Long before multiple monitors were popular (or financially feasible), there were virtual desktops—applications that allow you to swap your entire workspace with another for easy compartmentalization of your work. Here's a look at five of the most popular virtual-desktop managers.
Photo by dcJohn.
Taking a screenshot of a virtual-desktop manager is particularly tricky and we've done our best to select images that represent the tool in question. Since virtual-desktop managers are such dynamic tools and difficult to capture in a single moment of use, each tool in this week's Hive Five also includes a link to a video demonstrating the application in action. The quality of the videos varies but all of them do a vastly better job showing off the application than a static screenshot.
Compiz (Linux, Free)
If you like your virtual-desktop managers to come with some flair and eye candy, Compiz is definitely worth a look. Linux users who just want simple workspace switching might be better served by Gnome Workspaces, but if you're on a rig with a nice graphics card—and you want to live it up with fancy graphic-intensive transitions between virtual desktops—Compiz's more advanced effects are pretty nifty. Compiz comes with a core of plug-ins that cover all sorts of 3D effects which can be further supplemented by using Compiz Fusion, a version of Compiz that sports additional plug-ins and enhanced graphics. Check out Compiz in action here:
VirtuaWin (Windows, Free)
VirtuaWin is a simple virtual-desktop manager that a power user can quickly turn into a highly customised tool thanks to a large library of plug-ins. Out of the box VirtuaWin does a great job with simple window switching and management, but VirtuaWin users have contributed a variety of useful plug-ins to the project that do everything from change wallpaper based on your current desktop to selectively enabling and disabling icons on each individual desktop. If you're using VirtuaWin to separate work from play or to separate individual projects, you'll even find a plug-in for tracking how much time you spend in each virtual space. You can check out the windows switching and wallpaper changing in VirtuaWin here:
Spaces (Mac, Free)
Spaces is the virtual-desktop tool built right into Mac OS (starting in Leopard). You can create up to 16 virtual workspaces and access them via keyboard shortcuts or a fullscreen preview. Spaces also integrates with Exposé, and you can designate a corner of the screen which will pull up a mini-thumbnail preview of your Spaces grid for easy drag and drop arranging of application windows. Spaces supports window assignment, meaning you can assign specific applications to display on designated spaces. You can see Spaces in action here:
Dexpot (Windows, Free)
Dexpot is a feature rich desktop manager for Windows. You can setup Dexpot to simply enable extra workspaces—up to 20 total workspaces—just to have a little extra space to spread out your work. If you delve into the more advanced features you can set up rules for where applications will end up when launched and customise each virtual desktop to have its own wallpaper and resolution. Dexpot has multiple ways of navigating your virtual desktops including keyboard short cuts, a small thumbnail catalog of your active desktops, and a full screen Exposé-like preview of all desktops. See Dexpot in action here:
Gnome Workspaces, (Linux, Free)
The Gnome Linux desktop environment sports its own virtual-desktop system called Workspaces. By default it is set to two virtual desktops, but you can increase it up to 36 virtual desktops. Windows can be easily moved from one workspace to another by drag and drop or keyboard shortcuts. Gnome Workspaces is, by comparison to other virtual-desktop managers, very spartan but many users favour it specifically for its minimal and snappy user interface. If you're using Linux and you just want speedy switching between multiple workspaces without the bother of further customisation, Gnome Workspaces is a solid option. The screenshot here is taken from a demonstration video, which you can watch here:
Have a virtual-desktop trick of your own? Can't believe your favourite wasn't featured? Think everyone should just buy 8 physical monitors and forget this virtual-desktop nonsense? Tell us about it in the comments.