The vast majority of the computers (at this moment) have one single monitor on which one single (electronic) desktop is visible - and this space can easily become crowded by all the programs, applications and windows that people need to use.
|A Virtual Desktop Manager is a program that will provide you with multiple desktops by "virtualizing" the normal desktop, and as a result each of those virtual desktops will be better organized and more productive than the original (single) one! (and actually in certain conditions a good virtual desktop manager can be more effective than multiple monitors!)|
Not all Virtual Desktop Managers are created equal, and the features and stability of the programs currently available can be very different - most programs will only have a minimal set of features that are only suited for learning more about virtual desktops, a few other programs implement a number of functions that usually can help "managing" the extra desktop space - and from this last group very few can also have very good stability, flexibility and support!
If you want to learn more about Virtual Desktop Managers this small guide (or comparative review) will try to help you, but (unlike some sites that claim to have independent reviews but are only "web decoys" for some of our competitors) we will not claim total impartiality (after all, the real experience can only be gained by using a product continuously, and we are doing that with all our products and not with the products from our competitors), nor will we present all the bugs and problems from other programs (unless our competitors will pay us to discover / document things, we see no reason to give away our battery of tests :)
There are operating systems where some Virtual Desktop Managers are implemented inside the operating system (like BeOS) or inside the "windowing system" (like in Linux/FreeBSD/OpenBSD and similar, where some windows managers under XWindows can implement more than decent features!)
However the huge majority of personal computers are using today a Win32 version, from the oldest Win95 to the latest WinXP, and for the rest of our guide we'll only speak about this segment (which also happens to be currently the only one where it is possible to implement a decent business model for selling small software).
And since we are now at this subject, not all Win32 operating systems are created equal - we have the Win9x family which was the first to be a major hit and had the best "backwards compatibility" with DOS and Win3x programs, but which was more like a version of Win 3.1 "rushed" on 32 bits, and as a result the entire family (Win95, Win95 OSR2, Win98, Win98SE, WinME) has serious limitations and serious stability problems!
The second Win32 branch is "the NT family" - starting with NT 3.1, then NT 3.5 and NT 3.51, then NT4 (which was the first one with decent desktop performance and Win95 compatibility), and more recent Windows 2000 (the first member of the family to implement decent PlugAndPlay features, and currently our preferred choice) and Windows XP (the most recently launched, and still plagued by security problems and lack of good drivers). The stability of this branch is MUCH BETTER and, for those users concerned about that, Win2000, WinXP and NT4 are the only viable alternatives (in this order at the moment when this page was written).
While the entire Win32 market is pretty much a monopoly, for all the potential users of Virtual Desktop Managers the good news are that there is a LOT of competition in this segment and there are quite a lot of programs that bring a great diversity, but the bad news are that it's quite difficult to choose one product over another, especially when you don't have very much experience.
The very first thing that you should test is not the number of features (here XDESK will be the clear winner :) neither the number of possible virtual desktops (most people can only use about 3-4, and most programs provide up to 9-10) nor the "coolness" of the program (which usually is a sign of lack of other more important features).
You should first look after:
a) specific features that help you manage the extra number of programs / windows, like:
- lists of available desktops, eventually with the number of programs / windows on each desktop;
- lists of all programs / windows on all desktops (for instance XDESK has a "Task Menu" and a special "Alt+Tab dialog");
- graphical mini-representations of all virtual desktops (like "XDESK Quick View");
- eventually a list with only the programs / windows from a given desktop.
b) a very "compact" and "non-obtrusive" interface (a program that will take a lot of desktop space by itself will not be very effective in providing you extra space and productivity);
c) a program that is not losing windows (it might be a surprise for you, but almost all of our competitors are loosing/closing windows in certain conditions!!! last time when we tested, from most of the programs below only goScreen (and of course XDESK) had a workaround for those problems!);
d) while "easy of use" might be important when you first start, at a later moment you will almost certainly want more features, so it might be a good idea to buy a more powerful program even if you don't use all its features from the beginning;
e) you should aim for a program that is well integrated in its own features and also with your operating system;
f) a program that works on more operating systems is usually a better choice when you don't have an unlimited budget;
g) you probably want a program that is not crashing your system (and you should first test the program on your specific configuration)!
h) last but not least - you should choose a program that also gives you decent support and has a real chance to be around in a few years time (of course that XDESK was around since 1996 and has already outlived big-name programs like "Norton Desktop")!
Here is just a partial list (sorted in reverse alphabetical order) from Open Directory:
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