<firstimage=”http://www.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/screenshot_251.jpg”>The other day, I was talking to one of my friends, who is an avid Linux user. He told me that one of the Linux features he simply can’t do without is “virtual desktops”. These are multiple workspaces that allow you to divide and conquer your workload into several discrete areas, so that you don’t get a jumble of unrelated icons cluttering your taskbar and distracting you from what you’re trying to do. Well, now I can tell my friend that such a thing does exist in the Windows world – maybe not as a native feature, but in the form of the powerful Dexpot application, which is free for personal use. In fact, the app bills itself as “the tool Windows lacks”.
Dexpot is an established player in the Windows virtual desktop space – if you’ve ever looked for a virtual desktop software solution for Windows, you may well have come across it. It is under active development, with the latest version released on June 29th this year. There’s also a portable version which you can take along on a USB stick.
Out of The Box Functionality
When you install and run Dexpot, you will instantly see a few subtle changes to your system. The first thing you may notice is that the application’s taskbar icon provides instant access to four workspaces. It looks like this:
If you click on any of the alternate workspaces, all of your currently running tasks will instantly disappear off the taskbar. This can be a real “a-ha” moment when showing the app to someone – it’s an instant demonstration of how it can radically alter your working style and unclutter your desktop.
The next change you may notice off the bat is that Dexpot adds its own menu entry for the Window menu of every app running on your system:
This is one way you can instantly get a feel of Dexpot’s power. The menu lets you do all sorts of operations with the window, not all related to other virtual desktops – you can set it as always on top, or minimize it to the tray, too. But obviously, using the menu on a day-to-day basis would not be the easiest way to enjoy Dexpot’s power, so now would be a great time to dive into the configuration interface and find some keyboard shortcuts!
As can be expected for such a mature app, Dexpot’s configuration interface is chock-full of options, tweaks and settings. I won’t take you through the whole interface (half the fun is exploring!) but let’s look at some of the more common options.
I like how Dexpot does not automatically set itself to start with Windows – that’s very polite and un-intrusive. But if you’re serious about using the app, you would definitely want to check the box that says Start with Windows. Also, if you’re just getting started with this whole virtual desktop idea, four desktops (the default) may be too much. I changed mine to three – I have a dual-monitor system, so plenty of windows can fit onto a single desktop, and I think three should be enough for me. Speaking of dual monitors – a “desktop” includes both monitors. It’s your entire workspace, however large it is.
Now, let’s get back to those keyboard shortcuts I promised. You can find a boatload of these under Controls:
As you can see, the default key for switching desktops is Alt+number (Alt+2 for desktop 2, and so on). And to send (move) a window to a different desktop, use Alt+Shift+number. You can also switch workspaces using the mouse, and Dexpot also offers a complex interface for configuring what happens when you interact with a window’s title bar:
Bells & Whistles
The last thing I’d like to discuss is Dexpot’s optional plugins. Most of these are disabled by default, but they can add lots of functionality. For instance, the Dexcube plugin enables a Compiz-like rotating 3D cube effect for switching between desktops:
On a dual-monitor system, the cube only shows up on one monitor. But on my system (which is not a monster gaming rig) the cube transitions were impressively smooth and quick. There are lots of other plugins, as well.
As usual in reviewing such powerful apps, I have only skimmed the surface of what Dexpot can do. I haven’t even discussed customizing per-desktop wallpaper, desktop names, and lots of other things you can set and tweak.
It is not often that I get to describe an application as “humble”, but that’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of Dexpot. Installing it is like meeting a new person who doesn’t look like much at first, but then you start talking to them and discover how truly deep they are. Out of the box, Dexpot’s defaults are very sane – conservative, even. But as you dig into its myriad settings and options, you will discover it offers fantastic customization options. Simply put, this is a very powerful virtual desktop software solution. Highly recommended.