[TOOLS] Review/user comments of MS Virtual Destop Manager powertoy

Subject: [TOOLS] Review/user comments of MS Virtual Destop Manager powertoy
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2008 11:56:37 -0400

Perhaps the following observations will be useful to somebody on the

Last week, I talked about the crowding of my Windows desktop, and the
difficulty of finding stuff that I want to navigate to, versus the
inconvenience of frequently closing everything that's not related to the
current (this five minutes) task. Several people admitted similar
concerns. Some had suggestions.

A list-member recommended a couple of Windows XP Power Toys -
unsupported goodies developed by Microsoft programmers as fun projects,
and provided on the MS website, but without official support. In other
words, they work as advertised, and don't break anything, but Microsoft
doesn't promise anything - they are provided "as-is".

One was Taskswitch, a simple enhancement of the "Alt-tab" function to
add thumbnail views of application instances, so that [Alt][Tab]ing to
another task becomes less of a guessing game. That one works fine, with
one exception...

The other PowerToy is Virtual Desktop Manager. At first glance, MSVDM
looks like it should be the answer to the Linux/UNIX multiple desktop
capability, as I (appreciatively) experience it via KDE (and
occasionally via GNOME, when I'm in a frivolous and non-KDE mood).

However, after using it for a week, I find VDM lacking and annoying...
at least for anybody who is accustomed to spreading their work and play
among two, four, or more semi-independent desktops within a Linux
graphical session.

VDM does create multiple virtual desktops that are visually separate
from each other, with one visible at any one time and the others hidden,
until you select a hidden one via its little numbered icon in the VDM
section of the Windows toolbar. That part seems good and acts much like
I'd expect from years of experience running four desktops in my Linux
KDE sessions.

VDM appears to have two modes: Shared Desktop or... not.

If Shared Desktop is on, all the windows/tasks from all your desktops
are represented in the taskbar at the bottom of every virtual desktop,
AND if you click one of those tasks/icons, the associated window springs
to life... on the current desktop. It does so whether it was already
part of that desktop or part of another. This action rather defeats the
desire to organize your tasks/windows in groups, per desktop. The
correct action, according to me, would be to switch desktops while
presenting the desired window/task.

If you switch off Shared Desktop, then the tasks become
confined/isolated to the desktop on which they were originally opened.
However, the taskbar below each desktop now reflects only what lives on
that desktop. As well, the [Alt][Tab] function works only within the
current virtual desktop. You have to remember which other desktops hold
your various tasks and windows. Unlike in KDE/Linux, there's no option
(that I've found) to right-click a window frame and "send" it to another
desktop where it's better suited. If you want to move a window between
desktops, you need to switch on Shared Desktops, go to the desired
desktop, click the task for that window, to launch it in its new place,
and then switch off Shared Desktops again.

In addition, the KDE virtual-desktop switcher shows little thumbnails of
your desktops, so you have visual reminder of what's on each one, before
you click to transfer-your-viewpoint/bring-up-a-different-desktop. As
well, if you elect to have all your apps/tasks appear in every KDE
desktop taskbar, they'll tell you which desktop they belong to.

As well, there are hot-key options for jumping instantly among your
desktops, AND you can have a different background color or photo for
each one, as an aid to recognizing where you are at any moment. I
haven't found anything like that in VDM. Change one background, and it
changes... but jump to another desktop with the original background, and
the original background is still there (sounds good so far) then jump
back to the changed desktop... and the original background (that's on
all the other virtual desktops) is back. I'll experiment a little more,
but I think that's the way it is. Changing a photo background to a
less-graphically-demanding single color requires doing so for each and
every desktop.

Furthermore, even with its additional capabilities, KDE seems to make
more efficient use of video memory. VDM has been quite slow to populate
the new desktop each time I jump. My video card has 256MB of its own
memory, and I'm not doing anything graphically fancy with any
application (no games or videos or 3D rendering on my system)..

Some of these things that I've been highlighting as deficiencies might
be just my lack of familiarity with the program, but the "Help" is just
three paragraphs, leading me to believe that I've seen all the
capability and flexibility that exists to be seen.

Anyway, if I hadn't been using the KDE/Linux implementation for years,
perhaps I would not find the VDM implementation so clunky.

Granted, KDE is a full desktop environment with all sorts of integrated
functions, and an open api and interface. VDM is a little add-on to
Windows, created as a gift, in someone's part-time off hours. So, the
comparison is not fair. VDM might be useful to Windows-only users who
have never experienced "the real thing" and don't have a nagging
comparison always at the back of their minds. On the third hand, KDE
(and all of Linux) costs no more than did MSVDM - which is to say, free,
gratis, zero - and KDE gets frequent updates. It also works on 64-bit
machines running 64-bit OS, which MSVDM doesn't.


- Kevin

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