20-Desktop Vista

very good
key review info
application features
  • Configurable key/mouse control
  • (7 more, see all...)

With increasing hardware performance the average Joe can deal with multiple applications at once. There is only one downside to this: the space required to view all the application windows is confined by the limits of the monitor. Sure, there are multi-monitor solutions to this inconvenience but that would mean wasting some valuable space on the office desktop and risk looking like a super computer geek who's working on the new worm to take down NASA servers; plus a pretty sweet amount of money spent on the hardware.

Desktop virtualization on the other hand provides an easy approach to the problem at hand and lets you save the office desktop space for more important stuff than extra monitors, like chocolate bars or snack bags.

VirtuaWin attempts to help you in the matter by providing a total set of twenty virtual desktops. The application is absolutely free of charge and also comes in a portable version so you can carry it on a stick and benefit from multiple desktops on every computer you work on.

There is no main interface to analyze but the configuration window's spartan look does not fit too well in Vista's shiny shell. However, the options are clearly listed and separated in sections so there should be no trouble customizing VirtuaWin.

As soon as you start the application it will add a tray icon split into four quadrants showing the desktop you are currently working with. Moving from one desktop to another can be easily achieved with the use of keyboard shortcuts which you can configure for yourself.

Contrary to some users' expectations, the desktops enabled via VirtuaWin will not be completely new as all shortcuts on the original one together with system tray icons will be preserved on all of them. Virtualization takes effect only at the level of the active windows and applications will still function as if they were running on a single desktop. So it will not trick them into thinking that there is a different system and act accordingly.

By default the icon of the application is the only means to access VirtuaWin's functions. Clicking on it will unfold a menu displaying all currently opened windows and allow you to move them to the current desktop, switching automatically to the desktop containing that window or enable some windows to be shown on all virtual desktops.

The General tab of the Setup window permits you to choose the number of desktops to be enabled via VirtuaWin. As mentioned before, the number can be upped to twenty, providing you with plenty of space for a slew of applications. Each of the desktops can be named to your liking and there is some minimal configuration regarding the way windows on other desktops are managed from a different desktop view.

More than this, you can customize the menus the icon tray should display when simply clicking on it: show windows, switch to a specific window, move here or always show menu. All these will allow you neat manipulation of all opened windows regardless of the virtual desktop you are in.

The Hotkeys menu permits setting up keyboard shortcuts to affect both navigation and opened windows as well as the user interface available at clicking on the system tray icon. Navigation options include actions for switching between the desktops (move directly to a specific desktop or navigate through each of them). Window related hotkeys let you set keyboard shortcuts for moving application windows to different virtual desktops. As expected, UI shortcuts allow quick access to different VirtuaWin windows. You can open the Setup panel, various window lists and menus, each with a separate key combination.

Mouse actions are also a component of the configuration panel allowing you to enable support for desktop change at different mouse actions. Thus you can simply touch one of the edges of the screen in order to switch to another virtual environment and set the delay for the action to take place.

Various other mouse actions such as warping (the cursor will be moved to the opposite end of the screen when the edge is reached), desktop edge knocking (knock on the edge with the mouse in order to change the desktop), enabling middle click for desktop change, window list or showing window menu.

As simple as VirtuaWin may seem, it can be enriched with the help of custom-made modules (plug-ins) designed to add new functions to the application or increase the comfort level when working with it. The set comprises utilities for desktop switching, playing sounds, setting a different wallpaper for each virtual space, managing desktop shortcuts for each desktop, etc.

If you are looking for more configuration you can access the Expert tab, which contains a set of advanced options designed to set up the way VirtuaWin manages the order of the windows in the taskbar at switching between desktops, how it restores the focus, hide system tray icon, enable log and taskbar detection as well as forcing refresh after desktop change.

Should the application handle one of your windows differently from what you expected, there is an extra configuration menu accessible from the context menu of the system tray icon that can help you improve that. The two basic parts of configuring a window include identification and the settings to be applied. A window supports only one rule to be applied, no more, no less.

All the options available in VirtuaWin are fully covered and thoroughly explained in the Help file of the application and none of your questions should remain unanswered.

Playing around with VirtuaWin on Vista brought out no bugs or malfunctions of the application and handling the windows went extremely smoothly. If you’re worried about resource usage, don't, because during our testing the program's maximum CPU usage barely reached 3% and that only when we were on a desktop-changing spree. RAM consumption seemed pinned under 1.5MB.

Some users feel like VirtuaWin does not offer too much in terms of desktop virtualization in the sense that it does not trick the applications into behaving as if they were on a different system but having access to up to 20 desktops with the system tray intact and all installed software in place is actually the beauty of the software.

It provides a vast suite of options for toggling between desktops and getting access to the desired window regardless of the environment you are in.

The Good

VirtuaWin turns a single desktop environment into a 20-desktop one. The app provides easy management of opened windows and shuffling them between the desktops.

Switching between the multiple desktops is easy and you can set whatever keyboard shortcuts as well as enable mouse actions for the task.

Resource usage is light and even on more feeble systems neither its CPU nor RAM needs betray its existence.

Configuration options provide plenty of flexibility even for the more demanding users. For its size and simplicity it can be tweaked seven ways till Sunday in terms of hotkeys, desktop layout, mouse actions, window order in the taskbar or focus, enabling rules for handling more special windows, etc.

The Bad

The lack of an interface and the myriad of configuration options may scare some users off. Also, some files may gain a little lag when restoring from the taskbar.

The Truth

It is a simple application for simple needs that moves and feels great. It leaves an extremely light footprint on system resources and provides a slew of options for making navigation from one desktop to another and accessing any of the opened windows as comfortable as possible.

The looks are not quite appropriate for Vista but once you get it set up there is no need to access the configuration window, save for the window control menu. Being portable enables you to take it on a removable drive and use it on any computer.

Here are some snapshots of the application in action:

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user interface 2
features 4
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5

final rating 4
Editor's review
very good

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