Virtual Desktops in Windows 2000

The most compelling functionality of Linux over Windows, by far, is virtual desktop support. (For those unfamilar on the concept, it’s the ability to create multiple desktops with different windows on each.) When in Linux, I can keep separate desktops dedicated to e-mail, web surfing, and programming, and switch between them immediately.

Window managers for the Linux-based Gnome and KDE display thumbnails of the desktops, let you drag windows across desktops, and allow you to switch between desktops using either hotkeys or by moving the mouse across screen borders. As it turns out, only one of the 20+ third-party Windows utilities supports all of these features: Enable Virtual Desktop. Try to ignore the awful web design, and just download it. It costs $19.95 to register, but it’s worth it if you’re a Linux expatriate.

Or you could wait until Microsoft implements virtual desktops in Windows natively, which is right around the corner if these Windows Longhorn beta screenshots are to be believed (1, 2).

21 thoughts on “Virtual Desktops in Windows 2000

  1. Windows XP Professional supports virtual desktops natively (fixed at 4 though). It’s not too bad, either. Right-click on the task bar, then choose “Desktop Manager” from the “Tools” menu.

  2. I’m wondering the extent to which multiple desktops will be useful for the average user. Right now, with the various operating systems, we can switch between applications, between windows within applications, and between windows from different applications. Adding switching between different desktops with different windows from different applications, well, that’s a lot of layers to the interaction.

    Of course, the user in me says that the OS should be flexible enough to support whatever activity the user wants to use it for as long as it isn’t so flexible that it confuses the heck out of everybody.

  3. Windows XP’s virtual desktop support comes via their Powertoys add-on, which is a pretty half-hearted implementation. You can’t get thumbnail previews (except huge full-screen previews), can’t border-switch, can’t drag windows across desktops, and so on. But at least they tried.

    As far as the usefulness of virtual desktops for casual computer users, you’re probably right, Jason. It’s just an added level of complexity that most people don’t need. But if you try using virtual desktops for a week, I’d wager that most powerusers would be hooked.

    It lets me organize windows on my desktop categorically. I have separate desktops for programming, testing, e-mail and web surfing, which usually adds up to around ten windows. Sure, I could maximize/minimize the windows I need at any given moment, but hitting the appropriate hotkey (CTRL+2, for example) is much faster.

  4. God, multiple desktops make me want to die. They’re the first thing I disable on a Gnome or KDE desktop. I find multiple monitors much much useful, and with LCDs, they don’t even take up that much desk space. It’s hard enough to remember which app I want to alt-tab to, let alone which desktop.

  5. Good point Anil! Yes, multiple monitors are a godsend for productivity. Multiple desktops are nevertheless a perfectly adequate solution for anyone who doesn’t have the resources for a wall of monitors. Technically, it provides the same functionality, minus the added cost of extra screens. In any case, Linux has done a far better job of addressing the issue than Redmond has. The thing is that Gates & co target the mass market – and they have little chance of satisfying power users as long as they try to create two very different products (home & pro) from the same pool of code.

  6. Thanks for the research you did so I didn’t have to. I am happily using enable Virtual Desktop right now!

    I much prefer ONE monitor over multiple ones but mine is totatlly different use, I manage multiple machines at many locations, doesn’t help me much to have multiple monitors. Now, the multidesktop thing is very useful so I can have multiple VNC and Terminal Services open on one computer and switch a little more easily back and forth.

    Thanks again for the link.

  7. I just wish the Desktop Manager hid the programs from the taskbar from the other desktops like in Linux

  8. I sent an e-mail to the developers asking them about that feature, Nick. No response yet. By the way, is anyone having instability in Windows 2000? The program occasionally hides all the icons on the desktop, and occasionally crashes.

  9. I found another one. Doesn’t use any gui for it nor anything in the systray, just simple ctrl + (number 0-9) for 10 virtual desktops.

    There is nothing saved in the taskbar for every window, refreshes each time you change desktops.


  10. LiteStep and some other alternative Windows shells let you use multiple desktops, in addition to all of the nice great things they can do. It can be a pain to set up at first, though.

  11. Actually, there’s a freebie that has all the features that you want. Its called JS Pager, and I’ve been using it for years on several flavours of Windows. Can’t find the home page, but you can get it from

  12. The pedant in me obligates me to point out that GNOME and KDE aren’t window managers; they’re desktop environments. GNOME is usually run with Sawfish as the window manager (it used to be Enlightenment) and KDE with kwm, I think, though they might have renamed that with KDE2 or 3.

  13. I’m a developer and want to separate my test and production environments, (so that I dont accidently delete a load of important stuff).

    I’d a desktop with a big fat warning saying DANGER LIVE SERVER , then I can be happy deleting whatever I want from the test environment!

  14. I know I experience lag when I have several resource-heavy apps open at the same time. I just enabled virtual desktop on my XP Pro, and I was wondering if it would be recommended to maybe run dual processors to handle the extra usage.

  15. Hi.

    I wonder why there’s no word here about Stardock’s Control Center. Too bad, because it’s the closest one to KDE and stuff you could find for windows.

    It has an option to view your virtual screens in the windows taskbar, and that’s pretty cool (and it’s btw the only use I make out of it, along with the nice looking clock also provided ah ah).

    However, Stardock doesn’t care much about this soft (they work on useless but profitable softs as Windowblinds and stuff), and they haven’t updated it for a while, so now if you know the name of a soft as good as this one, please post.

    PS: Works great (at least for me) under any windows but if you’re using XP, best switching to classic windows display. Et voila.

    Bonsoir a tous et amusez-vous bien.

  16. a lot of the (mostly freeware and open source) alternative windows shells have VWM modules/plugins…

  17. Ever heard about XDesk.?

    It Supports Virtual Desktops, different screen resolutions and diferent icons on each desktop.

    Just the icons in the clock-tray are thesame.

    I have tried a lot of theese desktop managers, and i must say that Xdesk are the best and the one with that let you do the most configurations.

  18. ever heard of a explorer shell replacement called bb4win? it supports multiple desktops nativly, and you can grab a plugin for it called bbpager that allows graphical navigation of your workspaces. Plus, it completly replaces explorer.exe when you install it…. Best of all, it’s free, and for the most part, open scource

  19. I used Common Desktop Environment at work and found it helpful for separating projects.

    My wife and I have different ideas about desktops (she has half of the screen tied up with a screensaver that she thinks is cute). So on my new Windows machine, which is on order from Dell, I am going to do my best to give her what she wants……..

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