What is a virtual desktop, and why would a Windows user want one? It seems like a small distinction until you see it in action, and then once you’ve used it, you may wonder how you ever got along without it. Virtual desktops allow you to have more than one desktop. The desktop is the space on your screen where programs open. When you have too many programs open (“windows” so to speak) they start to stack up, requiring you to shift them on top of and under each other. If you use tabs in a web browser, think of this as a “tabbed desktop.”
If you’re not using Windows in an office setting or for any other kind of productivity, this still might not be a pressing need of yours. Odds are you only have a couple of windows open at a time. But for productivity purposes, you might have a web browser, a word processor, a spreadsheet, a messaging interface, a time management tool, and a communication interface open so you can talk to the rest of your team. This gets cluttered fast, but virtual desktops allow you to sort these functions into different desktops.
Over time, you might even find yourself canonically assigning tasks to desktops. For instance, the web browser is always desktop one, the editor is always desktop two, the email / Telegram / Skype / Slack interface in desktop three, your music player in desktop four, and so on. Why settle for Microsoft’s out-of-the-box performance when you can change the interface to add new features? Here, we’re going to pick some virtual desktop software which will be a good introduction for any tier of user.
Keep in mind for all virtual desktop scenarios, it’s pretty unusual to need more than about six, maybe eight at a time. Your PC’s memory and processing capacity is an issue too, after all. And if you’re keeping more than ten windows open at a time, that might be a little too much multitasking.
Dexpot is free to use for single-user patrons, but large groups may need a license. Dexpot allows for up to 20 virtual desktops per user. There are several other plug-in features, contained in a windowed environment.
VirtualWin is excellent for older machines since it’s very light on resources. It is a Free and Open Sources Software (FOSS) application, so it’s always going to be zero cost no matter how many users or installs you have running it. It allows you to set up hotkeys on a maximum of 20 desktops and runs in the background after that without undue fuss.
For those who have more modern systems and want a little style added to their virtual desktop experience, DeskSpace supports up to six desktops on a rotating cube effect, which shows up on transition between one desktop and another. It’s also available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. DeskSpace is not free, charging a nominal fee per install, but some won’t mind paying for the extra eye-candy.
For those who like to have a luxurious amount of customized features, BetterDesktopTool comes highly recommended. Free for personal use but a minimal license fee per commercial use, BetterDesktopTool allows 20 desktops, custom key bindings, a preview tray, a tiled interface for multiple desktop displays, and settings to tweak all of the above. It also has features like being able to switch a window between desktops simply by dragging it over to another desktop with the mouse cursor. It’s a lot of bang for the buck and sets up desktops to behave in pretty much every way you could want for them.