How big is your monitor? Big enough? There are very few people who could honestly say that their monitor would not benefit from being a bit larger; who wouldn’t love to have a 32 inch screen in front of them to work with?
But few people invest in such large monitors, with both cost and physical desk space being issues. Another option is to add a second monitor to your computer, but if space is at a premium, this may not be possible. This is where virtual desktops come into their own, and nSpaces is a great free tool that not only gives you more space, but also enables you to group related applications and windows together.
Getting Up And Running
nSpaces is available free of charge and you can download a copy by paying a visit to the program web site at http://www.bytesignals.com/nspaces/. Click the Download link to the upper right of the page and then start the installer – there’s nothing unusual here, but if you do not have .NET Framework installed, you’ll be prompted to download and install that first. Once installation is complete, select the option to run the program and click Finish.
You are provided with four virtual desktops by default, but if you feel this is too many or two few you can easily adjust the number. Right click the nSpaces icon in the system tray and select the nSpaces option. Use the + and – buttons next to the Rows and Columns labels to select the number of desktops you want to work with.
If you want to jump right in and start working with nSpaces, you can do so – just click the Save button to continue. You desktop will look different from normal and you can open programs and window in exactly the same way as normal.
If things being to get cluttered and you need some extra space, right click the nSpaces system tray icon, select Spaces and then click the virtual desktop you would like to switch to. This is not the only method of switching desktops that’s available, but some customization should be undertaken before we look at the alternative.
Customizing Your Desktops
Return to the configuration screen by right clicking the system tray icon and selecting nSpaces. You’ll notice that you are shown a preview of the desktops you have configured. Rather than using the system tray menu to select a desktop to view from a list, you can use the Switcher tool to call up a pop up that displays a thumbnail of each desktop which you can then choose from.
To make your desktops easier to identify at a glance, you can choose custom backgrounds for each one as well as adding labels. Click each of the desktop thumbnails in turn and use the Labels tab to add a suitable name, while the Wallpaper tab enables you to choose a background image. If you don’t want to use a wallpaper, move to the Color tab instead and select which color you would like to use on the desktop instead.
While working through the tabs, it is also worth taking a look at the Apps tab. This can be used to select a program so that when it is launched, it will always open on the desktop you are currently customizing; this is a great way to keep your desktops organized. Move to the HotKey tab and you can configure a keyboard shortcut that can be used to jump to a specific desktop, such as Ctrl + Win + 3 to jump to desktop number 3.
Navigating With nSpaces
We’ve already mentioned how the system tray icon can be used to switch between desktops, and have just looked at created hotkeys for individual desktops. You can also right click the system tray icon and select the Switcher option to view a preview of each of your desktops which you can then switch to by simply clicking. You can also call up the Switcher by pressing the Windows key and S simultaneously.
Another option is to make use of the Quick Switch option. This works in much the same way as the Alt-Tab keyboard shortcut, but it enables you to move between desktops rather than programs. You can activate this feature by holding down the Ctrl and Shift keys at the same time and use the left and right arrow keys to switch back and forth. Keep Ctrl and Shift held down as you tap an arrow key and you’ll see a full screen preview of your desktops as you scroll through them – just release all keys to make the switch.
These keyboard shortcuts can be changed if they are not to your liking. Right click the nSpaces system tray icon and select the Settings option. In the bottom portion of the dialog you can choose the keyboard shortcuts you’d like to use to move back and forth between desktops as well as configuring one to access the Switcher. While you’re here you should also tick the ‘Launch nSpaces on login’ box so that the program starts with Windows.
We’ve looked at the key features of nSpaces here, but there is also password protection to investigate – you can keep a private desktop that no one else will be able to access to keep your data away from prying eyes. There are many ways in which you can use nSpaces – let us know what you think in the comments below.