Multitasking with Virtual Desktops in Windows 8.1

Virtual desktops are pretty cool because they let you use multiple desktops on one physical computer.

You can have one desktop dedicated to productivity.  Perhaps you have Outlook and Microsoft Excel running there.  On another desktop, you can have your web apps open.  Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer.  And maybe on another desktop you’re playing games such as Minecraft.  The point is that each desktop is a completely distinct desktop (a new explorer.exe process) so you can customize the taskbar, change the wallpaper and all that good stuff without affecting the other desktops.

Using Virtual Desktops is a great way to organize your world especially if you find yourself constantly switching between various disparate tasks.

Let’s jump in.

Virtual Desktops is actually an archaic Windows features that dates all the way back to the the Windows XP days.  Once upon a time there was a Virtual Desktop Manager Powertoy that you could install and invoke from the XP Desktop Manager toolbar.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, you can get started with multiple desktops using a humble program called Desktops v2.0.  A little company called Sysinternals created Desktops v2.0 but Microsoft purchased Sysinternals in 2006 so you’re actually installing a Microsoft product.  This means there’s no junkware, ggratuitous offers or spyware bundled in the application.

Desktop v2.0 is also pretty fast.  Here’s how to set it up:

Download Desktops v2.0 and run the file Desktkops.exe

Extract desktops.exe

By default, Desktops 2.0 lets you shuffle through desktops by pressing the Alt key plus a desktop number ranging from 1 to 4.  So if you want to switch to the third desktop, you would press Alt + 3.  If you wanted to go back to your first desktop just press Alt + 1.

Incidentally, Alt + Tab let’s you switch between open applications on the currently active desktop.  To switch between desktops use the Alt shortcuts instead.

 

Desktops 2.0

Since this is pretty intuitive for most people I would leave it alone.  But I did check Run automatically at logon in the lower right corner of the window because I want Desktops2.0 to feel like it’s a part of Windows 8.1 – not an accessory that needs to run separately.

Desktop 2.0 manifests itself as a tiny icon that resembles a collection of four blue squares.  It sits silently in the tray waiting for you to click and configure.

Windows 8.1 Desktops running in tray

Initially, you’ll only see one desktop but creating additional desktops is as easy as clicking a empty desktop block, opening a few application, changing the customization preferences and then clicking the next empty desktop block.

Adding virtual desktops

So let’s have some fun.

I have two monitors on my setup that’s why each of my four desktop blocks are divided in half and I created 4 virtual desktops.

I’ve got web browsing going on in Desktop 1.  In Desktop 2, I’m working on the cover for my new book (shhh…)  In Desktop 3, I’m checking emails in Outlook 2013 and in the fourth Desktop I’m jamming in iTunes.

You can get creative and set this up any way you wish so I encourage you to play with each screen and configure it in a way that makes sense to you.

When you’re done with a desktop, just log out to close it.

Exploring Virtual Desktops

Do you have any desktop multitasking tips or use a different desktop program than Desktops2.0?  Let me me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

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  • I’m running this on Win 8.1 and it does not seem to work.

  • Ahron Wayne

    This works on 8.1 with a few minor glitches. Thanks!

  • Geoffrey King

    This is nearly useless, you can’t move applications between desktops.

  • Ender Li

    How to auto-launch applications window on a specific desktop?

  • Ashish Panwar

    this is utter non-sense…no option for moving applications between desktops, locking applications on different desktops has many issues as well

  • John Maclerran

    I’ve been using Virtual Dimension since Windows 95 (I’m on 8.1 now…), and it works great. Multiple desktops, can drag and drop between desktops, can see iconic representations of what’s on each desktop and unlimited number of desktops. Plus, it’s open source, so it’s cost is quite acceptable.
    Link: http://virt-dimension.sourceforge.net/

  • amelingay

    this is useful. Yes you cant drag anything to other dekstop. That’s why u have to switch desktop then open the app in there. That’s so easy since it’ not a mac. It has limitations however in other tools, u can only minimize the dekstop not switching.