Using the Windows desktop involves managing windows. Some people may use full-screen windows all the time, but power users know that the key to being productive is having multiple windows visible at a time, whether you’re using multiple monitors or the side-by-side Aero Snap feature in Windows.
Sadly, the Windows desktop still lacks many useful window-management features found on other operating systems, and Microsoft is more interested in playing with their new “Modern” toys than working on the old Windows desktop. However, you can get many great new Windows desktop features by installing third-party utilities.
Always On Top Maker
Microsoft hasn’t yet added a “stay on top” option to Windows. Some programs — the VLC media player, for example — have built in “always on top” features, but most programs don’t.
The simplest way to make windows always on top is with Always On Top Maker. It’s a tiny program that will run in the background without cluttering your system tray or context menus. When you want a window to be always-on-top, all you have to do is press Ctrl+Alt+T. If you want it running all the time, just drop it in your Windows Startup folder and it will start in the background when you boot your computer.
We have previously reviewed several other options to make selected windows stay on top in Windows.
Dexpot – Virtual Desktops for Windows
Virtual desktops are a killer feature found on the Linux desktop. They’ve also made their way to Apple’s Mac OS X in the form of “Spaces.” Microsoft has played with the idea, offering a virtual desktop PowerToy for Windows XP, but has never integrated virtual desktops into Windows.
Virtual desktops allow you to arrange your open windows into different spaces. For example, you could have one desktop with your work applications and another desktop for your personal applications. This keeps your open windows logically grouped and allows you to quickly switch between different activities without restoring and minimizing a variety of windows — just switch desktops.
The best virtual desktop utility we’ve found is Dexpot, which is free for personal use. It’s packed with a variety of features, but it generally just works well with the taskbar found in Windows 7 and Windows 8. Dexpot allows you to switch between virtual desktops with a few clicks or keyboard shortcuts, open a full-screen preview of your virtual desktops where you can drag windows around to rearrange them, and more.
Switcher – Exposé for Windows
The Exposé feature was introduced on the Mac in 2003. It allows you to view all your open windows as small thumbnails, giving you the ability to see all open windows on a single screen and easily switch between them. It’s never made its way officially to Windows — Microsoft instead introduced the silly Flip3D tech demo as a feature in Windows Vista.
Luckily, a Microsoft employee created an unofficial tool that brings something like the Exposé feature to Windows. It’s called Switcher, and it’s available for free. The Switcher page says it requires Windows Vista, but it also works with Windows 7.
By default, Switcher allows you to press Windows Key + ` to switch between your windows in this way, but you can change the keyboard shortcut to anything you like.
Winsplit Revolution – A Tiling Window Manager
Tiling window managers are more commonly found on Linux desktops. The idea behind tiling window managers is that you shouldn’t have to drag windows around with your mouse, resizing them. You should be able to easily assign windows to regions of your screen.
Winsplit Revolution brings this concept to Windows. Install it and you’ll be able to quickly arrange windows on your screen with a keyboard shortcut. For example, Ctrl+Alt+Number pad 1 will assign a window to the bottom-left corner of your screen while Ctrl+Alt+Number pad 9 will assign a window to the top-right corner of your screen. This makes arranging multiple windows on your screen much faster.
Close All – Close All Open Windows
When you’re done with what you’re doing, you may have a desktop cluttered with windows from many different programs. Close All is the fastest way to close all open windows — click this program’s shortcut and it will send the close signal to all open windows.
This utility doesn’t run in the background or take any memory as it doesn’t need to run all the time — only when you click it. You can even tweak its settings so that it won’t automatically close certain windows, leaving important windows open and quickly closing unimportant ones. It will leave background programs like the ones in your system tray alone, only closing open windows on your desktop.
Any open programs should prompt you to save your unsaved work if you haven’t already. However, there are many programs out there and a badly behaved program may not prompt you, so be careful.
Do you use any other useful window-management utilities? Leave a comment and share them!
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