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10/03/2002: MultiDesk [>> Go]

    I went looking for a long time before I found MultiDesk. Back in college, the Unix xterminals that we sometimes used had a feature called "virtual desktops". You could switch to one desktop, open an application, then switch to another desktop and open a different application. Both applications stayed running, but they didn't clutter up each others' screens. MultiDesk does this for Windows (I've used it in Windows 98 and Windows 2000). You can have up to 9 different virtual desktops that you can switch to using a system tray icon or hotkeys (I use the Windows key coupled with the numbers 1 through 9). When you switch from one desktop to another, all the windows that are open on the first desktop disappear (they don't even clutter up your task bar) and all the windows you had open on the second desktop reappear. I find MultiDesk invaluable at work - desktop 1 is my e-mail; 2 is my electronic timecard; 3 is my version tracking software; and 4 and above are my work spaces. If I want to see if I have any new mail, I hit WINDOWS+1 and poof, all my work screens disappear and my full-screen e-mail takes their place. Nope, no new e-mail, so WINDOWS+4 and I'm back where I was debugging a file. At home I don't use it so much because I don't often have more than 2 things open at a time, but there are times it's helpful.

    MultiDesk isn't perfect. Some programs don't seem to register their windows with the operating system in a "normal" way, so MultiDesk either displays them in all the desktops or, in the case of one application I use, won't let you minimize the program when you switch to its desktop. One program I occasionally use at work even stops MultiDesk from working at all while it's open (so you can't switch desktops), which I don't quite understand. But most of the applications I've used don't have any problem with MultiDesk, so it isn't usually an issue. MultiDesk can also lock up and "lose" your windows by not letting you switch between desktops (so anything you've got open on the other desktops is no longer reachable), which just serves to remind you to "save early, save often" in all your applications. This happens to me very rarely, and is usually caused by some other application generating a system error or GPF.

    If you suffer from computer screen clutter, like I did, you might want to give MultiDesk a try. I couldn't work without it now. (I believe that Windows XP already has this functionality, so you don't need MultiDesk unless you're using Windows 2000 or below.)

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