A virtual desktop is a user interface setup in a virtual environment and stored remotely. A virtual desktop extends the desktop area from the physical screen to a virtual environment with the use of software. Virtual desktops can be switchable, meaning that users can make copies of the desktop environment and switch between them or they can be made available on the same screen by expanding the viewing space beyond the physical desktop by enabling scrolling or panning a section of the virtual desktop.
Virtual desktops are primarily aimed at reducing desktop clutter. Limited desktop spaces often mean that you spend a lot of time minimizing Windows and shuffling between various programs. Having a virtual desktop will help you separate your workflow, allowing you to assign individual work spaces for various types of tasks and you can even customize virtual desktops with your own custom wallpapers and themes.
Despite the popularity and need for them, the Windows operating system does not have an intuitive, user friendly method to create virtual desktops. This will thankfully become more intuitive in Windows 10. For anyone using Windows 7 however, there are plenty of third party products that can help you create virtual desktops with some degree of ease. In this post, we take a look at some of the best virtual desktop managers for Windows 7.
Top Virtual Desktop Managers for Windows 7
VirtuaWin is a powerful free application that supports the creation of up to 20 virtual desktops that can be highly customized to specifications. It supports dual monitor, offers a portable app, and offers a module interface with limitless extensibility. The application also has a variety of useful plugins that allow you to easily change wallpapers, switch desktops as well as manage them. VirtuaWin lets you use hotkeys to switch between environments and does a really good job of using the mouse to switch between desktops, moving programs between desktops and configuring how the programs display in the virtual environments. It must be said though that VirtuaWin hasn’t seen any updates since 2012.
You can download VirtuaWin here.
Dexpot is another desktop manager for Windows that has plenty of great features. Again, with Dexpot, you can have up to 20 virtual desktops and customize it to have its own wallpapers, open up specific programs in specific desktops, set individual resolutions for each of your workspace and so on. Navigating between desktops can be done via keyboard shortcuts and thumbnail clicks. There’s also plugin support for extra features. Price: Free for private use.
NOTE: At the time of installation, this program threw up a non malware PUP file, Open Candy.
BetterDesktopTool is another feature rich program that lets you create up to 64 virtual desktops. This is a lightweight program that sits in your system tray and offers options to create hotkeys for various activities such as showing all windows or showing foreground windows. You can switch between Windows using the hotkeys, the system tray icon and display all the virtual desktops using Ctrl+Tab key, the mouse or the hot corners. You can even set global apps to open in all workspaces. BetterDesktopTool is one of the better tools out there and its available for free for personal use.
Finestra Virtual Desktops
Finestra Virtual Desktops is a great tool that lets you create as many virtual desktops as you need. It also has highly customizable tray icons, colors, fade speeds and hotkeys for each desktop. The tool also makes use of the live thumbnail features of Windows 7 for easy switching between desktops as well as full screen switcher view with drag and drop functionality. Users can also make use of the Windows menus, plugins, and multiple monitor support while using the program.
nSpaces lets you create as many desktops as you wish to on your computer. As far as customizations go, you can add labels for each desktop, change wallpapers and background colors, password protect your workspaces, and use hotkeys for managing the tasks on the various virtual desktops. Price: Free.
NOTE: Be wary of unwanted toolbars in the Express Install option when installing this from CNET downloads.
Moo0 Multi-Desktop lets you create up to 3 virtual desktops at the time of installation and is one of the more simpler programs to use. You can switch workspaces using the thumbnail previews, the system tray icon or using hotkeys. Additionally, you can change wallpapers, switch skins and languages and start the program on boot. The program is free to download for non commercial use.
Desktops from Sysinternals
Desktops hasn’t had an update since 2012 but it’s a neat program that lets you create up to 4 virtual desktops. You can configure hotkeys for switching desktops or use the system tray icons for the purpose. Desktops makes use of Windows Desktop Objects to maintain the connection between windows and desktops but that makes it lose some of the popular functionality you find in other apps such as the ability to move windows from one desktop to another. Also closing a desktop is not possible as it creates orphaned windows so you will need to log off if you want to exit Desktops. Other than that this is a fairly light portable program worth checking out.
Xilisoft Multiple Desktops
The main features of Xilisoft Multiple desktops is the ability to create up to a maximum of 9 virtual desktops, switch between them using customized hotkeys or by clicking the left/right mouse buttons, password protect your workspaces and customize hotkeys for specific virtual desktops.
CubeDesktop NXT is a 3D virtual desktop manager that lets you create up to 16 workspaces, bringing its own wallpapers and icons and allowing for easy switching between environments. If you’d like to experience a more robust and interactive workspace, this one should fit the bill. You can keep your workspaces private by tagging them accordingly and adding password protection. This one’s not free, but you can get the trial version (valid for 120 minutes) to take a look at how it works. Price: $24. 95.
9Desks as the name suggests is a program that lets you have up to 9 customizable virtual desktops to manage your applications. You can add a custom wallpaper, password and a custom name and even hide applications running in other desktops. Desktop switching is by way of hotkeys and you can even move applications between desktops. 9Desks lets you set global password for all workspaces and create rules for applications such as starting up, setting transparency, minimizing and so on. It also includes advanced features like Themes support, Applications Recovery and compatibility with third party applications.
Summary Features of Virtual Desktops
If all this information is a little too overwhelming, here is another breakdown that should help you better appreciate key features.
Number of Desktops
nSpaces, Moo0 Multi-Desktop, let you create up to 4 desktops, Xilisoft Multiple Desktops and 9Desk let you create 9, CubeDesktop NXT lets you create 16, VirtuaWin and Dexpot let you create 20 virtual desktops. BetterDesktopTool, Finestra Virtual Desktops, and Desktops from Sysinternals let you create more than 20.
As far as memory usage goes, Desktops from Sysinternals uses 1.7 megabytes followed by VirtuaWin at 1.8, Moo0 Multi-Desktop at 3.1, 9Desks at 4.2, Dexpot at 5.8, CubeDesktop NXT 8.5, BetterDesktopTool at 15.5, Xilisoft Multiple Desktops at 17.6, nSpaces at 28.3, Finestra Virtual Desktops at 64.2 megabytes.
9Desks, Xilisoft Multiple Desktops, CubeDesktop NXT and nSpaces offer password protection.
Moving Program Windows
VirtuaWin, 9Desks, Desktops from Sysinternals, Dexpot let you move programs between workspaces.
All applications allow you to use and customize hotkeys.
Dexpot, Desktops from Sysinternals, and VirtuaWin are portable.
Choosing the best virtual desktop manager for Windows 7 depends on what it is you are looking for in a virtual desktop. If memory usage is your key concern, Desktops from Sysinternals and VirtuaWin are the best options. If you want a highly interactive and customizable desktop and don’t mind paying a fee, CubeDesktop NXT could be your choice. If password protection is important to you 9Desk would be ideal.
If we have missed out a program that you think qualifies to be in this list of the best virtual desktop managers for Windows 7, be sure to let us know.