Virtual desktop woes

Are there any decent virtual desktop programs for Windows XP? I need the following: a) it must be discreet – preferably no graphical presence, although if it puts something in the taskbar/notification area which I can hide, that’s OK; b) it must have hotkeys for switching between desktops, and preferably they will be configurable (I want to use Alt-1, Alt-2, etc. as in Ion on Linux); c) when I switch away from a desktop and then back again, it should restore everything as it was when I left it; d) it’d be great if you could dynamically create and dispose of desktops, as in Ion, but I expect that’s asking too much and I’ll have to be happy with a fixed number (say, 4).

Now, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Unfortunately, it seems almost impossible to find anything to satisfy just a), let alone anything else.

I used Microsoft’s very own Virtual Desktop Manager “Power Toy” for a while (can configure it to show only one small icon in taskbar – acceptable), but it fails badly on c) – open Excel, switch to a different desktop, switch back and viola – Excel’s toolbars and menus have disappeared, never to return. Googling for this issue led to a couple of mentions, but no solutions.

So I tried Jeremy Stanley’s VDM, which satisfies a) perfectly (-h on the command line hides it completely), and more critically avoids the Excel problem provided you also specify -a on the command line. Unfortunately you can’t reconfigure the hotkeys (it’s Ctrl-Alt-n instead of Alt-n, boo hiss), and worse, it doesn’t always restore windows to the right depth order, so you often end up with the wrong window on top. Alt-tab boredom. More boo hiss.

Someone must have solved this problem properly?

2 Responses to “Virtual desktop woes”

  1. Amir Karger
    August 4th, 2005 | 9:37 pm
    mentions that you can fix the Excel (Access, too, btw) problem by minimizing the menu-less window, switching to another desktop and back, and un-minimizing. Pathetic, but it kinda works.

    They also claim that is not bad.

  2. August 5th, 2005 | 11:48 am

    Yes, you’re absolutely right – VirtuaWin is excellent, as I discovered a little while after writing the post you commented on! :-)

    Thanks anyway!