Putting shorcut icons for documents or applications on your Windows desktop makes it so much easier to find what you’re looking for – or does it? With just a few icons it certainly is a boon but after a while, finding what you’re looking for becomes like finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s not only icons, either. Having lots of applications open at once is another recipe for a cluttered and confusing desktop. It doesn’t have to be that way though. For years, Linux and Mac OS X users have enjoyed a feature called virtual desktops. Instead of just the one desktop that’s provided by Windows, it’s possible to create several and switch between them for different tasks. Although this feature isn’t built in to Windows, it’s easy to add as were about to see.
How to install and use Dexpot to get virtual desktops in Windows
We’ll be using Dexpot so head over to http://dexpot.de/, download the latest version, which is free for private use, and install it on your PC. We suggest that you accept all the defaults during the installation process.
Dexpot says it’ll ask before installing third party software but it did sneak one in that we hadn’t noticed. If you do end up with some adware just uninstall it using Control Panel, declining any other installations you might be offered in the process.
Dexpot will run automatically after installation (resulting in its icon appearing in the notification area) but it won’t run each time you start Windows. If you want that to happen you’ll have to put a shortcut into the Startup Folder – see http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-vista/run-a-program-automatically-when-windows-starts for instructions.
Right click on the Dexpot icon in the notification area and select Settings. Under ‘Plugins and Extras’ select SevenDex and click on OK. A Dexpot icon appears in the taskbar with the number showing which desktop is active. Hover over it and you’ll see images of four desktops.
To move to a different desktop, click on one of those four desktop images. The new desktop will be displayed and the number in the Dexpot icon will change to reflect which you’ve chosen. Any applications that were running will no longer be visible.
Start an application that wasn’t previously running in the new desktop that you’ve selected. Switch back to your first desktop and you’ll see that there’s no sign of it nor its taskbar icon. Try running several applications in each desktop.
In Dexpot Settings, select ‘Switching Desktops’ and check ‘Customise desktop icons’. Right click on the Dexpot icon in the notification area and select ‘Desktop Windows’. Select the ‘Icon’ tab where you can list the icons on each desktop. Customise by dragging icons between desktops and deleting icons.
If four desktops isn’t enough you can choose more. In Desktop Setting, select General and make your choice of between 2 and 20 virtual desktops from the ‘Number of desktops’ pull-down menu. The menu immediately below let’s you choose which to display at startup.
It’s helpful to have a different background for each desktop so right click on the Dexpot icon in the notification area and select ‘Configure Desktops’. On the Background tab select each desktop in turn and select an image by clicking on Browse...
Shortcuts can speed things up. Try pressing Alt and a number key to switch between desktops. Windows W displays a larger preview of your desktops than we saw in Step 4 and Win F3 shows all the applications that are running in the various desktops.
For a really fancy interface, choose DexCube as we chose SevenDex in Step 4. Now try Ctrl Alt left and right to switch desktops. Some PCs use these hotkeys to rotate the screen (Ctrl Alt up takes you back) so you may have to redefine them in Dexpot Settings.