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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Organize Your Virtual Desktops? 125

hyphenistic writes: As a programmer I find myself switching between multiple projects on a daily basis. Virtual desktops have been a big help in grouping my related programs together. I try to have a virtual desktop open for each project I'm working on. Although I've used Linux in the past my currently preferred desktop OS is Windows 10. For the most part I have found the new virtual desktops to be easy to use. My primary issue (regardless of OS) is that I really don't want my virtual desktops to interact with each other. In the past I have accomplished this with a separate login for each project but that brings the hassle of managing multiple sets of OS and application preferences. Can someone suggest a better method for organizing my virtual desktops?
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Organize Your Virtual Desktops?

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  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @05:30PM (#50552183)
    You are falling victim to a classic problem. You don't want to do the actual work, so instead you focus on instrumentation and environment. The fact that you are asking these questions is proof that the "virtual desktop" mania you have embarked on is more of a hindrance than a help.

    I mean, procrastination is half the fun, but don't fool yourself.
    • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @05:42PM (#50552247) Homepage Journal
      I don't get the problem either. I like to use virtual screens a lot so I can focus on one thing at a time, and I often have just one or two windows per screen. A project might be spread over several desktops, for example due to having a single Emacs session for everything. I think a single monitor with multiple virtual screens actually helps me focus better than trying to see everyhting at once. This is one reason why the whole desktop metaphor [iki.fi] is stupid.
      • i get it. I'd like a similar config. I also have different logins to separate different activities because of email. i have different email accounts to separate business, personal and things like mailing lists. I'd prefer to have a different email session and database in each activity session rather than one email database with all the email accounts in there. I'd also like to use a single browser and split my browser sessions to relate to the activity rather than use separate browsers for each activity
    • by jambox ( 1015589 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @05:55PM (#50552327)
      Yeah I use them but only as an additional level of alt+tab. Ctrl+shift+left => workspace 1, Ctrl+shift+right => workspace 2 and COMMS (browser, email, chat)
      • You might check my blog on 45 desktops setup based on FVWM. I still use the same setup today, for about 18 years already :) It is so powerful that I feel arms and legs bound when I sit in front of desktops-enabled XFCE or unity http://skliarie.blogspot.co.il... [blogspot.co.il]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I use OS X, but I have great trouble using Mission Control's workspaces or desktops or whatever the fuck they're called. The whole setup is just so unintuitive, especially with multiple monitors.

      I have years of experience with KDE and GNOME, so I understand how their virtual desktops work. Typically, it's all very sensible: you set the number of virtual desktops you want, each one spans all monitors, and you can rapidly switch between them using a dock control that shows the grid of virtual desktops. Runnin

      • by dbosso ( 457577 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @06:09PM (#50552407)

        Chech out totalspaces [binaryage.com]

      • by alexhs ( 877055 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @07:06PM (#50552667) Homepage Journal

        If you don't use full-screen-as-a-separate-space, it only requires a little tweaking of default parameters to get something usable, even if not to your liking. (By the way, is there some setting so that the default action is zoom and the alt/option one is full screen ?)

        In settings -> mission control, deactivate automatically rearrange spaces, which is probably why you think that some applications appear on multiple spaces: actually, it's only on a single space (by default), but the spaces keep being rearranged.

        If you want a space to span all monitors, I guess you can do it here too, but I'm a fan of distinct spaces on distinct screens, a feature I had 15 years ago on X11 (but which implied the inability to move windows between screens). Note that GNOME 3 does (did?) something "interesting" by default, which is a single desktop on the secondary screen, and virtual desktops on the primary one. Probably useful on laptops in presentation mode. (Is the default over-ridable) ?

        In settings -> keyboard -> shortcuts, activate Mission control per-space bindings, so that you can swap between spaces with ctrl-(number). The catch is that you have to organize your spaces by task. You can then bind applications to some spaces. You can do that by alt-clicking in the dock and looking in options. Older versions of Mac OS X with Spaces (instead of Mission Control) had a list of assignations.

        The space selection widget is gone though, if you won't use shortcuts, it's F3. Each space is rendered as a thumbnail on the top, you could choose a different background for each space if it helps you. The bottom part is all of the windows in the currently selected space. What is not very obvious is finding the currently selected space, depending on your color scheme: the white border is not very visible on white background.

        • >By the way, is there some setting so that the default action is zoom and the alt/option one is full screen ?
          You can do this (among other awesome things) with Better Touch Tool, although the setup is quite unintuiti e.

      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

        If you have multiple monitors: one desktop, multiple monitors. Works fine. Applications are already in windows. That's perfectly functional isolation. No need for more than one desktop.

        Works great for me -- I have six monitors.

    • Came here wondering who in the world uses virtual desktops? Two monitors sure- IDE in one, browser/email/terminal/etc in the other. Maybe put Gimp in a second desktop b/c of all the windows it spawns?
      • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @06:32PM (#50552505)
        I use different workspaces for different applications. On top of that, I have different login accounts on the same computer for different activities - one for personal activities (banking, credit cards and bills) as well as emails to family, another for my job search related activities, one for entertainment videos and news, one for /., one for playing games and one for just admin work (for some reason, FreeBSD has disabled the ability to have a separate root account for just that). Within any session, I use a different workspace for each application that I run - FireFox in one workspace, Chromium in another, games in a third, and so on.
        • so, if you're doing emails to family, you log out and log back in to read /.? that doesn't sound very convenient...

          • He likely uses a Mac.
            No need to "log out" just to "log in" again, you simply switch to a different user.
            Either that one is logged in and you end in "his session" or you log on. Then you switch back to any other user you want.
            Windows actually somehow supports the same thing, but I don't know how it is integrated into the UI.
            On a Mac you simply click on your user name in the upper right edge of the screen, to the right of the menu bar.

      • by vivian ( 156520 )

        i used to use virtual desktops - in the last millenium. Since it becamse possible to use more than one monitor, this is m preferred method of work.
        At work I use an Ubuntu workstation with 2x 24" monitors for my main work area - typically with one running a 3d view of whatever i'm working on (robotics stuff) and several consoles for running processes, and my main IDE on the other monitor.
        In addition I have an old laptop running ubuntu that I use to do stuff like pull up documentation and sometimes edit a scr

        • "i used to use virtual desktops - in the last millenium. Since it becamse possible to use more than one monitor, this is m preferred method of work."

          Mine too... in addition to several virtual desktops. Why not having the best of both worlds?

          "At work I use an Ubuntu workstation [...] In addition I have an old laptop running [...] with a newer laptop running Windows 7"

          So, you see? You not only have several virtual desktops, but several physical ones. There must be something about it.

          As for the original que

      • "who in the world uses virtual desktops?"

        Someone not working on the console. I have 3 monitors at work (laptop display plus 2 external). Laptop display is for things running natively on the laptop. Each monitor is a VNC session where I am running multiple desktops, currently a 3x6 grid on each.

      • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @11:52PM (#50554071) Homepage

        Came here wondering who in the world uses virtual desktops?

        Seriously? Because I've used virtual desktops since I fist discovered them in Linux in 1993, and as soon as I found the Windows Powertools or VirtuaWin I've always had them in Windows as well. In 1993 when the machine I had could a bunch of things in Linux when the exact same hardware would thrash in Windows, virtual desktops were awesome. I could have my desktop for coding, the one for FTP sessions, the one for the web browser. I remember using SLIP and having four terminal windows open for my school stuff.

        Once you get used to them, the idea of having everything on one desktop feels moronic and cluttered. I don't want to go hunting for my window, and I tend to stay in one window (or set of windows) for a while at a time.

        I don't close programs. I open them, and keep them open for days (if not weeks) at a time, and I keep them in separate desktops. I don't want to waste my time opening it, and I don't want it cluttering my view when I don't need it.

        Hell, I've got a dual 24" monitor setup (one of which is shared with my laptop with a KVM) and I still run 6 virtual desktops to keep it from being cluttered and annoying to work with. And I find when I'm stuck with a single desktop, it's a nuisance to find stuff -- in part because I'll have 15-20 Windows open.

        I can't imagine not using virtual desktops, because they've been part of how I work for over 20 years.

        My "normal" load on my personal desktop is 3 different web browsers (for separate things and different levels of trust), 2-3 different VMs, iTunes, about 4 Windows Explorer windows, the software for my GPS, and occasionally my photo organizing software or my backups running.

      • Having multiple RDP sessions in separate virtual desktops works very nicely for me.

    • Back in my day there was no finer waste of time than configuring your window manager. I even ran twm with tabbed title bars.

    • Has anyone tried asking Bennett Haselton for his views?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "People are really this anal about window positions?"

    But then I realized that I spend five minutes every Monday morning setting up my workspaces (I shut down my machine when I go home on Friday). I imagine that completely unproductive time only increases as a function of one's workload.

  • Virtual Machines (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The easiest way to isolate virtual development environments is virtual machines. The same base image can be used for each environment and then a script to install project-specific applications and other resources.

  • tmux, cygwin (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Steven Edwards ( 4264835 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @05:43PM (#50552251)
    If you stick with Windows, install Cygwin and tmux. tmux helps me cleanly separate my areas of concern. (I currently have 15 sessions open, all project-specific.) Even better? Add Emacs and learn to use it well. Start an emacs server and connect to it in tmux with emacsclient -nw.
    • MSys2 [sourceforge.net] is more gooder. It incorporates pacman. As long as we're daring to broach a technical topic on /., I tried to compile paludis using mingw64 on Windows 8.1, and had a configure error for lacking posix_openpts().
      Any C hackers know how you port around that tragic occurrence?
  • Fullness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @05:46PM (#50552263)
    When one gets so full I can't do the thing I need to do quickly, I move to the next one. I breathe. Then I do what I need to do.

    The others do it too, they just won't admit to it.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'll never admit to breathing! Ever!

      *gack*

    • Wait, we're still talking about virtual desktops, are we?
  • It's been a while since I used Linux as a work desktop, like nearly 10 years, but here's how I often did it:

    One virtual desktop for the IDE/coding tools. That might be an actual IDE or maybe just a console with vim. Whatever the project was.
    Another virtual desktop for database related stuff.
    Another one dedicated to documentation, like just having the browser open to Javadocs, or Google, or whatever.
    The fourth and final was for mudane stuff like email and/or an mp3 player running.

    I never split them out by

  • One-third of the desktop goes on left monitor, one-third of the desktop goes on center monitor, and one-third of the desktop goes on the right monitor. If this is a Mac system, the right monitor would be rotated in portrait mode.
    • If this is a Mac system, the right monitor would be rotated in portrait mode.

      Why wouldn't you rotate it if you were running another OS? It's certainly possible on X, it is after all what one of the R's in Xrandr stands for, though which R precisely, I couldn't say.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        When I was doing help desk back in the day, I would get a ticket to rotate a monitor to portrait mode for Windows. So I go over to the person's desk, rotate the monitor and made the changes in control panel. A few days later, I would get a ticket to rotate the monitor back to landscape mode because the person didn't like it. Most Mac users rotate the monitor on their own without ever filing a help desk ticket. Go figure.
        • Most Mac users rotate the monitor on their own without ever filing a help desk ticket. Go figure.

          Builtin rotate sense switch? Most cheap monitors seem to lack one of those.

  • by rainmaestro ( 996549 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @05:56PM (#50552335)

    First thing I do on any fresh install of Linux is to turn off virtual desktops. My experience has been that if I've got so much going on at once that it makes a single desktop instance seem too cluttered, that's a sign that I need to reconsider how I handle my time.

    Having to close and reopen tools forces you to cut down on context switching. At least for me, that helps productivity.

    • by tmj0001 ( 704407 )
      Virtual desktops were one of the major advantages over Windows, until Microsoft finally caught up. One for the browser, one for email, one for my wife's email, one for VirtualBox, and the other 8 for whatever else I am doing. Couldn't do without them.
    • by Brama ( 80257 )

      I just can't wrap my head around this. I've been using virtual desktops for about 20 years now, and I think it's the best thing since sliced bread. If I see others struggle with their giant set of apps and windows using the next best thing (expose-like), I wonder why virtual desktops never have managed to break through. It maps so wonderfully well in my head.

      Maybe I should explain just how I just them exactly. The most important thing for me is absolute addressing of workspaces. Don't think of them as 'goin

      • Essentially the same as how I used to work. My problem is that having that much stuff open to begin with ends up being counterproductive. Context switching is what I try to avoid. I don't want to manage many different applications simultaneously, I want to only have the applications I'm using right now open. If I have so much stuff open that I can't fit it on two monitors, that's a problem to me.

        Nowadays: IDE on left screen, browser on right. Skype for talking to colleagues minimized in the tray. Mail clien

      • by Mandrel ( 765308 )

        Yeah, virtual desktops are great, and my set-up is similar to yours, with keyboard shortcuts to switch between them, each VD with a task focus that I keep constant (general terminals, ssh, browser 1, IDE, development terminals, browser 2, email, video, etc.)

        One thing that the NVIDIA Linux driver can do is have each monitor be a separate X-screen (no Xinerama connection). This means you have a separate set of VDs on each monitor, so if there are five on each, you can use keyboard shortcuts to easily disp

      • by Mr Z ( 6791 )

        The most important thing for me is absolute addressing of workspaces. Don't think of them as 'going to the next or previous one (or worse, a grid). No, think of it as "My browser is on tab 4", "My chat client and music client are on tab 5". "My editor/IDE is on tab 1", etc. This makes switching between contexts insanely fast and completely painless. You don't need to hunt&pick with your mouse, scroll through lists, etc.

        BINGO.

        For me on Windows it's: Desktop 1 holds email, mostly "read-only" stuff, and a

      • The most important thing for me is absolute addressing of workspaces. Don't think of them as 'going to the next or previous one (or worse, a grid). No, think of it as "My browser is on tab 4", "My chat client and music client are on tab 5". "My editor/IDE is on tab 1", etc. This makes switching between contexts insanely fast and completely painless. You don't need to hunt&pick with your mouse, scroll through lists, etc.

        Ditto. Incidentally, when I got started with Linux, the default (with Gnome at the time) was a 2x2 space where you'd select each quadrant by number. Of course it could be extended, but there was still the idea of spatial organization, e.g. so you could move windows smoothly between adjacent areas. I still maintain the spatial idea with my Alt-F# desktops, even though I no longer use such a model, and I think of certain screens being "down below".

      • by squentin ( 39455 )

        I couldn't agree more. I keep a huge workspace switcher in the bottom right of my screen, with 10 rows and 3 columns, yes that's 30 desktops, but in they are not all meant to be used, some are just there to separate and create regions. I feel over-crowded if there are no empty desktops.
        No need for taskbars or anything like that. And it's perfection, it uses my spacial memory so that I always know exactly _where_ my applications are and can find them in a second and a click. It's exactly like a physical desk

      • That's exactly how I work, too. And when I say exactly, I mean that my desktops have the exact same content as well :-)

        I've never seen anyone else working the same, really. Virtual desktops are even among developers not that popular.

    • > Having to close and reopen tools forces you to cut down on context switching. At least for me, that helps productivity.

      Good for you. For me, it guarantees that thoughts will be dropped before they can fully form, so it's deadly to productivity.

      Maybe it's the fact that I don't always have control over context-switching. I don't control when somebody shows up in my face with a demand for attention; pushing what I've been doing aside, with all the contextual cues I can marshal, by switching to another des

    • Yeah, watching applications load ... an utter waste of my damned time.

      When I first boot a machine, I incur the startup time of "OK, this browser gets these 12 tabs, this browser gets these tabs, here's my iTunes, here's my virtual machines, here's this, here's that" ... they all go on their appropriate desktop. And then I don't need to worry about it for weeks until the next time I reboot.

      When I need a program I flip to the appropriate virtual desktop, and I'm there in under a second. I find it more like

    • Virtual desktops all the way:
      1) browser
      2) Terminals to remote machines (DB servers and such)
      3) remote X applications started in those terminals
      4) Main IDE
      5) Running instance of the application I'm working on.
      6) Documentation
      7) Email, skype and such
      8) iTunes, spotify, etc.
      I could not be as productive with all of that cluttering up a single screen.

  • I don't have Windows 10, and I think I might switch to Linux when it's time to upgrade. As for what I have on windows7, it's just the background picture.
  • You forgot to profess your love for Visual Studio, and how you used to program with vi or emacs.
    Because apart telling us than Windows 10 now has virtual desktops and how bad a job you're doing at organizing them, I don't know what was your point.
    If you can't keep your stuff organized, try invoking $MOTHER, because your issues are not technical in nature.

  • Main task on the primary, secondary tools for the main task are on another, terminals/utilities in another (sometimes a couple), then low-importance things as far from me as necessary. Usually terminals/utilities are "left" and secondary tools are "right". Low importance things are the greatest difficulty to access as they are of low importance.

    At least, that's how I've always done it with XFCE, fluxbox, and most other window managers I've used. Sadly, I suffer through using Win8 on most of my computers tha

  • by bobthesungeek76036 ( 2697689 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @06:10PM (#50552417)
    There's your problem. I have four (4) monitors on my desktop. No issues...
    • So how do you focus on one thing when you can see a shitload of things at once?
      • by gigne ( 990887 )

        by not looking at that monitor. Seriously. I have 4 and find it quite easy to not put anything on them that might distract

    • I use two monitors, but I often "lose" my mouse pointer for some reason. Don't you have the same?

      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        There are "find my cursor" settings in the accessibility settings area. Then you get some animation around the cursor.

  • KDE Activities (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Teun ( 17872 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @06:13PM (#50552429) Homepage
    KDE has a solution called Activities.
    You can set up a bunch of activities and assign individual windows to a particular activity.
    When you swap activity you get the associated windows.
  • by jon3k ( 691256 ) on Friday September 18, 2015 @06:25PM (#50552477)
    I guess I'll be "that guy". I've been using dwm [suckless.org] for years and couldn't live without it. There are other options like awesomewm or i3. Your programs will automatically tile in a sane manner using up all the available screen space.

    But, the really cool thing is that a window can exist in multiple "tags" which are kind of like "virtual desktops" but a lot more powerful.

    I'd recommend at least trying out a tiling window manager and seeing what you think.
  • I work on multiple projects as well and my VD layout has evolved over time and location. If I'm at home, I am hooked up to a single WUXGA display so everything is on one monitor and I use five virtual desktops for everything. In the office, I have two screens but I still use the same five VDs but in a different layout. When mobile, I use the same setup that I use at home. I have a Linux development environment on the main monitor (when I'm running multiple monitors). I will put different projects in differ
  • What do you mean "interact" in this context?

    I use Linux, and I usually have a 2 monitor setup with 2x10 (i.e. 20) sized virtual desktop (and no disjoint ones---FVWM allows both modes you see). I tend to group stuff spatially with a blank desktop between projects.

    As for interacting, most programs are OK, but ones like GIMP need to be told to run in a new instance if you want two instances open without them affecting one another. Quite a few programs can do this, but you'll need to investigate options.

    One thi

    • I typically gravitate towards Google services for all my needs so I can easily access them from any device. My primary computer is a desktop so it doesn't go anywhere. I'm looking forward to the day when everything I need comes from Google and I could just as easily pick up a Chromebook and get to work but I'm not there yet. I have a few Windows-specific applications that I'll go into later.

      What I meant by interact is that if I have Inbox open in one desktop and click on a link it will open a new tab in

  • Multiple OS and application preferences .. what? Windows 10 has multiple desktop support. Even if he didn't mean that Windows 8+ have settings syncing (not necessarily going to save your bacon for apps but will at least for the OS itself). Some applications play nice with that model already. Ex. VS 2013: I use the same login at home and work so I get all my addons, font settings, etc synced over for me.

    I'm not sure how desktops work in win 10 if apps "see" that they are already running or not. That was my p

  • desktop 1 / screen 1: terminal
    desktop 1 / screen 2 : IDE / text editor
    desktop 2 / screen 1 : web browser
    That's the global idea. Other apps usually start on desktop 1 / screen 1 and I move them around as needed.

    On Windows, it's... a mess. It's basically all windows stacked on top of each other and a lot of alt+tabbing.

  • "As a programmer I find myself switching between multiple projects on a daily basis. Virtual desktops have been a big help in grouping my related programs together. I try to have a virtual desktop open for each project I'm working on. Although I've used Linux in the past my currently preferred desktop OS is Windows 10."
  • There was a feature in OS/2 where you could create a desktop folder and categorize it as a workspace. Anything you put in this folder would open when the folder was opened. From text files to applications. Somebody has to have replicated that functionality on an existing platform...
  • #!/usr/local/bin/bash # vdm - Virtual Desktop Management (using vdesk) by Root Sr # Do not use with window managers that already have virtual desktops! # Usage: simply bind this script in your window manager to a key/button # in the root window # This is the big idea: for every invocation, cycle through the # dynamically constructed set of all virtual desktops (vd's) that have # at least 1 window, plus one empty vd. # Read this until you understand this before reading further... # Set to "YES" to see what
  • When I was a developer 15 years ago I used gnome's virtual desktop with a 2x3 grid. Didn't have (m)any issues with cross contanimation. Mouse edge for .2 seconds for transition as well as hot keys. Today as an admin I use remote login to a server, same user account (hence same prefs) with multiple concurrent sessions. When a new problem interrupts my current tasks I open a new session.

  • I've been using JS Pager Virtual Desktop since the 1990's. It's a lightweight app which leverages existing windows capabilities to provide multiple "panes" in a grid. There's no support, but it has been working through multiple versions of Windows from 98 through 7.
  • I find virtual desktops helpful when working on a large single project which requires many files, webpages and applications to contribute to the final result.

    For example, if I'm creating a scientific document in Latex, this is what I do:

    4 desktops
    1: (far left) - my working directory is open, with webpages and pdf files used for referencing
    -I can drag files from my working directory to other workspaces and drop them into the relevant application from here.
    2: usually an application like a spreadsheet or R (st

  • I've been using virtual desktops on Unix/Linux servers for at least 20 years. It's hard to imagine life without them. I currently have 16 desktops -- every "sub chip" of the chip design I'm working on gets its own desktop, and there are also a few desktops for various experiments I'm running. I organize each desktop in roughly the same way, so I can jump into a design and know instantly which window has the synthesis tool running, which has the timing constraints directory, which has the flow code, etc.

    I'

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