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Windows virtual desktop management utilities: Spotlight on Dexpot

Dexpot is a virtual desktop utility you can use to preview and manage your Windows desktops. It has a few features that might even make Mac users jealous.

Recently, I had a good-natured argument with a Mac user and a Linux user. They said Windows is inferior because it doesn't have its own virtual desktop management system. I countered with one word: Dexpot.

It's very easy to add a desktop virtualization utility such as Dexpot to Windows. My adversaries said many virtual desktop apps for Windows lack a way to see all the desktops, windows and applications you're working with. They prefer something like Mac's Spaces feature (via Mission Control).

Dexpot comes very close to bringing that functionality to Windows virtual desktops, and it offers a few features that might even make Mac users jealous. Here's why you might want to consider Dexpot for Windows virtual desktop management.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Dexpot's taskbar preview shows you the contents of all your desktops. (Click to enlarge)

First, there's a taskbar icon that not only allows you to switch desktops, but even uses the Windows Vista and Windows 7 hover-preview function to show you what's on the other desktops (Figure 1).

Plus, the virtual desktop behavior is also quite malleable. You can independently set each desktop's wallpaper, screensaver and screen resolution. By default, desktop icons (although not gadgets) are consistent across your Windows virtual desktops, but you can set them to be desktop-specific. You can also assign global hotkeys to almost every program function, and Dexpot is smart enough to sense whether the hotkey you're assigning is already in use. In addition, there's a plug-in architecture that allows you to add other functions, such as 3D cube view for all your Windows virtual desktops.

What more could you want? Dexpot offers even more features for Windows virtual desktop management:

Figure 2

Figure 2: The full-screen preview in Dexpot lets you see all your virtual desktops in one shot. (Click to enlarge)

Full-screen preview. This is Dexpot's biggest attraction: an overview of the contents of every Windows virtual desktop. Click on a desktop and it zooms to fill the screen (Figure 2).

Desktop preview. This preview is different from full-screen preview because it opens a small window in the upper corner of your screen with tiny icons and labels. It allows you to view another desktop while remaining on the current desktop, making virtual desktop management much more flexible. Plus, you can position the preview anywhere on your screen. Another feature, the desktop windows list, provides a list of all the windows currently open on each desktop.

The window catalog. This feature lets you see every open window on the current desktop represented as an on-screen tile. Click a window, and you'll zoom to it (and whatever Windows virtual desktop it happens to be on). Then you can flip between your desktops by using arrows at the top of the screen. You can also move apps between desktops by using the Dexpot sub-menu on the app window's context menu (via right-clicking on the program's title bar or hitting Alt-Space), or by right-clicking on the screen in the window catalog.

Desktop rules. This feature allows you to set various behaviors for windows as they appear. For instance, when you load an executable, you can set windows to move to a given desktop, always stay on top and have a certain transparency. Desktop rules are quite flexible, and there's even a wizard that can help you create rules so you don't have to cobble them together by hand.

Dexpot: What to watch out for

With Dexpot, you might notice that windows occasionally seem to go missing. If this happens, open the desktop windows list and look under Hidden. There's a chance the missing window is in there -- just minimized.

You should also be aware of how Dexpot handles multiple monitors. If your Windows virtual desktops span multiple monitors, whatever you have open on all your monitors is considered the contents of a single desktop. However, when you open the full-screen preview, it only opens on your main monitor and shows you the contents of the main monitor. The window catalog, however, shows what's open on all monitors.

Dexpot is free for non-commercial use, but must be licensed for corporations and self-employed or freelance users (although it can be tried for 30 days in all environments). If you find yourself constantly battling a too-full desktop, give it a shot for simpler Windows virtual desktop management.

Serdar Yegulalp
wrote for Windows Magazine from 1994 through 2001, covering a wide range of technology topics. He now plies his expertise in Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP as publisher of The Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter and writes technology columns for TechTarget.

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