Virtual Desktops and Productivity

Sometimes I’ll revisit my favourite collections of applications and utilities to make sure I know what the current features are, see if they can solve any current problems I have, make myself aware of anything new or simply just remind me of something I may have missed before

One of my favourite collections of utilities is the Sysinternals suite (I could write in length about LOTS of the utilities there!)

I revisited an application called Desktops last week and the penny dropped for me in how it could be useful for me having previously ignored it

This functionality isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination and is available natively in “other” operating systems 🙂 but my point is I figured out how it would be useful for me

The utility creates up to four “virtual desktops” they are completely independent from each other and you run different applications on them.It’s a bit like having four PCs under my desk all running from one keyboard mouse and screen

Because I run two monitors as well I’m basically getting the ability to run eight different applications full screen. More importantly it helps me reduce clutter

There are some apps that I always have open regardless of whatever task I’m actually performing.

On a typical day I could have Outlook open, a couple of browser tabs for our SharePoint site, a couple of tabs for gmail and google reader, tabs for Facebook and Twitter (depening on how productive I’m trying to be)

That’s before I actually do anything, depending on the task I could have a couple of Remote Desktop sessions open, maybe a spreadsheet or word document, maybe a PDF plus additional IE tabs related to the task at hand. You get the idea!

My browser becomes the main area for clutter. I could have 10-15 tabs open and even if run multiple instances the the “inactive” tabs get in the way of the two or three I actually need

Desktops helps me create logical areas for specific tasks.

So now on desktop one I have Outlook open on the left and IE open on the right with various parts of our SharePoint site open in a few tabs

Desktop two will be where I open Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Google Reader, BBC news, etc open

Desktop three and four then become dedicated to specifics tasks

The other advantage is it can help me avoid distractions. I’ve lost count on the amount of times I’ve been doing something, flipping through tabs and then been off on tangent because I’ve seen a new article in Google Reader for example. By separating these things out it can help with focus (well it seems to be doing it for me!)

You can get the utility from here (which is also where I got the images..)

There are a only two options to set

Configuration Dialog

Your hot keys if you want them and whether you want the utility to run on start-up or not

As well as using the hot keys to switch between desktops you can click the tray icon and get a nice preview

Tray Desktop Switch Window

I prefer the hot keys myself

It’s not without it’s faults – a couple of times I’ve tried to open something on one of the secondary desktops only for it open on desktop one. I’m not sure if this is the application at fault or the utility but it’s not a big deal

Now I just need another monitor and I’ve have twelve possible desktops! 🙂

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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