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benh

Desktop manager more desktop space for free.

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One of the problems that I had when I got my 12" powerbook was the lack of screen real-estate, I know you really pay for the portability. Anyway, one of the features that I really missed from being a linux dork was virtual desktops. So off to google I went to find something that emulated this. The best solution that I found was the aptly named 'Desktop Manager' (DM).

 

I guess I should start off by explain what virtual desktops really are, for any one who already knows you can skip this paragraph. Virtual desktops can really be best explained by thinking of desktops as groups of windows. Like right now, I'm writing this in TextEdit and I have firefox open. That is group one. Now if I switch to group two, Desktop manager 'hides' all the current windows and then focuses the windows that I have in group two. Then I can switch back to firefox and all the group two apps get hidden and then all the group one apps get focused. And so on and so on. Now just think of these groups as desktops and your there.

 

Along with just a logical grouping of apps the best feature is that DM uses Apples OpenGL transitions between desktops. This gives you a big visual cue that you have switched desktops. DM also is really nice because it doesn't limit you to the number of desktops (the only limit is the amount of memory on your box), I use four and thats enough for me but some one might have a need for more or less.

 

Also, in true apple app fashion, DM allows fully customizable key commands. You have triggers for switching desktops. You can also move windows to other desktops, this is done on an individual window basis. This allows you to have more then one instance of firefox, for instance, on different desktops. One problem that I found is that there really is not a way to cleanly move an entire app to a different desktop. Though I get around this by just hiding the app (CMD-h) and then switching to the target and then refocusing the app.

 

Along with keystroke switching, DM also allows to use 'Active Edges', this allows you to move your mouse to the edge of your screen and the desktop will switch. I find this distracting. Though if your the kinda person that hides your dock, the mechanics are the same. It bothers me so I just disable it, but it would not be a good review with out mentioning it.

 

Speaking of keystrokes, one of the easly missed features is the ablity to 'run' an app. Much like Quicksilver you can call up a text box via keystrokes (CMD-ALT-R by default) and then type out your app. I prefer Quicksilver as it does index your apps folder, where DM only rembers what you've typed before. This is nice if you only want quick access to a few know apps but if you want access to all your apps then you would have to call them all up at some point to get DM to add then to it's list of known apps.

 

I should also mention that you get some other alternative desktop switching methods that DM offers. Like all good Virtual Desktop systems you have a little thumbnail pager that shows you what windows exist in what desktop. You can park this pager on any edge or corner of your screen. You can organize is, sort it, and size the pager as you need, you can even skin it. You also have an option to have a pager in your status bar, though for space reasons I don't use this feature but it's there if you prefer to have thing there.

 

Lastly I should mention one of the gripes that I have about this app. For everything that I love about it sometimes it eats the keyboard access to apps. I notice this most when using jEdit (so it could be a java issue and not a DM issue). But when your switching desktops and if you start typing durring the transition you can loose keyboard access to your apps. It's not a hard solution, you just switch to another desktop and then back and your up and running, but I have to mention it.

 

So heres the normal review Pros and Cons:

PROS:

- clean desktop grouping

- customizable key strokes

- great transitions

- free and open source (GPL)

 

CONS:

- Run command is not very useful and there are better solutions (ie Quicksilver)

- keyboard focus issue

 

 

Download can be found here: <a href="http://desktopmanager.berlios.de/">http://desktopmanager.berlios.de/</a>

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I'm using Desktop Manager on my PowerBook and my Power Mac, it's fantastic.

 

I've also recently gotten it to work on my first generation Mac Mini, but it sometimes behaves oddly on that machine.

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I use Desktop Manager on my Power Mac as well. It does help make things a little more organized. I can have all of my software development apps open on one virtual screen and my other applications like media and/or email on another screen.

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