How to Create Multiple Virtual Desktops in Windows 7 for Free

Users of Linux and OS X benefit from having the ability to create and utilize multiple virtual desktops to use throughout the day. These desktops can allow the user to keep more programs open without cluttering the workspace, as well as separate programs that don’t need to be displayed together.

I use multiple desktops in OS X as I switch between video editing, communication, and browsing applications. Some applications exist consistently across all of the virtual desktops, while others exist within a certain space.

Believe it or not, there are several ways to do this in Windows, though support isn’t necessarily bundled with the operating system itself.

Here are two solutions that will allow you to create multiple virtual workspaces within Windows.

Desktops

How to Create Multiple Virtual Desktops in Windows 7 for FreeDesktops is a very small, simple program that runs in your System Tray, giving you the ability to navigate between multiple desktops with a few simple clicks. Alternatively, you can browse virtual desktops using a hotkey combination assigned to each one.

Desktops is lightweight and blessedly solid. Applications run just fine, for the most part, and switching between desktops is quick and snappy.

There are several downsides, however. One of these downsides being that you won’t get to enjoy transparent Aero interface objects as you would on the primary desktop. This is due to how Desktops actually creates the virtual spaces.

In addition, you don’t have the ability to move a window from one desktop to another. Wherever you launched the application is where it remains, making it significantly less useful to the similar functionality available on Linux and OS X.

Still, if you’re looking for a solution, this is one of the best out there. Not only does it run with minimal system resources, but it also works with virtually every consumer Windows version since XP.

VirtuaWin

VirtuaWin is another free utility that works across a multitude of different Windows releases including those dating back to the Windows 9X days. Operating differently than Desktops, VirtuaWin allows you to enjoy features such as Aero across multiple workspaces while still maintaining some semblance of separation between them.

VirtuaWin has an abundance of options available to you to suit your particular needs. While it may not be as smooth or native as the built-in feature found on OS X or Linux, it is a giant leap forward in terms of creating a larger overall workspace. Panes can be arranged in various ways, though everything is handled in a relatively smooth and snappy fashion.

You can switch between applications from the icon in the task bar as well as switch between desktops. You can assign hotkeys to represent switching patterns including next, previous, and directional differences. Oh, and you can extend your desktops well beyond the default four by configuring the desktop grid size in the preferences menu. For example, you could have a 3×3 desktop with nine workspaces, 2×3 with six, or any other arrangement that suits your needs.

You can drag windows between workspaces by enabling the mouse support features. For example, you can configure the delay at which a new workspace is loaded when your mouse hits the edge of your current workspace. You can even configure a hotkey to turn this feature off when you don’t want to accidentally cross to another workspace. If you’re a fan of using the middle button for desktop switching, you can enable that as well.

Dexpot

Dexpot is perhaps the most glossy of the bunch. It is free for private use, and can be used for 30 days as a trial in a corporate setting. With it, you can configure up to 20 desktops, each allowing you to run (and share) various programs between them.

A window catalog allows you to quickly browse each desktop and see every window currently active on it. This may not be as fluid as Mission Control, but it is certainly one of the more appealing features out of the three Windows 7 compatible virtual desktop programs in this article.

You can even configure it so that each desktop creates an icon in your task bar. This makes it incredibly easy to switch to a specific desktop without having to hit hotkeys or browse between them individually. Double-clicking on the icon(s) in the tray reveals a full screen preview of all of the desktops, simultaneously. This is about as close to Mission Control as you can find, though it would be nice to have it activate as you hit a corner.

Mouse switching is supported, with or without triggers, to prevent accidental switching between desktops.

There are some fairly stunning visual effects available, as well. Plugins such as Dexcube mimic the 3D desktop environment found on Linux-style virtual desktops. You can also configure whether activating an already-open window in an opposing desktop will copy it, move it, or switch you to its current workspace.

Final Thoughts

Out of these three very different solutions, Dexpot has to be the one that shines above the rest. Not only does it have a modern look and feel to it, but the features it makes available to users are almost exactly what I’d expect from a mature virtual desktop management program. Where others may provide reasonable solutions with a microscopic RAM footprint, Dexpot goes above and beyond by providing live previews in the taskbar, fast switching, and 3D graphics that only add to the experience of the user. After all, experience is the most important factor for any consumer software, right?

Each solution has its own perks and downfalls, though it ultimately falls on the user to decide which one works best for them. Others out there may provide better results, though “better” is always relative.

What about you? Do you use any of these (or other) virtual desktop applications on your Windows PC? Which one, and what have your experiences been like?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Michael Stokes

    I downloaded Dexpot today after reading this article and haven’t found any issues thus far. Works great, low on RAM usage. Works good for having many windows open, especially on dual monitors. My only complaint is I wish one of these pieces of software would support running one Virtual Desktop on one monitor and another on a separate monitor. Other than that, great piece of software, great article.   

  • Michael Stokes

    I downloaded Dexpot today after reading this article and haven’t found any issues thus far. Works great, low on RAM usage. Works good for having many windows open, especially on dual monitors. My only complaint is I wish one of these pieces of software would support running one Virtual Desktop on one monitor and another on a separate monitor. Other than that, great piece of software, great article.   

  • Michael Stokes

    I downloaded Dexpot today after reading this article and haven’t found any issues thus far. Works great, low on RAM usage. Works good for having many windows open, especially on dual monitors. My only complaint is I wish one of these pieces of software would support running one Virtual Desktop on one monitor and another on a separate monitor. Other than that, great piece of software, great article.   

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      Glad it worked for you!

  • Michael Stokes

    I downloaded Dexpot today after reading this article and haven’t found any issues thus far. Works great, low on RAM usage. Works good for having many windows open, especially on dual monitors. My only complaint is I wish one of these pieces of software would support running one Virtual Desktop on one monitor and another on a separate monitor. Other than that, great piece of software, great article.   

  • bryanminer

    I have wanted this for a long time I don’t use Windows much right now but when I do i always feel limited by the system. I am so fast with stuff on the Mac. Now I can get some of that back on Windows.

  • Daniel Brown

    Love Desktops.

  • http://www.creativetech.me/ Phill Fernandes

    I have used VirtuaWin in the past and I loved it. It does take a little configuring when it comes to the key commands.

  • http://twitter.com/jrdn_v Jordan Vasquez

    Any reason why Microsoft doesn’t include virtual desktops for Windows within the OS?

  • Andrew G.

    I use a program called MDesktop. It’s very fast and has almost zero RAM footprint. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a free lightweight virtual desktop application.

  • http://www.bharatkumargupta.com/ Bharat Kumar Gupta

    wow such a useful guide on virtual desktop, thank you for sharing

  • http://www.facebook.com/ReprovedReaper André Svensson

    I have download and tried out “Desktops” no problems
    But I to wanted to use my multiple monitors to show one desktop on each.
    other than that works like a charm, must thank you guys for brining this to my attention

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000445435122 Daniel Jones

    I’ve downloaded Dexpot today as well after being a long term user of Desktops, such a brilliant upgrade. Thanks for another well written and helpful article Matt!

  • http://nineportals.com/ Simon

    For Windows 7 you can try Actual Window Manager. It includes independent virtual desktops for each monitor, and improved multi-monitor environments.

    http://actualtools.com/windowmanager/

  • bblackmoor

    I am a huge fan of Dexpot.

  • RealUlli

    Dexpot looks really neat, but because I’m at work I can’t use it, since it’s only free for non-commercial use. Consequently, I either have to go through the purchasing process or refrain from using it. At home, I’m running Linux with a real virtual desktop environment…

  • BeloSol

    Which solution allows you to have independent icons and bookmarks on each Desktop, as well as different wallpaper on each?

  • ((( KaaMoS )))

    Double Desktop is probably the oldest, the fastest and the smallest 3rd party application.

    It adds an extra Desktop, so yo can work as if you were having 2 monitors.

    You can drag windows from desktop to desktop, set up individual wallpapers and it also has customizable hotkeys.

    Just 88KB of size!

  • Tech Marketer

    Interesting information. Well, there is no doubt that hosted virtual desktops are Hot. And the days of IT professionals marching from computer to computer performing the same tasks on multiple PCs are thankfully over. With hosted virtual desktop, after a major upgrade is integrated, there is no need to perform any tasks at an employee level—in-house or remote. Their machines are effectively the same, all of which are accessing data and applications through the cloud service provider without storing anything locally.

  • http://twitter.com/LeeJTyler Lee Jenna Tyler

    Ryan, you rock. This is the way Windows was originally advertised…

  • Brian

    Do any of these solutions – or a new solution – allow you to run multiple FF browsers – one for each window? And have them function well – with a continuous email app like Thunderbird or Outlook – while they are unattended?

    • Dan Lund

      The quickest way to find out is to try, since your question is so specific and easy to try…

  • gadlen

    I tried all of the ones in your post and I’ve become a fan of Dexpot. I’ve been using it for 2 months now and it works well! It’s got a lot of options that I’ve been happily tweaking AND it works well out of the box. :-) thanks!

  • Seath

    I know this is older article but thanks. I really like Dexpot. They did some wonderful improvements and it works in windows 8.1 just fine.

  • http://www.scc-co.com Gerry Poe

    Thanks.. good post!

  • Rick

    Very helpful article! Thanks for sharing..

  • XexusNH

    Tried Desktops today. Easy to install and use, I like the ability to assign the hot keys, but a major drawback for me was that I couldn’t run the same browser type on both desktops at once. FireFox (Nightly for 64b) and Opera told me that I’d have to close the previous instance before starting up a new one. Chrome and IE all recognized that I clicked on it, but failed to open at all. Other programs like Excel seemed to work fine on both though. So, I’ll try a different one today, but I would give it another try if that browser problem was resolved.

  • Gates

    Get a MAC. Done.