Use a Free Utility to Create Multiple Virtual Desktops in Windows

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If you’ve used Linux, you’re probably familiar with the virtual desktop feature. It provides a convenient way to organize programs and folders open on your desktop. You can switch among multiple desktops and have different programs and folders open on each one.

However, virtual desktops is a feature missing in Windows. There are many third-party options for adding virtual desktops to Windows, including one called Dexpot, which we have covered previously. Dexpot is free, but only for private use. Companies, public institutions, non-profit organizations, and even freelancers and self-employed people must buy the program.

We found another virtual desktop tool that is completely free for everyone to use, called mDesktop. It’s a lightweight, open source program that allows you to switch among multiple desktops using hot keys and specify open programs or folders to be active on all desktops. You can use mDesktop to group related programs or to work on different projects on separate desktops.

mDesktop is portable and does not need to be installed. Simply extract the .zip file you downloaded (see the link at the end of this article) and double-click the mDesktop.exe file.

NOTE: There is a release version available (1.5) and a beta version of 1.6 available, which has more features available. We downloaded the beta version and show that version in this article.

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mDesktop runs in the system tray. Right-clicking on the tray icon brings up a popup menu that allows you to switch desktops, access the settings, and hide the system tray icon. The default method of switching among the desktops is to hold down the Alt key and press the number for the desired desktop. By default, there are four desktops available.

To specify the number of desktops and change the hot keys for switching desktops and sending open programs to other desktops, select Settings from the popup menu.

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The General tab on the Settings dialog box allows you to change the number of available desktops, up to a maximum of 10. There is also a customizable hot key to unhide the mDesktop system tray icon, in case you chose to hide it using the icons popup menu.

The To switch directly to a desktop drop-down list allows you to specify whether to use the Alt, Ctrl, or Shift key with the desktop number to directly switch to that desktop.

Use the To switch to the next desktop and To switch to the previous desktop drop-down lists to specify whether to use the Ctrl key, Shift key, or Alt key with the Right and Left Arrow keys to switch to the next and previous desktops.

If you want a specific program to be available on all desktops, you can specify a hot key combination that allows you to do this, using the To send an active window to a desktop drop-down list.

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The Desktop Names tab allows you to assign names to each of the available desktops. These names display on the popup menu accessed from the mDesktop system tray icon.

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The Windows tab allows you to specify open programs or folders that you want available on all desktops. To add a program or folder to this list, click Add.

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Enter part of the window title for the program or folder you want to show on all desktops in the edit box and click OK.

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The window name displays in the list.

NOTE: The Select button allows you to click on a window to add it to the list, but, as of the writing of this article, this doesn’t seem to work in the beta version.

To remove a window from this list, select the window name and click Delete.

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To stop using virtual desktops, right-click on the system tray icon and select Exit. Any programs or folders you had open on desktops other than the first one are moved to the first desktop.

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mDesktop works in the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7, Vista, and XP.

Download mDesktop from http://code.google.com/p/mdesktop/.

Lori Kaufman is a 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.