Jeromy Anglim's Blog: Psychology and Statistics

Friday, October 2, 2009

Windows XP Virtual Desktop Manager

This post discusses how to set up multiple virtual desktops on Windows XP. Some of the benefits are also discussed.

Today, I installed Windows XP Virtual Desktop Manager. I've been a big fan of dual monitor setups for a long time (I use Ultramon to manage them), but I was reading in a forum that virtual desktops offer an additional option.

Windows XP comes with an optional Virtual Desktop Manager. The general download page is here. The specific download is here.

Set up:
1. Download the installation file.
2. Run the installation file
2. Right-clicked on Windows Task Bar - Toolbars - Desktop Manager

Additional notes:

  • I also use WinKey (software that lets you set up custom shortcut keys to launch programs). I had to disable some of these so that the Virtual Desktop Manager shortcut keys would work.
  • The preview that I get when pressing Windows-V just shows my primary monitor and not my second monitor.
  • I disabled the animation (right click on the MSVDM - Use animations)
  • I removed the title because it was unnecessary  (right click on the MSVDM - Show title)
General Usage:
  • The default shortcut keys are Windows + 1, 2, 3, 4 for the four desktops and V for showing an overview
  • There's an option to share desktops or not. If you share, all open programs in the task bar appear in each virtual desktop; otherwise, you only get the programs in use on that virtual desktop. I tend to think sharing would be the normal course of things. This makes it easy to incorporate programs into a virtual desktop.
How I'm using it:
I'm still thinking about what would make useful desktops. I have a dual screen setup, thus the following are some plausible virtual desktops:
  • Monitor 1: Email; Monitor 2: Calendar
  • Monitor 1: R using StatET and Eclipse; Monitor 2: Excel with my metadata OR Word Document
  • Monitor 1: tools for providing source material for a blog post; Monitor 2: The blog editor
My tentative system:
  • Dekstop 1 and 2: vary based on what I am doing
  • Desktop 3: File system; Windows Explorer
  • Desktop 4: Email and Calendar
What is the key to such a system being useful?
Automaticity: The value of the system would depend partially on the automaticity with which it could be used. Automaticity develops with consistency. Thus, if desktop four is always for email and calendar, it might be easier to use. 
Time to configure: How long does it take when Windows is started to set up the system? How natural is it to use? How much fiddling around is required to get everything in order?
Task structure: Software combine to perform tasks. I organise appointments through email and need to check my calendar. I run analyses and need to export to a document or take input from raw data or metadata. Thus, software that feeds into tasks that are completed at the same time or have an inherent sequential or reciprocal structure would be suited to being located on the same virtual desktop.

I'm going to give it a trial. If I'm still using it after a few weeks then I guess it will be a success.


  1. Interesting tips. Thanks! I was struggling a little bit with these issues myself. After using two monitors for some short time I decided to buy a 24 inch monitor. It gives me more or less the same desktop size as the older setup with two monitors, but less wiring on and below your desk. One tool that I found invaluable is the WinSplit Revolution ( By pressing Ctrl-Alt and one of the numeric keypad keys you can automatically reposition the windows on the screen. For example pressing Ctrl-Alt-Num1 would put the window in lower left corner, Ctrl-Alt-Num5 puts it in the center etc. I guess it might be also useful if you use two monitors showing single desktop, didn't try that though.

  2. My man, a new version of Virtual Desktop software is offered from Microsoft:

    I've just installed it. The program itself is less than 100kB (133 coding). So far it's very slick, and much more response than "Windows XP Virtual Desktop Manager".