the extra virtual desktop space to spread out in, what do you do with it? Separate work from play? Multiple the work? However you use virtual desktops, we want to hear about it.

Leave your best tips and tricks in the comments below and then check back in on Friday for the What You Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/2/12

Comments (23)

  1. Rob

    Nope, and I don’t really understand why some people like it so much.

    Maybe i’m doing it wrong, but i’ve got my trusty old pal alt+tab by my side.

  2. metril

    I use Actual Window Manager. It has the ability to create grids and have virtual desktops at the same time. I usually have several PuTTY sessions open, so I give those their own virtual desktop. So, as soon as I open a session, it’s immediately organized by the session name. No need for any PuTTY managers with this.

    I usually have anywhere from 10 to 30 windows opened; whether it be same program or different programs. So, it’s very helpful to have my taskbar change to reflect the virtual desktop I’m on and only reflect the immediately accessible open windows. Of course, I keep my Windows taskbar universal and have it show me everything.

  3. Phoenix713

    I can’t live without it. I separate different things on each desktop. One can have my browser open and other web things, another will have my code, a third will have music, and so on. Makes it easy to switch between tasks.

  4. Arston

    Does it work well with multiple screens?

  5. Najmur.Rahman.Sabbir

    ViRtuAl DeSkt0p SofT AlwaYs a co0l aNd fuN thiNg. iT aLways giVe POwer tO thE usEr whEt tHe usEr cAn’t dO in a singel PC. :)

  6. Najmur.Rahman.Sabbir

    @Arston/ iTs depEnd on YoUr pC conFig. eXample whEn i rUn autoDesK mAyA in 1 V.DesKtop and oTher V.desKtop adoBe PS and otHer V.DesKtop FlasH iT gOing tO hanG. cOz i usE onlY 2GB RAM.

    buT V.deSktop iS usEful foR separatE YouR deSktop Icon. LiKe Phoenix713 say.

  7. KatsumeBlisk

    I use them sort of like multiple monitors. I’ll keep certain things open so that I don’t have to minimize to switch documents. Alt+Tab is good if you only have 2 things, but when it’s more than that, workspaces are much better. Plus, I can multitask like others have said.

  8. Brandon

    I’ve been partial to Sysinternals ‘Desktops’ –

    The article/guide on Dexpot already highlights an increased functionality and features that are not offered by Sysinternals. The only downfall to Sysinternals Desktops, is when multiple instances of IE are deployed in any other virtual desktop, it tends to become unresponsive. I notice the problem with heavily Java scripted web pages. Running IE on the ‘primary’ (1) desktop seems to work just fine. Applications, remote desktops and other windows belong to the other desktops.

    My line of work requires about 20 applications/windows open with only 17″ triple monitor configuration. It becomes difficult to organize and sort the windows based by task. Not to mention how thick the taskbar becomes, which starts to take up valuable monitor space.

    Just to give you an idea – 5 VMware console windows, 5 web browsers, ITSM, Active Directory, Exchange Management Console, MS Access, OneNote, Outlook, Word, Excel, CAD, Windows Explorer, and a variety of remote desktops for just 3 monitors and a single taskbar. Taskbars are a separate topic!

    No matter how I layer each window for each monitor, at times I find myself lost, aimlessly clicking. Virtual desktops are must have tool in the work of IT, especially when you simultaneously support 17 different client environments. Staying organized is crucial to staying productive and on top of things.

    I’ll give Dexpot a try; it seems promising! Cheers HTG!

  9. Kodess

    I have something called Windows, every program has its own window and you can minimize a window.
    I dont see the need for another desktop, thus hiding my open applications.
    I have 2 monitors, everything I have open I can see.

  10. Citrus Rain

    I use it to keep windows opened according to the tasks I am doing. I love using Gnome 3’s dynamic count of virtual desktops. Never have any I don’t need, (and added a window switcher plugin so I can switch windows faster)

    Currently, I’ve been having it like this:
    Desktop 1: Minecraft, Chromium(Google+, Minecraft Wiki)
    Desktop 2: Bluefish, Filezilla, Chromium(Google+, site I’m working on, phpMyAdmin page I’m working on, and code lookups)
    Desktop 3: Google+, Psi, Shutter

  11. Alex Thorp

    I use Dexpot to manage virtual desktops on win7.
    Desktop1 has all of my normal stuff.
    Desktop2 has a centos virtual machine running in VMware Player. This is running lots of server stuff, and works as a testbed.
    Desktop3 has a second virtual machine. Usually windows server 2003/2008.
    Desktop4 might have another virtual machine, or if the taskbar on my first desktop is too full, I might have visual studio, or other applications running there.
    I have ctrl+shift+[1-4] to switch between them.
    And people laugh when I say I’m ready to get upgrade 8gb of ram to 16gb.

  12. Prasad Kumar

    Virtual Desktops keeps my desktop clean. It is actually very productive. Nearly all Linux distributions provide Virtual Desktops. I use separate desktops for browsing & chatting, for my document editing and while working with gimp. Switching through ALT+tab can be quite painful sometimes when there are a lot of applications opened up. In Windows I use cube desktop.

  13. JP

    Desktops from SysInternals, the same guys that created PSTools (Mark Russinovich & Bryce Cogswell).

    Desktop 1 is for Outlook, IE with work apps, and current working projects. Desktop 2 is FireFox with Gmail, GReader, & GNews & music player (hidden personal space). Only get into Desktop 3 & 4 if I get a specific project that I need to focus on without cluttering my main vDesktop space.

    I can quickly get several projects and issues going on at one time and before I can do anything about it I have 30 windows, trying to sort out which window is doing what. vDesktops keeps my work more organized and compartmentalized. Alt+1, 2, 3, 4 to switch.

    Other reason I keep Desktops and not run a different vDesktop app is the name is innocuous. A security scan of running apps on my pc Desktops would not draw any red flags.

  14. christopher (@twistedxtian)

    I use multiple monitors for productivity purposes. One desktop has all my work stuff on it, another my “time-suck” stuff. It’s the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind.” And while not completely the case, it does serve to keep me from constant distraction when I need to get some work done.

  15. BigSean76

    I`m with Kodess on this one. Have never worked out why you would want it? Maybe this thread will tell me why? I used xp mode for a while when 7 was new but soon managed to get other software that worked on 7.

  16. jay

    testing out ff7 mods from qhimm

  17. marein

    I use Windows Virtual PC for older software that will not run properly on 7

  18. bemymonkey

    Dexpot FTW!

    #1: Misc stuff (browsers, Notepad++, Keepass, Matlab)
    #2: Uni stuff (PDFs and specialized programs)
    #3: Android development
    #4: Audio/Video/Imaging

  19. Alvin Sim

    I use VirtualWin

    Desktop 1: Normal stuff – Web Browser, IM, Outlook, and other non-work related applications
    Desktop 2: Work related applications – Eclipse, putty, Notepad++, SQLDeveloper, Web Browser for testing
    Desktop 3: Virtual Machines
    Desktop 4: Applications used to connect to production servers

  20. Ashiq

    I am so new to this, Going to try Dexpot

  21. Ascssmith

    I’m using Dexpot and it is awesome, I have all (4) windows setup so that when I launch a certain application it opens only on that window…

  22. Merlin

    I used Dekspot for a while, and some other similar progs.
    A nice one was Yod’m 3D which used to be freeware. It has 4 virtual desktops which are on the sides of a ‘cube’.
    Now I use AltDesk. It has a desktop-bar in which I can see the icons of the programs that are running on either virtual desktop (VD). A click on one of the icons and I’m right where I want to be. A hotkey will also bring me to the desired VD. The desktop-bar can be put anywhere on the screen and can be used horizontal or vertical.
    The icons can be dragged to another VD or moved all together to one VD. They can be hidden and restored and so on.

    Most of the time I use:
    one VD for my e-mail client
    one VD for my programming environment
    one VD for my filemanager (no, not the windoze explorer)
    one VD for my browser
    one VD for some miscelanious stuff.

    Yes Windoze has this magical key-combination of Alt-Tab, but I find it more pleasant to have only a few windows on a desktop.
    There is also the little brother of the above mentioned ‘Actual Windows Manager’, called ‘Actual Windows Menu’. I have that one too.
    It is quite handy for rolling up or down a window or for making a window ghosty so it is allways visible, but it doesn’t catch the mouseclicks. They go to the window behind the ghosted window.
    But I only use that for small informative windows which I need to have in view constantly.

  23. mikmik

    My Radeon 6670 has Catalyst control Center which contains the most complete and configurable desktop manager I’ve ever heard of. I can set color/gamma/sharpness/everything separate for as many different desktops, show or not the task bar, extend wallpaper or not, grids, assign apps to desktops.
    It does everything I’ve ever heard of a manager doing and I didn’t know I had it.
    I’m sure that almost everyone with a video card has this already, or can download free from ATI or nVidia.

    I’m interested to hear about this from others.

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