Submit Hint Search The Forums LinksStatsPollsHeadlinesRSS
14,000 hints and counting!

Use virtual desktops in OS X Apps
The idea of multiple desktops was something I had never seen in implementation until I started working with Linux, and I have been trying to find a way to implement this in OS X, without luck (I'm not much of a programmer). Well, the good folks at CodeTek did just that with VirtualDesktop. For those unfamiliar with the idea, it is a method of expanding your desktop real estate without the hassle and expense of a second monitor. The unlicensed demo limits you to two desktops, but licensed versions support up to 100! I use it when I am working in Photoshop, or some other app that hijacks your entire screen with palettes and whatnot, and I still need easy access to other open applications.

I highly recommend taking the time to look around at the info on their site, and giving it a demo period. I've already decided that I can't personnally live without it!

[robg adds: I'm not much of a virtual desktop person (I prefer to have everything visible; not really sure why), but VirtualDesktop is a very well done program. I thought it had been mentioned here before, but it hasn't. They also offer a highly unusual 90 day full money back guarantee, no questions asked, so you could actually buy it before trying it, so to speak!]
  • Currently 3.50 / 5
  You rated: 4 / 5 (4 votes cast)

Use virtual desktops in OS X | 18 comments | Create New Account
Click here to return to the 'Use virtual desktops in OS X' hint
The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
a free alternative
Authored by: sebastienb on Apr 25, '03 10:33:43AM
Space App is another free opensource alternative. Not much work has been done unfortunately, and it doesn't have all the same features, but it might be enough for some...

BTW, haven't both of these been mentioned here before?

[ Reply to This | # ]

a free alternative
Authored by: robg on Apr 25, '03 11:08:57AM

The Space app has definitely been mentioned, but there are no references at all to "CodeTek" or "Virtual Desktop" anywhere on the site that I could find -- that's primarily why I ran it, as it's clearly worth at least a mention!


[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: macmath on Apr 25, '03 12:10:18PM

I am a user of CodeTek VirtualDesktop and I really like it. I
have also tried Space App, and there is no comparison in
features, performance, or polish. Space App is several
generations of development behind CTVD (it might be like CTVD
0.5beta1). When I first tried Virtual Desktops I did not
appreciate them too much, but after two days I couldn't be
without them. I can click on a web url in an email and the web
page will open in a browser in another desktop where I can read
it later (meanwhile I can continue to read my mail
uninterrupted), or it could open in that desktop and I can be
automatically taken to that desktop to see it---it is my choice.
Similary, I can click on a mail url in a web page and a new mail
composition window will open in another desktop (and I can be
taken there or not). I can be working on one project in one
desktop which contains the open windows for that project and on
another project in another desktop which contains the open
windows for that project. My email and web browser can be
open simultaneously in their separate desktops and not interfere
with my other work. I have complete access to all my open
windows and I never have to dig for them again. It is kind of
like having "Tabs" for your whole environment. CodeTek is
very responsive for feature suggestions and the rare bug. At
idle, in top, its cpu usage is 0.0% (as of the last version or

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: kiiquu on Apr 25, '03 12:35:34PM

I've tried virtual desktops but never really got the hang of it. I can't see an advantage over something like using liteswitch and setting window layering on single application. I can then switch from app to app and have no distracting windows open. I can quickly hop from say email to photoshop to dreamweaver docs.

But my Linux friends swear by virtual desktops (perhaps they don't have single application mode and control tab as in liteswitch?).

Could someone clarify for me what the advantage is over single applications/liteswitch? The disadvantage that I see with virtual desktops is losing the screen realestate to the desktop switcher box (whatever its called)

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: Welles Goodrich on Apr 25, '03 02:22:38PM

I'm an enthusiastic supporter of CodeTek's Virtual Desktop. In
my circumstances, as an artist, I use an Apple Cinema Display
primary monitor and a LaCie Blue II as a secondary extended
desktop for palettes and so forth. CodeTek has a couple of
specific advantages over app hiders. You can assign specific
desktops to applications so any window opening from that
application has it's own desktop. Secondarily you can use the
Pager to drag any window from any desktop to any other.

In my case I have windows assigned to the Finder, e-mail
clients, browsers, iChat, iTunes and Toast, DVD player,
Photoshop, Illustrator, Bryce, Strata 3-D, Microsoft Office/
AppleWorks, and a couple of general ones for Classic apps and
less frequently opened ones. Say I open a Portfolio Catalog in
Classic and select an EPS. I'll drag it to the Illustrator icon in the
dock and it opens on the IL desktop. I'll work on it and want to
import into Photoshop, so I'll hit my Photoshop hot key to bring
up that desktop and drag the Illustrator window to the PS
desktop where I can just drag the EPS for placement on a new
layer. It takes seconds to accomplish, much faster than any
other technique I know and keeps my desktops from getting

One thing's for certain, we each develop individualized
techniques for using our computers. The possible variations seem
virtually unlimited so all anyone can really say is, "It works for

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: macmath on Apr 25, '03 02:22:55PM

You are correct in that LiteSwitch is very nice. They do have
some similar functions. I tried it for a short time, but I would
not say I tried it long enough to become proficient enough to
give it a fair evaluation vs VirtualDesktops. I'll just state some
perceived differences and ask that you follow up and resolve
them for me if they are wrong.
1) When using two applications between which I expect to need
to drag-and-drop, I have them in the same desktop in
VirtualDesktops. This seems to be difficult in Single Application
Mode. (I imagine that there is some [easy] way around this that
I am not aware of).
2) With VirtualDesktop, you have access (via Menubar and
Pager) to select any specific open window of any application.
3) With VirtualDesktop, you can have Mouse Focusing to switch
between open windows without clicking.
4) With VirtualDesktop, you can set different applications to
behave differently with respect to the opening of new windows,
behave differently with respect to Mouse Focusing, etc.
5) With VirtualDesktop, you can have some applications visible
in all desktops (and so at all times).
6) With VirtualDesktop, you can have some windows of
Application1 in the same desktop with Application2, and other
windows of Application1 in other desktops. Being stuck with
only one application at a time seems like a shortcoming to me,
and taking the time to switch in and out of Single Application
Mode seems like a bother.

I have to go for now; if I think of others, I'll post again. As
with any utility such as this, you only realize the flexibility and
strength of the utility when you use it for awhile and find the
need to do certain things. With VirtualDesktop, the road to
these extra capabilities is very intuitive. Therefore, I imagine
that LiteSwitch has answers to many of these, but I just did not
use it long enough to need or find them.

[ Reply to This | # ]
A specific example of usage
Authored by: hayne on Apr 25, '03 09:12:19PM

Here's a specific example of usage where a virtual desktop
performs much better than a mere application switcher.

When I am developing an interactive web site (e.g. one like
macosxhints), I have one desktop in which I have my BBEdit
windows, Terminal windows and some Safari windows showing
reference material (e.g. I have another desktop in
which I have various web browsers open on the site being
developed (so I can see how it looks, what works, etc.). I make
a change in the code, then flip to the other desktop and test out
the site, flip back, etc. This would not be possible with an app-
switcher since I need to switch between two overlapping sets of
applications (e.g. Safari has some windows on each desktop).

And in practice, I would actually have several desktops, not just
two. E.g. I might have another desktop with non-project-related
stuff: my email and chat programs, a game or two that I am
playing, etc.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: ewelch on Apr 25, '03 10:54:14PM

I have used CodeTek's Virtual desktop for a couple months and
love it. I use it at work to keep all my applcation windows up
and available.

I have web browsers in one window, Outlook (yes, classic) in
another, Finder windows in another, Virtual PC running Extnesis
Portoflio in another, the OS X version of Portfolio in another (it
can't do file paths right, so I use the Windows version to upate
file paths), Photoshop in a Window, InDesign, Word, Excel,
Applescript Editor, iChat, ProCite all in their own windows. I
have hot keys set up to go from one to the other.

This way I have all these programs running at once, and none of
them gets in the way of any other's screen real estate. I rarely
minimize programs any more. Switching is fast. You can have it
switch to a desktop whenever a new windows is created there.
So when I run an Applescript that automates Photoshop, I can
start the script and it automatically switches to the Photoshop
desktop when the first window comes up.

I can drag the script editor over to the Photoshop window
and run my tests, if I need to hit the run button over and over,
and then drag the editor back to the editing desktop when I'm
done. You drag windows between desktops using the preview
pane. But most of the time I make the preview pane (where you
see all the desktops) go away so it doesn't take up any desktop

Of couse, automatically swtiching can get annoying if some
program is generating error dialogs. So you can shut it down for
that desktop.

The guys who program Virtual Desktop respond to support
emails, and they seem to update the program pretty often.

I wouldn't be without it now. It's worth every penny of $30.


Zen master to hotdog vendor. \"Make me one with everything.\"

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: Lysol on Apr 26, '03 06:49:01PM

I'm a HUGE, HUGE fan of multiple desktops. I first cut my teeth on WindowMaker back in oh, '97 and it's been my fav window manager. I'm a Java programmer and the more screen real estate I have the better. I got really used to hot-key desktop switching.

I've since (about a year and a half ago) moved from developing on Linux to strictly OS X. One huge barrier for me was no multiple desktops. Last year I came across Virtual Desktop and never looked back. I've pretty much pushed Linux strictly to my servers but I do miss WindowMaker. However, OS X has, really, all the apps, so that's a major plus.

I consider desktop 2 my main work area. This is where I usually test web pages and such and have some terms open (now, however, one term with multiple tabs thanks to iTerm! :) usually to restart servers and things like that. On desktop 1 is always Emacs and some terms for compiling and such. Desktop 3 is pretty much always Mail and Virtual PC. Desktop 4 is photoshop and other various apps.

I also use a 17" lcd and my Mac display so not only am I on multiple desktops, but also multiple monitors. It all works really well for me. My screen doesn't feel very cluttered and it makes it much easier for me to work. If I'm just using my Tibook, then I usually try to keep, max, 2 apps on one desktop. So some get kicked over to another desktop. I usually never have more than 6 tho..
I love OS X and Virtual Desktop. Now if I could only get follow mouse focus without actually bringing the focused window to the foreground I'd be set. But I'm sure that's a no-no in Apple's eyes.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: sjk on Apr 27, '03 06:33:58PM

[Lysol: I could only get follow mouse focus without actually
bringing the focused window to the foreground I'd be set.]

Yep, that would be cool.

There are times when click-to-type focus is annoyingly tedious,
but so is having active windows jump to the foreground. And
focus-follows-mouse doesn't play too nicely with the single, top-
of-the-display menubar.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: macmath on Nov 26, '03 09:08:06AM

Write to the developer and perhaps they'll include that in the next version. They are <b>extremely</b> responsive.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: kenichi on Apr 25, '03 12:47:26PM

Hi, I use the un-paid version of CodeTex Virtual Desktop and I
like it pretty much, but I don't think I'll pay to get the extra
working spaces. I just think that it is rather aberant and
scandalous that something so basically and inherently Unix to be
made payable? I use Unix/Linux often and I wonder why is it so
difficult to activate multiple desktops in Mac OS X?

[ Reply to This | # ]
Why it isn't free
Authored by: hayne on Apr 25, '03 08:54:37PM

1) What you think of as "inherently Unix" is actually a feature of
the X Window system which is used by most other UNIX
systems. But it is nothing particularly to do with UNIX per se.

2) It is, I believe, quite possible to run a virtual desktop
window manager in the X Window environment that you can
install on OS X. But, of course, only X Window applications
would be available in that environment. The usual "Aqua"
applications are not X Window applications - they run inside the
windowing environment provided by Apple. You might think that
Apple ought to provide virtual desktops in the windowing
environment they provide. Maybe they will in some future
release - but I don't think it is a priority at the moment. It's
hardly "scandalous" that Apple has targeted its limited
development resources elsewhere.

3) Given that it is not merely something that needs to be
"activated" - it is a very difficult programming problem to
integrate such a feature into a windowing environment that was
not designed to support it, it becomes very natural to expect
that such a useful added feature is something you might have to
pay for. The programmers have put a lot of time and effort into
this and likely depend at least partly on such payments for their
food and rent.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Why it isn't free
Authored by: Bruce Miller on Apr 26, '03 01:28:46AM

Testing this app tonight was the same for me as the trials of Default Folder X and Snap Pro X: five minutes of use and the decision to purchase was a no-brainer. All three are rather expensive, but worth every cent for the expanded functionality they add to OSX for me.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Scrolling desktop
Authored by: dennisbest on Apr 27, '03 11:12:08AM

Back in the days of my first computer... an Atari ST... there was
a cool little utilty that actualy increased the size of your desktop
and you could scroll around naturally by mousing around. I
download Virtual Desktop from time to time to see if this
feature has been added... but it isn't there.

Basically, you could increase the size of your desktop and
smoothly roll around.... I really miss that even though I
switched to mac about 10 years ago! I would pay for that in a

[ Reply to This | # ]
Scrolling desktop
Authored by: dlelash on Apr 27, '03 02:50:34PM

The early (B & W) Macs had a utility called Stepping Out that did
this, but I don't think I ever saw a version for color screens.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: geoffsaulnier on Apr 27, '03 08:00:06PM

Wow. I've been using various Virtual Desktops since olvwm thru TED and
CDE/KDE on SUNs, and Vern on my PC at work. Having seen Space, I
thought I would be reduced to using a single desktop on my Mac...

Having seen this article, I downloaded the test version and, 10 minutes later,
I was entering my VISA number for the full version. This thing is excellent!!
And, it does things that Vern and the various X-window managers don't do
well: it really remembers where are your windows are!!!

Nice one, CodeTek!

Geoff Saulnier - Mac, *NIX, perl, hack!!

[ Reply to This | # ]
Use virtual desktops in OS X
Authored by: rjw57 on Aug 28, '03 11:05:13AM
Another Open Source desktop manager is called 'Desktop Manager' (original name eh?) and can be got from here.

[ Reply to This | # ]