Large desktop workstations often have more than enough screen real-estate: One or two 24-inch monitors afford plenty of room for a mission-critical application, plus several chat or email windows alongside. But if you're a laptop user squeaking by with a single 15-inch monitor (or perhaps something even smaller), a virtual desktop might be the next best thing to an extra monitor. Dexpot (€25; free for personal use) is a great way to get yourself one. Or five. See all software downloads.
If I had to describe Dexpot in one word, I'd pick "customizable." I can't think of a single aspect of Dexpot you can't customize: the animation (or lack thereof) used to switch between virtual desktops, the number of desktops, hotkeys and hot corners for switching desktops using keyboard and mouse, whether or not a virtual desktop spans all your monitors are just one, and the list goes on.
When an application decides to go all-out on customization, the result is usually bloat. Dexpot tries to let you eat your cake and have it, too, by compartmentalizing features into plug-ins you can enable or disable as you prefer. Disable the animations plug-in, and sure enough, the animations go away--and so do the options for controlling them. So not only can you customize the options to your liking, you can customize whether or not the options are even there to begin with.
Using virtual desktops productively is a learned skill. That's because it's a paradox: A GUI assumes being able to see your applications. Hide them in an imaginary desktop, and you might well forget to come back to them later. To overcome this, Dexpot includes visual hints keeping the virtual desktops and the applications they contain in view.
True to form, Dexpot offers several such features, ranging from a tiny indicator in the system tray showing the number of the desktop you're on, through a compact desktop switcher built into the Windows taskbar, all the way to an Exposé-like feature that tiles your screen with scaled-down versions of all windows from all desktops, so you can easily click the one you want without having to think what desktop it's on (you can't get to it by typing its title, though). There's also a full-screen preview mode, subdividing the screen into separate desktops which you can then drag windows between.
When relegating a window to another virtual desktop, some users prefer to have it disappear from the Alt-Tab task switcher and taskbar; others prefer to have it stay there. Dexpot leaves this up to you, making it easy to experiment.
Dexpot's staggering array of plug-ins and fine-grained configuration options means that to benefit from the application you need only agree with its basic premise, that virtual desktops can be a useful thing. The rest is negotiable, flexible, and adjustable.
Being able to customize everything means you might have to experiment with Dexpot for some time, until you hit a combination of settings that make sense for you. But if you take the time to do this, you might realize that a single 15-inch monitor is not so small after all.