Use 10 Virtual Desktops To Boost Productivity With Just One Screen [Windows]

Ryan Dube 19-07-2012

multiple virtual desktopsEver since I started using a second monitor, I realized that I just can’t get enough screen space. Every task seems to require so much display real estate.


When I’m editing, I like to have the article I’m editing open, my research websites up in another browser window, and my email client available in the background.  When I’m writing articles, I like to have a browser open that’s dedicated to researching, and a separate browser window where I do my writing work. Then there are times when I’d like to have a complete desktop available to test applications.

Sometimes, I want to be able to do two or three major tasks all at the same time, with the ability to flip between them at a whim. With just two screens, that’s not exactly easy. One solution is to use virtual desktops, which we’ve covered in depth here at MUO – there are options like PowerToy Power Toy - Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Manager Read More , DexPot Expand Your Desktop Workspace With Dexpot - Cool Virtual Desktop Software [Windows] 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". I can now tell... Read More and others.

The thing is, are virtual desktops enough? Let’s say that I use an application like DexPot, which gives me four unique virtual desktops where I can perform four distinct tasks. That’s only four tasks…but what if I want to do twice that – say 8 distinct tasks with its own set of windows?

By combining a combination of virtual desktops and VNC connections, I came up with a way to create 10 virtual desktops that you can use to be insanely productive.

Create 10 Virtual Desktops With VNC & DexPot

The tools that I used to create this ultra-productive computing environment included the DexPot virtual desktop tool for Windows, and the free version of Real VNC.

The setup included my main laptop that I always use to do my work, plus a spare old desktop that I use sometimes as a test web server, and a spare laptop that my kids use sometimes. I installed the VNC service on the spare desktop and the spare laptop, took down the IP address of each, and then set them off to the side. Neither had a screen attached, they simply serve as processing machines.

Here is what my new mega-productivity center now looks like.

multiple virtual desktops

Here’s what it means. The extra screen near my laptop is my widescreen 2nd display that is actually considered a part of each virtual desktop. So, if I just run Dexpot on my main laptop, I get 4 virtual desktops. However, I can utilize two of those virtual desktops to VNC into two different computers. Then, running Dexpot on those computers,  I now have four additional desktops each, for a total of ten available virtual desktops that I can access from my one laptop screen.

If that’s isn’t productivity, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what the desktop looks like when I’ve connected to it via an EchoVNC client, and then installed DexPot.

virtual desktop productivity

As you can see, while I’m VNC’d into that computer from one of my laptop’s virtual desktops, I can launch Dexpot on the remote computer and get access to all four of those virtual desktops. So, I’ve essentially multiplied my one virtual desktop in to four more.

Next, I VNC into my laptop, where I have four more virtual desktops to play around with. If you ever get confused where you are, just use the EchoVNC client to make your VNC connections, because it shows you the IP of the machine you’re connected to right in the top menu bar.

virtual desktop productivity

So, even though I’ve just used up two of my virtual desktops from my main laptop, I still have Desktop 3 and Desktop 4 to work with there, plus each of those VNC connections has now spawned off 4 more virtual desktops, for a total of ten.

If you want to navigate quickly through all of these, just right click the DexPot icon in the taskbar, and select “Desktop Manager”.

virtual desktop productivity

This opens a selection box where you’ll see four numbered monitors. You can move this box anywhere on your main screen that you want. I usually put it at the upper right corner where it’s pretty much out of the way.

set up virtual desktop

Here I am VNC’d into my test web server where I’m running my website tests using XAMPP How To Set Up Multiple Portable XAMPP Web Servers On A Single USB Drive For some time now, I've been trying to develop a very fast and easy way to create a virtual web server (basically a local web server), on my portable hard drive. Not just one though.... Read More , and I still have three other full desktops available on that server to blog, research, or play games.

set up virtual desktop

Okay, maybe playing games isn’t exactly being “productive”, but isn’t part of productivity taking a break every now and then? Use one of  your virtual screens for the sole purpose of taking a break!

Want to see how cool this looks now? If you right click on the DexPot icon in the task bar and select “Full Screen Preview” it’ll show you all four available virtual desktops. When I remote to my spare computer, here are all four virtual desktops, all available at the click of the mouse.

set up virtual desktop

Going back to my main laptop where I launch the first four desktops, you can see a little better how this all works when I do a full-screen preview.

To the upper left is my VNC connection to the computer with four of it’s own virtual desktops. To the right is my VNC connection to the laptop, with it’s four desktops. And then of course I have the bottom two virtual desktops on my original laptop.

multiple virtual desktops

Total virtual desktops now available at my fingertips – ten of them. And the beauty of it is that with my laptop connected to a second monitor, those 10 screens are technically twenty full windows of space to really spread out and do whatever I want.

It’s hard to describe the sort of freedom this creates – using four desktop sessions will give you a sense of that freedom, but having ten desktops available to you is just amazing. The most I’ve been able to fill up with activities is six of them. I can’t even think of enough things to do to consume all ten!

Can you think of ways to fill up all 10 virtual desktops? What ways can you think of to put so many of them to good use? Does this sort of set up increase your productivity as much as it has for me? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Stock Trader via Shutterstock

Explore more about: Virtualization, VNC, Workspace.

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  1. Prem Kumar S
    August 18, 2012 at 1:01 am

    use full post indeed.....

  2. qwerty
    August 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    SysInternals has a portable utility that creates 4 Desktops. Just use alt+1, alt+2... to choose which one you want.
    No installation, no configuration needed. It's called Desktops ;)

  3. Evan Spangler
    July 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    This is cool, but this is already integrated in many Linux versions, as Igor said. The best example of this is in Damn Small Linux.

    • Ryan Dube
      August 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      Maybe - but unfortunately Linux lacks a lot of features that I like about Windows (I know a lot of Linux users are going to shoot me for saying that). So, since I'm working with Windows, I need a Windows tool that's capable of this.

  4. Igor Rizvi?
    July 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Im gonna need a second monitor lol

  5. Praveen Kumar
    July 28, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Yes I have this installed already....... :)

  6. Russ
    July 19, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Um... I am confused... Why not just change Dexpot to provide 10 virtual desktops? I goes up to 20...

    • Ryan Dube
      August 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Because whatever limit there is on Dexpot, you can multiply it out by connecting to other computers running Dexpot as well. I guess ultimately the article is a lesson on how to break through the Dexpot limitation.

  7. Pedro Oliva
    July 19, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    realmente interesante :)

  8. illegal3alien
    July 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I have my old computer dedicated as a "server" to run various applications that should continue to run (SSH, Web, SMTP). My desktop has enough RAM to easily open as much as I need on it. Occasionally I'm use virtual machines, especially for old software or programs that won't work on 64 bit. I think 10 is a bit overboard, though.

    • Ryan Dube
      August 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Maybe - it was more of an exercise in how far I could push the limits and still run smoothly. Worked pretty well too!

  9. joefitness
    July 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I love using multiple desktops, shuffling through different windows can be a big pain in the arse.

    • Kevin
      July 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      Yes, but aren't you just changing what you're shuffling through from windows to desktops??

      • Ryan Dube
        August 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm

        With more power. When you have a fresh desktop you can run an entire session of Windows. It's an easy way to sort activities that require multiple windows without having to shuffle through a hundred windows in one session.

  10. musicphann
    July 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Wow. It's nice to have those other machines to run tasks in the background, maybe like video encoding, playing music, rendering 3d, etc. I think at a certain point though i would experience diminishing returns. It's too much for me personally to keep track of. Cool idea though!

  11. andrés
    July 19, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I recommend to stop using windows XP RIGHT NOW!

    • Ryan Dube
      August 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      It's Windows 7. ;-)

  12. Igor
    July 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    ...or you can use (probably) any Linux DE and do all this in 2.7 seconds.

    • elhaj
      July 20, 2012 at 12:52 am


    • Ryan Dube
      August 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      Yes, but I'm running, how would that work?