How Many Virtual Destktops do You Use?

How many virtual desktops do you usually run on your machine? This question is probably directed more towards the Linux users rather than the Windows folk. When I’m using my XP box I usually stay with a single desktop, because none of the virtual desktop solution work well on that platform. Yes, there is the Virtual Desktop Manager power toy, and about a billion other small applications that try to offer similar functionality. But most of them are clunky and do not offer me the same level of functionality that the linux does. What I really look for in a desktop manager is:

  1. Speed – most virtual desktop managers suffer from slow redraws, but that is probably just a XP thing
  2. Some sort of context menu “Send Window To” functionality. Not all windows tools offer this.
  3. Elegant pager integrated into the task bar
  4. Pager must show window outlines and and/or icons
  5. Need to be able to drag and drop window outlines from one desktop to the other on the pager

Last 3 items offer huge productivity gains, and yet no windows app I have seen so far managed to tackle all 5. Both Gnome and KDE have all of this out of the box.

On my Kubuntu laptop I currently have 6 virtual desktops and I’m using all of them:

Virtual Desktops

I essentially use them to separate my workspaces based on the task I’m trying to accomplish. So the first desktop is dedicated to a maximized KMail instance – because I want to have a good reading surface for my emails. Similarly second desktop is pretty much just for Firefox for the very same reason – ease of reading.

My third and fourth desktops are usually reserved for IDE’s and graphical tools. Right now I have Gimp and Komodo Edit open on them. The 5th desktop is usually my “assorted xterm and gvim” workspace. I switch there if I want to edit some config files, install software and etc. My last desktop is usually running an rdesktop session to one of the Windows servers I’m currently working with.

I find that having these separate workspaces really streamlines my work. Being able to seamlessly switch from my email, to the browser and then to IDE without juggling windows is a great benefit. But what do you think? Do you like having multiple desktops? Or do you think it doesn’t really matter?

Windows people – give me suggestions for really good virtual desktop managers. I would love to see one that works as well as KDE or Gnome equivalents.

[tags]desktop, virtual desktop, desktops, pager, virtual, workspace[/tags]

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22 Responses to How Many Virtual Destktops do You Use?

  1. Skateinmars FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I use XFCE which has a really nice pager, like the gnome one; but faster :)

    xfce-terminal is also quicker than gnome-terminal and more beautiful than xterm.

    I personnaly use 4 virtual desktops with a dual screens setup, the first one for my browser and various terminals (with tabs) : irc, sshs…
    The second one is for eclipse or another editor, the third one being for managing files with thunar, the xfce file manager and the last one for various tasks running in the background.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    On of these days I promise myself to use one of these lean, fast desktop managers. But I’m just so inexplicably addicted to KDE and KDE based applications…

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  3. Ben UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Years ago I gave up the multiple desktop thing. I was using CDE on Solaris and discovered that I could switch tasks more efficiently by color coding and organizing my work on a single desktop. The green windows are for bug ####, the gray windows are for feature XXXX, etc. I still work that way for the most part; although, I don’t have CDE anymore (sob). I like that all my work is in front of me, and I have visual cues of where to go when I change tasks without changing where I’m focusing. Since I don’t have my old Front and Open keys anymore, I make more use of Beryl, which lets me see ALL my windows by throwing my mouse to the corner – still with a more natural-to-the-eyes feel to it than flicking desktops around. Of course, Windows still sucks (I can’t believe that Vista actually made it WORSE. sigh), but a big desktop and alt-tab with preview beats multiple desktops every time.

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  4. skyliner SPAIN Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I agree with Skateinmars, i’m in XFCE too, but with multi-aterm (really good for systems with a little RAM).

    I use 6 virtual desktops,
    First for web browsing, so I can have a big space for surfing.
    Second is for IM only, this way I’m not annoyed with messages while I’m working.
    Third is exclusive for music (alsamixer+xmms with big playlist editor).
    Fourth and fifth for programming, debugging and working with terminals.
    And finally the last one for misc applications and things I do not use frequently.

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  5. ZeWrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I use 4 desktops on my ubuntu machine. Granted, I utilize one or two of the four at a time. I also use Beryl as my windows manager on the system.

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  6. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    I use 6 desktops too… gnome desktop usually tho i also have kde. Two for firefox, the first I open all the social sites and web based e-mails, about 6 tabs or so. and the second for what ever it is I’m reading researching commenting on (this blog for example) and so on… 5 or six tabs or more.

    the third is liferea (my rss feeds) evolution (more e-mail lol) and maybe (non programming) documents I’m working on. the fourth is for IMs and music and misc. Five is for programming and whatever I need for that … these days i’m learning more about Lisp and actually using emacs with SLIME :) and six is for terminal … if it is not open in 5 and system updates and maybe more misc

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  7. Matt Doar UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I like AltDesk for Windows with 6 horizontal windows, and then in the 3 or 4 VNC windows I’ll have the usual 4 to 8 unix windows. Sometimes I have a RemoteDesktop connection to a Windows machine that has a similar set up as my laptop. It can get a bit confusing then, but the colors and locations of the minimized icons give me enough context.

    Answering the question: 2*6*4*8 = 384 distributed over 4 levels

    Reply  |  Quote
  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    [quote comment="6004"]these days i’m learning more about Lisp and actually using emacs with SLIME :)[/quote]

    LISP is awesome. :mrgreen:

    [quote comment="6005"]Answering the question: 2*6*4*8 = 384 distributed over 4 levels[/quote]

    Oh man… You win.

    [quote comment="6002"]I also use Beryl as my windows manager on the system.[/quote]

    Beryl is pretty. How is it on system resources though? What kind of system do you need to keep it running smoothly?

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    I played around with Lisp some back in the day when GEB came out. that book probably influenced all programmers my age definitely worth reading. Lisp has changed some tho and so have I lol plus that was a long time ago for me.

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Here’s my usual setup on KDE:
    1. Firefox
    2. Kontact
    3. Kopete
    4. Kate
    5. Songbird
    6. Various, lately has Dolphin or KWord
    7. A blank desktop for when I lock my computer. Sometimes this one is in use too, in which case I usually up my number quickly.

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  11. Tobias AUSTRALIA Safari Mac OS says:

    I’ve tried virtual desktops on Linux, Windows and Mac, but I’ve never been able to stand the things. Having to take an extra step and figure out which desktop the application I want is on seems like too much to pay for the promise of decluttering; and I’ve never found it easy to break up the things I do with my computer into discrete categories.

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  12. Fr3d UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I always turn off all the virtual desktop stuff whenever I use Linux…

    I use Synergy to share one mouse and keyboard between my PC and Mac Mini, so it’s like a combination of virtual desktops and real desktops :)

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I used Synergy before. It was cool. But it’s kinda like reverse virtual desktop. Instead of using virtual desktops you re using real ones. :mrgreen:

    It’s kinda like a cross between dual screen setup and a KVM, or something like that. Heh.

    Reply  |  Quote
  14. I always had virtual desktops and never used them. Here lately I’ve been using dwm, one of those full-screen tiling window managers a la ion or ratpoison. And loving it. I suppose it has a concept of virtual desktops with its tags, but dwm’s tags allow slightly more complex setups and to be honest I don’t really use them anyway.

    So I have a two screen setup. One screen has a maximized browser window, and the other screen (a wide aspect LCD) has a browser window filling 2/3 of the screen and a couple terminals in a column on one side. This setup works very well for me.

    When I go to write code I generally switch out the second browser window (on the LCD) for an emacs window. I also occasionally browse my filesystem with rox, watch movies, or the like, that’s generally on the other screen, and I’ll go to a virtual desktop there.

    So, to answer the question… approximately 4, I suppose. But mostly 1.

    Reply  |  Quote
  15. Mark UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Well, lets see. I have 3 monitors, and 4 desktops on each one, so that’s 12 virtual desktops. I have 3 instances of firefox, each with unique bookmarks, toolbars, plugins, etc based on usage. I have one that contains my monitoring tools for all my various systems. I have one that has my screen session to my mutt windows, and my IRSSI windows. I have another one that has my tkabber windows, particularly long-running chat rooms. Then the rest vary based on what I’m working on. They’re all shell windows to different environments and different projects. They run opposite screens with browsers that have related content, so I can look at a browser on one screen while doing work on the other. (They’re all independent, no Xinerama)

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  16. Sam Jones UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Fedora Linux says:

    I generally run XFCE with 4 Beryl cube faces. One for an IDE and some terminals, one for Firefox/Evolution/xChat, one for a Windows VM (I do a lot of Flex development), and one for my package manager/other miscellaneous stuff. I find Beryl itself makes virtual desktops a lot easier for me to use – somehow the physical layout metaphor greatly increases my ability to remember which desktop is which. Plus it increases the options for ways to switch desktops, and the expose analog is wonderful. Can you tell I like Beryl? :-)

    As far as performance, I’m running this on a 2-3 year old Dell laptop with no real issues. It crashes my OS about once a day, but that’s been tracked down to a bug in the ATI drivers. Only time I see any slowdown is when I spin the cube while I’m compiling something big.

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  17. Mark UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Hi, sorry for the dumb question. How did you get your pager to look like that? I assume that the panel is vertical on the left side, but how did you get the desktop number, desktop name and window icons to show up separately in a row? I am a newbie running KDE 4.2 and I would be happy just to be able to get the icon/window outlines out from under the desktop names which they make unreadable. Thanks so much for any help.

    Reply  |  Quote
  18. terryjonesxp UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I use a virtual desktop manager with all my oses. For Windows I use Dexpot. It works with Windows 95,98,Me, 2000, XP, 2003 and Vista. Dextop is free.

    With Dexpot I can do the following.

    1. Create up to 20 virtual desktops. Most virtual desktop managers for Windows only allow you to create 4 virtual desktops.

    2. Use it on a flash drive. The program does not need admin rights to run.

    3. Get an optional pager that list all of the virtual desktops. It equals the workspace/viewport switcher in Gnome. It equals the desktop pager in KDE. The user can set an option to show the active window of each virtual desktop. Also the user can add a button to the pager to show all the virtual at once on screen. This option equals the expo plugin in compiz fusion and the KDE app call kompose

    4. Get a full screen preview of all the virtual desktops in use. It equals the expo plugin in compiz-fusion, and and KDE app call kompose. Note you can’t drag and drop windows from desktop to another using this function. To do that you must use the desktop preview function.

    5. Use all the features of Mac expose in Windows. The functions windows catalog and windows catalog active application equals the scale plugin in compiz-fusion. In the KDE app call kompose only show all windows work. No show only current application windows.

    6. Move windows from one desktop to the other using keyboard shortcuts.

    7. Change keyboard shortcuts for the individual functions of the application.

    8. The user is able to escape the application if you need to. Example keyboard shortcut conflict between Dexpot and another program. The program will move all application windows to the current desktop. This helps to prevent lost application windows.

    9. Move windows from one desktop to the other using the mouse. In the Dexpot settings you can check an option so when you right-click on a window’s title bar in the context menu a menu entry named Dexpot will appear. This menu entry will allow the user to select witch desktop to send a window to, witch desktop to copy a window to, make a window appear on all desktops, and set the transparency of individual windows etc. The equals the title context menus in Gnome an KDE.

    10. Move windows from one desktop to the other using desktop preview. Desktop Preview equals the desktop wall plugin in compiz-fusion. In the KDE app call kompose it equals show windows grouped by virtual desktop. Most virtual desktop managers for Windows failed to move the command prompt. In Dexpot you can only move the command prompt by keyboard shortcut.

    11. Name each desktop.

    12. Give each desktop a different set of desktop icons,background images, and independent screen resolution.

    13. Set applications to open on a specific desktop. It equals the place windows plugin in compiz-fusion. In KDE it equals the advanced desktop rules.

    14. Enable a second task-switcher called Dex-Tab for switching between application windows spread across different virtual desktops. It allows the user to alt-tab between open windows located on different virtual desktops. It does not replace the alt-tab functions native to Windows. My Dex-Tab keyboard shortcut is set to Ctrl+Spacebar. It equals the KDE screen shot at the top of this post.

    terryjones130@msn.com
    Email me if you have any questions

    Reply  |  Quote
  19. Mark Stowe UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Thank you – I am really glad to learn about Dextop, But I still would love to learn how to get my KDE pager to look like “the KDE screen shot at the top of this post”. In all the tools for configuring the KDE desktop that came with the Kubuntu and OpenSuse live CD’s I have worked from, I cannot find any menus/settings that allow me to produce such a pager arrangement of side-by-side number, name and icons. If necessary I would edit the appropriate configuration file – if there is no tool you can point me toward, I would appreciate a link to documentation for the appropriate configuration file, (and/or a copy of your file if possible). Thanks.

    Reply  |  Quote
  20. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Mark Stowe: It’s not the pager – that’s the default KDE Desktop switcher visual – it’s like Alt+Tab but for desktops. I think by default it is called up with Ctrl+Tab.

    If it’s not bound by default go to your KDE Keyboard Shortcut settings and look for “Walk Through Desktops” shortcut on the list. You can then bind it to Ctrl+Tab or Win+Tab or whatever.

    Reply  |  Quote
  21. terryjonesxp UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    [quote comment="11704"]I use a virtual desktop manager with all my oses. For Windows I use Dexpot. It works with Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000, XP, 2003 and Vista. Dexpot is free.[/quote]

    With Dexpot I can do the following.

    1. Create up to 20 virtual desktops. Most virtual desktop managers for Windows only allow you to create 4 virtual desktops.

    2. Use it on a flash drive. The program does not need admin rights to run.

    3. Get an optional pager that list all of the virtual desktops. It equals the workspace/viewport switcher in Gnome. It equals the desktop pager in KDE. The user can set an option to show the active window of each virtual desktop. Also the user can add a button to the pager to show all the virtual at once on screen. This option equals the expo plugin in compiz fusion and the KDE app call kompose

    4. Get a full screen preview of all the virtual desktops in use. It equals the expo plugin in compiz-fusion, and and KDE app call kompose. Note you can’t drag and drop windows from one desktop to another desktop using this function. To do that you must use the desktop preview function.

    5. Use all the features of Mac expose in Windows. The functions windows catalog and windows catalog active application equals the scale plugin in compiz-fusion. In the KDE app call kompose only show all windows work. No show only current application windows.

    6. Move windows from one desktop to the other using keyboard shortcuts.

    7. Change keyboard shortcuts for the individual functions of the application.

    8. The user is able to escape the application if you need to. Example keyboard shortcut conflict between Dexpot and another program. The program will move all application windows to the current desktop. This helps to prevent lost application windows.

    9. Move windows from one desktop to the other using the mouse. In the Dexpot settings you can check an option so when you right-click on a window’s title bar in the context menu a menu entry named Dexpot will appear. This menu entry will allow the user to select which desktop to send a window to, which desktop to copy a window to, make a window appear on all desktops, and set the transparency of individual windows etc. The equals the title context menus in Gnome and KDE.

    10. Move windows from one desktop to the other using desktop preview. Desktop Preview equals the desktop wall plugin in compiz-fusion. In the KDE app call kompose it equals show windows grouped by virtual desktop. Most virtual desktop managers for Windows failed to move the command prompt. In Dexpot you can only move the command prompt by keyboard shortcut.

    11. Name each desktop.

    12. Give each desktop a different set of desktop icons,background images, and independent screen resolution.

    13. Set applications to open on a specific desktop. It equals the place windows plugin in compiz-fusion. In KDE it equals the advanced desktop rules.

    14. Enable a second task-switcher called Dex-Tab for switching between application windows spread across different virtual desktops. It allows the user to alt-tab between open windows located on different virtual desktops. It does not replace the alt-tab functions native to Windows. My Dex-Tab keyboard shortcut is set to Ctrl+Spacebar. It equals the KDE screen shot at the top of this post.

    terryjones130@msn.com
    Email me if you have any questions

    Reply  |  Quote
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