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Author Topic: Virtual Window Managers  (Read 13786 times)


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Virtual Window Managers
« on: February 16, 2006, 05:14:11 PM »
Cross-posted , edited and expanded from http://www.donationc...12.msg16460#msg16460

As many of you know, I use and love PowerPro, a powerful little program which can do many many (almost too many) things one of which is Virtual Desktop Management. Dissatisfied with PP's VDM, and addicted to those little pager thingies you get with most Linux window managers, I searched for and tested many Windows versions of these sorts of apps and finally settled on one. In a recent forum post user m_s asked about Virtual Desktop applications, I gave my two cents and, to make a long story short, Mouser then tapped me to do a Mini-Review of the many I have used and tested. So it goes...
One caveat: I am stuck with NT4 and so some VDM apps were either somewhat limited or I could not run them. If anyone else has experience with those, feel free to add to this mini-review.

What is Virtual Desktop Management?
Basically, the Desktop we all know and love could sometimes use some "elbow room" but increasing the display resolution is not always the best solution. Virtual Desktop Managers increase the effective display space by (in a virtual sense) increasing the effective desktop area to a larger size and allowing you to display one area at a time via a 'Pager' (see below). Others will keep track of 'sets' of applications which are hidden or shown as different "desktops" are activated; again via pager. Both of these actions sometimes cause problems with apps that don't like to be hidden or moved off of the current display,so many VDM's have a 'compatibility' setting which will deal with those apps differently.
A common feature among VDM apps is something called a 'Pager'. This is most commonly a small window which displays a graphical representation, in miniature, of your desktops and the windows that appear there. This is how you switch desktops, drag windows to other desks, etc. This is usually called a Graphical Pager, quite different from those VDM's that have no pager thingie at all, but a row of buttons either on your desktop or in your tray. This will allow switching desktops, and perhaps some extra functions pertaining to moving windows, etc. This mini-review will focus mostly on those VDM apps that supply a graphical pager.

The net effect of all this is that you can have as many applications open as you want and still have a relatively clutter-free desktop, with some method of 'switching' to get to those desktops you want to see at any given time.

I'll judge each of these on their support of basic functions to be expected in any given VDM app, as well as any extras they may throw in.
Those features are:

-Number of virtual desktops.
Most commonly at least 4, most support more.

Type and quality of the pager itself. Is it skinnable? Draggable? Can I dock it? Autohide? Can I manually resize it? Can I drag the mini-windows? Does it switch desks when I click a task from another desk? (aka Active Window Switching)

-Type and quality of window representation in the graphical pager.
Some have mini-windows (small representations of the windows on each desktop) that show icons, text, or thumbnails. Some don't show mini-windows at all and either show a task list or a row of icons like the system tray. Are mini-windows draggable?

-Hotkey support and it's robustness thereof.
Most support desktop switching with hotkeys either directly (switch to desktop n) or relatively (switch forward/back/up/down) usually both, and some have extra hotkeys for even more functions.

-Mouse scrolling and wrapping.
Scrolling means bumping the mouse against a desktop edge automatically switches desks. Wrapping determines whether the mouse pointer stays where you have it or if it starts over at the opposite edge of the new desk. Some folks really like this stuff.

-'Sticky' window support.
A 'sticky' window is one that shows up on all desktops. Some VDM apps make this easy to control and configure. Some don't...

-Wallpaper support.
This is a nifty feature that allows different wallpaper on each desktop, but is usually memory-intensive

-Tray support.
Whether the app and it's functions can be accessed/controlled from the system tray. Some apps give desk switching functionality from the tray

Whether it supports different window hide schemes for apps that don't play nice, or if there is an option to simply ignore such

Some are simple, some complex, some use a configuration dialog, some insist on you editing a configuration file. Is the help file helpful?

-Memory Usage
With at least one window open in each of 4 desktop panes and wallpaper functions unused.

JS Pager (Free)
(graciously hosted as orphanware at skinnables.org)
This is the one I use. Stable, fast, configurable, and (unlike many skinnables) drop-dead easy to skin for. I don't like skins, but this app is the rare exception because it is so easy. If you still don't like skins, it has a 'normal' mode which looks like a standard window but you can't collapse the window caption like many VDM's can. You must skin it to get a caption-less pager.
-Up to 10 virtual desktops.
-Skinnable with non-skinned mode available. Skin editor available from configuration dialog for placing view and function buttons. Autohide support, dockable, only resizable when in 'normal' (non-skinned) mode. Active window switching.
-Mini window view with icons or text or both or none. Draggable with Right-button.
-Hotkey desktop switching.
-Mouse scrolling and wrapping.
-Very good 'Sticky' window support. Can be defined by window title or class via checkbox.
-Wallpaper. Settings can be written to registry.
-Tray Support. Options, desk switching, automatic window sticking.
-Compatibility good. Offended apps may be selected by Class.
-Configuration through tabbed dialog. Accessible through tray icon or config button. VERY sparse help file, but enough info is there to get going right away, and the 'out-of-the-box' config is good enough to use immediately.
-Memory usage:2-4 MB with skin.
Bugs, Cons, Gripes
-No longer developed, no source available.
-Saving files to Active Desktop while JSP is open may result in lost files.

VERN (Shareware)
Stands for Virtual Environment Resource Navigator . LOTS of options. Almost too many (like my other favorite... :) ) but looking very promising. Even works across multiple monitors. Desktops can be password-protected.
-Up to 1024 desktops. Referred to as Vern Cells.
-Interface good, no skin support. Resizable through mouse-dragging or by manual config in dialog. Limited definition of colors and borders, but can be made to easily look good. Window caption hideable. Support for docking and autohide, though combinations of the two tended to unpredictable behavior. Active window switching enabled by default.
-Mini window view nice, but only option for icons or not. Support for naming desks. Mini-windows draggable.
-Hotkeys for VERN hide/show, desktop switching.
-Mouse scrolling and wrapping.
-Sticky windows not convenient. Must right-click on mini-window and select 'Glue' so does not work with hidden windows. (like PowerPro bars :( )
-Wallpaper. Could not figure out how to work the wallpaper.
-Tray support. Full-featured options menu.
-Compatibility not supported.
-Configuration good. Many options available from tray menu. Sparse but well-written Help file. Some functions from config menu are better explained in Help.
-Memory Usage:4-5MB
Bugs, Cons, Gripes
-Needs better sticky window support. Manual selection would do it.
-Maximized windows attempt to maximize to entire space claimed by VERN.

Semik's Desktop (Free & Open Source)
Stable, small and simple. A former favorite. What made me switch was lack of active window switching. Doesn't apply if you have 'Hide other apps...' selected.
-Up to 12 desktops. Can be named with On Screen Display of Desktop name.
-Interface bland, but effective. No skin support. Manual resizing in config dialog. Window caption hideable. Docking and Autohiding supported. Active window switching possible with key/mouse combination but was unpredictable. See notes in BugsConsGripes below about this.
-Mini Windows text only. Draggable.
-Hotkeys for switching desktops. Menu hotkey does not work.
-Mouse scrolling.
-Sticky windows good. Add Manually or by tricky key/mouse combination select.
-No Wallpaper support
-Tray support. Options, desk switch, window move menu.
-No Compatibility support.
-Configuration good, minimal. Although since the author is not a native english speaker, descriptions can be a little confusing. Nicely done help file in \docs folder.
-Memory Usage:3-4 MB
Bugs, Cons, Gripes
-Needs better active window switching, but then again, it looks like quite a few features were not implemented by the time development was stopped on this. It is Open Source so if someone wants to take a crack at it, I'll help with bugtesting...

Desktop Manager (Free)
If link doesn't come up, search for "DesktopManager.zip". Many freeware sites have it posted.
This is actually an odd little Minimal Shell/Launcher/VirtualDesktop thingamabob that I found a bit confusing, but someone may like it... I recommend putting 'Desktop.exe', 'Dskprefs.dll' and 'Taskbar.exe' (from 'Extras' directory) into the 'Modules' directory so when it starts up, you're not totally lost. Right click on your desktop for the start menu.
-4-9 desktops
-Pager resizable, limited configuration. Current desk flashes annoyingly.
-Mini windows not draggable, but right clicking a pane will send the active window there.
-Hotkeys definable through 'Advanced Prefs' but I couldn't figure out how to get to that.
-Sticky windows- Hotkey sets active window as sticky or not.
-Wallpapers supported, you can also have different desktops at different screen resolutions and color schemes. Eek.
-Tray only accessible if you run the 'Taskbar.exe' module. Set resolution, preferences, hide pager.
-No Compatibility support. But, as this is intended as a replacement shell, so non-behaving apps might behave differently.
-Configuration VERY minimal.
-Memory Usage: As it varies with other modules loaded, shortcuts, etc. I'll say it goes from around 3MB itself and go up from there as you add stuff.
Bugs, Cons, Gripes
-Actually, this being more than just a VDM, I could not give it a full run-down of all it's abilities. As a VDM it certainly lacks, but if you're looking for something simple to build upon, this may be for you. The 'Outsider99 Shell' was a hack of DM, if I recall correctly...

Dexpot (Free)
Looks nice and full-featured while remaining small and easily configured. I could not properly review this app as it refused to install in english. This typical American monophone could not make hide nor hair of what the options were. Could someone tell me how to switch languages or post a reviw of your own if you spracken ze deutsch.

Virtual Dimension (Free & Open Source)
This one is nice in that it has visuals, but they are simply mini-icons in the pager windows rather than miniature representations of the windows on each desktop (as is most common...) and you can switch to any window on any desk by hitting the icon. See BugsConsGripes below as I need help testing the full functions of this one...
-As far as I could tell, there was no limit to desktops except your memory
-Pager resizable, draggable, mouse resize only.
-No mini-windows, just icons of your currently running tasks at their respective desktops. Icons draggable.
-Lots of hotkeys definable. The most of any VDM I've tested.
-No sticky windows ( as far as I could tell)
---EDIT: See jgpaiva's reply below; apparently dragging an icon out of the pager makes it sticky. Thanks J!---
-Wallpapers support. In fact, I had to define the wallpapers to have any at all. VirDim took over my wallpaper function!
-Tray Support unknown. See BugsConsGripes below.
-Very good compatibility support. Configuration offers the options of Hide-Min-Move for window hiding functions with an exclude list.
-Memory Usage:4-5 MB
Bugs, Cons, Gripes
-Desktop switching was very slow.
-Some windows were sticky even though I tried all the hiding options and there is no manual method of defining sticky windows that I could play with.
-'All windows in Task List' did not work for me.
-NT4 Incompatibility: Some items in the tray menu and all items in the shell menu were blank. From prior experiences, I know this as a GDI incompatibility thing peculiar to NT4 so if someone could tell me what goes on in those menus, that would be great.

XDesk (Free and Shareware versions available)
This one has a shareware version (ver.4.20) and a freeware (1.96) The shareware version looks mighty feature packed so I'm going to do a full review of the freeware version with a few notes added about the expanded capabilities of the shareware version. Fair 'nuff?
-Up to 10 desktops
-No pager in Freeware version.
-No mini-windows either, for that matter.
-Hotkeys for window/desktop switching, some special functions
-Sticky windows support through configuration dialog.
-Wallpapers support very good.
-Tray support very good, different menus on different mouse-clicks of tray buttons.
-Compatibility support.
-Memory Usage:4-5 MB
Bugs, Cons, Gripes
-No pager. The shareware version has a pager called 'QuickView' accessed by hovering on the tray buttons. The mini-windows in it were not defined so I could not figure out which I was dragging.
-Confusing configuration dialog. Some dialogs accessed by different mouse/button combinations.
-In trying out the shareware version, I must say it has many more capabilities than the freeware, but that comes with another load of configuration baggage which is quite confusing to say the least. I rate this one 'Most Annoying VDM'. One nifty feature is each desktop can have not only it's own wallpaper, but it's own icons and icon positioning.

More Info

Wiki page about Virtual Desktops
Some great information and links to some shareware VDM apps.

XDesk's Virtual Desktop Info page
How nice of them to explain the topic as well as provide links to their competitors. Some links broken.

Other Options...

MS has a Virtual Desktop Powertoy but it's for XP only. Most alternative shells like Litestep, BlackBox 4 Windows, Geoshell, etc. have a Virtual Desktop plugin/module. PowerPro can manage quite a few desktops and access them with buttons, hotkeys, scripts, etc. although I didn't review it here because PowerPro is so much more than a VDM it would be like buying an automobile factory and crowing over the quality of the office windows... Besides, I don't really like PP's VDM support.
There's a lot more to say, just Google for "virtual desktop" "virtual window", you get the idea.
I realize this review is fairly minimal but it is, after all, a "Mini-Review", so feel free to ask questions, add reviews, gripe, whatever.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2006, 05:53:43 PM by Edvard »


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Re: Virtual Window Managers
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2006, 05:32:00 PM »
Ever since you mentioned you were making this mini-review, i've been expecting it!
Thanks, and it was exactlly what i was looking for :D
As I was a bb4win user, i'm adicted to virtual desktops, and still didn't find that perfect one.
I've tried some of the ones you have mentioned, and will try them all eventually in the look out for that perfect one ;)
As for your review, i have two comments:
1) Virtual Dimension does support sticky windows, although it's tricky. You have to drag the icon on the virtual window manager out of vwm, and it will appear in all the desktops. I discovered this by accident ;)
2) Another very complete (actually, too complete for my likings) program, is chimera virtual desktop. I've tried it, and didn't like it that much, because it has too many configurations, uses too much memory, and still misses some features i find to be important. (and it's not freeware).

Anyways, thanks for the great review, i will now look through all those apps ;)
 :Thmbsup: :Thmbsup:


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Re: Virtual Window Managers
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2006, 05:54:37 PM »
Thanks, I have updated my post.


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Re: Virtual Window Managers
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2006, 12:25:34 PM »
Edvard, the dexpot version out now installs fine with English, just in case you haven't checked it out.  It's actually pretty nice.  I checked out a couple of the virtual desktop programs for about an hour today, and I settled on dexpot, for whatever that is worth.  I like having a lot of options, and lightweight programs.

I actually liked XDesk a lot also, even though his configuration dialog is pretty involved, but it shows how many options there are.  What I don't like about the XDesk guy is that (from his writings) he seems pretty frustrated/suspicious/defensive and kind of in a bad mood about piracy and competitors and such.  I don't have a problem with what he says, he just seems a little moody.  And it's reflected in his license policy...he makes a big deal about his software having "lifetime" registrations, but it's actually a pretty restrictive policy.  I own two of his products, Systray and XFilesDialog, and this is how his licensing policy works:  instead of giving you a registration key or license, he instead has a separate installation file for the registered version of the software compared to the one you download off the website.  No key or anything is needed to install the registered version, but he demands that it is mailed to a valid isp email address (no hotmail, yahoo, or google, etc.).  Then you have free updates for only a year.  What he means by "lifetime" registration is that the particular version he initially emails you will never expire, even after the one-year registration period.  Well, duh!  That's nothing to brag about...imagine a software not working after a year, that would be very lame, I mean, it's not like it's an antivirus program where databases need to be updated.  Anyway, for new versions that come out after that period, you need to renew your registration.  And in the year I've been registered, there has only been one minor update to the software.  So, overall, it's a pretty expensive piece of software, especially compared to his competitors.

So that's the story of XDesk software, I just thought I'd hash it out since it's not obvious from his website.  His software is actually really good for the most part...efficient on resources, loaded with options, and stable.


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Re: Virtual Window Managers
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2006, 02:39:41 PM »
Ok, I'll give Dexpot another crack, and I'll also include the Monitors program from recently-reviewed Godlike Software

Stay tuned for more...


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Re: Virtual Window Managers
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2007, 06:08:24 PM »
For an excellent report on Dexpot, as well as spirited discussion on the pros and cons of using Virtual Window Managers, see this thread: http://www.donationc...dex.php?topic=7090.0