Virtually separate desktops

Create many useful customized desktops with this portable freeware.

Virtual desktop managers have been common third-party Windows accessories at least since the days of Windows 98, and they're even more common for Unix users, for whom they're essential productivity features. Virtual desktops add capabilities to the Windows desktop by creating copies of your desktop that you can customize for specific uses--work, e-mail, and gaming, for example--and rapidly switch between. It's almost like having separate computers, except with all your files and settings on each. Portable VirtuaWin is a free and totally portable version of VirtuaWin, a free virtual desktop manager. It's compact and runs from any compatible storage device without installation, so you can carry it between work and home on a USB drive and always have access to your custom setup.

We unpacked the zipped download and ran Portable VirtuaWin's installer, which automatically registers the program's hot keys. Unfortunately, some common combinations failed to register because they'd already been taken. Instead of reconfiguring them, we chose simply to delete them and sort them out later, since it's just about as easy to add hot keys as it is to delete them or change their associations. We created three virtual desktops, all copies of our default desktop, and applied the settings. Right-clicking the program's system tray icon showed menus labeled Switch To and Always Show, which expanded to allow us to position any of our three desktop images; a left click called up a file menu accessing the Setup tool as well as a Windows Rules utility that opened a pop-up with numerous settings for managing how different windows appear and function. We clicked our second desktop, made some dramatic changes (deleting most of the icons), and saved it. The third desktop we set up as a home media center. The system tray icon let us quickly toggle between all three. Even better, we could instantly access any program, folder, or file on any of the desktops by clicking its icon on the system tray thumbnail.

It's easy to see how having separate, completely customized Windows desktops for specific uses can increase productivity and reduce distraction. A little time spent setting up Portable VirtuaWin will pay off in personalized work spaces that can simplify and enhance your Windows experience.

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