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multiple desktopsOne thing that I’ve always had a difficult time dealing with is desktop real estate. For those of you that remember Windows 3.1, I used to square off as many windows as small as I could get them so that I could stuff as many applications as possible onto the screen. With Windows 95 and beyond, that whole concept of stuffing as much onto the screen as possible disappeared.

While it’s nice that you can ALT-tab your way through as many open applications as you like, it would still be nice to have areas of the desktop set aside for specific display tasks – like the clock, weather, mail and so on.


Well, there is a power tool from Windows SysInternals called Desktops, which lets you create three additional “virtual desktops” where you can spread out your applications as much as you like. You no longer have to pile one application on top of the other in one screen – with Desktops, you can just flow through your four desktops as if you have four computers running at once.

Setting Up Sysinternals Desktops

Once you download and set up the app, the first thing it’ll ask you to do is to configure the hotkey sequence you’ll use to switch between your four desktops. Personally, I like using Alt and numbers because it has the same sort of feel as using alt-tab, except instead of switching apps you’re moving across entire desktops. You can choose any key sequence using the combination shown in this window.

multiple desktops

That’s pretty much all there is to it – you now have four virtual desktops! Just to show you how effective such a setup can be, I’m going to show you how I laid out my four desktops so that you can see just how much more productive this app can be.

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As with just about everything that adds so much functionality, there are a few caveats. One is that some applications do not like running in multiple desktops. Windows 7 widgets are one of them, and so are a number of taskbar apps.

The best way to get around this is to make use of common apps on each desktop. For example, on my first desktop I’ve created an entire desktop full of news, weather and informational Windows 7 widgets. Whenever I want a break from work, I just flip over to Desktop 1, sit back and scan each of the scrolling headlines. If one strikes your interest, click the link and a browser will open with the full news story.

multiple desktops windows

On Desktop #2, I wanted a combination of different apps to open, all related to my various communication portals, such as Facebook, Twitter, email and of course the blog feeds of my friends. To accomplish opening all of these apps quickly, I needed an effective launcher that could launch a group of apps at once.

Shankar previously covered Launchy How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher Read More and Jimmy covered Executor Executor: A Power Program Launcher for Your Windows PC Executor: A Power Program Launcher for Your Windows PC Read More , but to really accomplish launching a whole group of apps, I had to go with a small unknown launcher called Stock Startup.  This app runs in the taskbar and lets you create a “package” of apps that you can launch at once.

multiple desktops windows

All you have to do is name a new package, and then add “profiles,” which are basically launch instructions for each application. Here, I’ve configured Facebook Desktop, Seesmic Seesmic Look: A New Free Twitter Client For The Non-Geek [Windows] Seesmic Look: A New Free Twitter Client For The Non-Geek [Windows] Read More (Twitter), RSS Bandit How RSS Bandit Can Feed You Everything You Need Online How RSS Bandit Can Feed You Everything You Need Online Read More and a few more apps to all launch at the same time.

multiple desktops windows 7

Finally, after saving this package as “screen2”, all I have to do is click on the icon in the task tray, click on “Screen2” and all of the apps that I want on Screen2 will launch.

multiple desktops windows 7

Here is my second desktop configured to display all of my communications – email, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, everything. When I want to communicate or socialize, now I just go to desktop 2 and it’s all there.

multiple desktops windows 7

Next, I added shortcuts to the administrator areas for my multiple blogs on Desktop #3. This desktop has now become my blogging workstation. When I first open the desktop, I just click these three shortcuts and I’m ready to start blogging. In between blog updates, I can switch over to desktop 1 to check out the latest news, or desktop 2 to check emails and Facebook updates.

multiple desktops

Finally, I saved Desktop #4 just for web browsing. The nice thing about having tasks that you need to concentrate or focus on apart from the desktops where your communications take place is that you aren’t distracted by new incoming emails or update alerts. You can stay on that desktop and only switch back to the others when you have the time.

It really does start to feel like you have four computers in front of you, and you can swivel your office chair over to whatever computer you need at any given moment. I really like this powertool a lot and intend to put it to even better use in the future.

Have you ever used multiple desktops on one computer? What setup do you prefer? Share your own ideas in the comments section below.

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