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New Windows 9 rumors: Can the charms, clone the Desktop

Woody Leonhard | Aug. 11, 2014
Independently confirmed Windows 9 rumors have Microsoft dropping Charms Bar and adding 'virtual Desktops,' an obscure feature from XP and Win7.

I can see about a million ways to implement the charms that are better for both tappers and mousers. Most likely Microsoft will stick something in the new title bar that will go along with every good Metro app. With the nearly undiscoverable black bar gone, there's one less thing that you "have to know" by osmosis in order to get Windows to work. Good riddance.

Virtual desktops are another story altogether. Brad Sams at Neowin broke the story earlier this week:

The feature works by creating multiple "Desktops" where you can keep open applications and then switch between the desktops to view other applications. For example, you can create a virtual desktop that has Outlook open and then other Desktop with your Web browser, both apps are running on their own Desktop to allow you to focus on either web browsing, or email. ... The feature, which is already on other platforms like Ubuntu and OS X is currently being tested and is said to have similar functionality to that of Ubuntu. You can activate the Desktops with a button on the taskbar (subject to change) and there are keyboard shortcuts that let you jump between active Desktops.

ZDNet's Foley confirmed the feature, again from her (presumably independent) sources:

I'm not clear whether the virtual Desktops functionality will be clearly and readily available to all Threshold users or if Microsoft will make it more of a hidden feature discoverable by power users.

Apparently people have forgotten, but Windows XP had a similar capability, which could be brought to life by installing an app, er, a program distributed by Microsoft as one of the XP PowerToys. Those of you who are sufficiently long in the tooth may recall that the XP PowerToys were basically a series of skunkworks programs that enhanced Windows XP, built by Microsoft employees, distributed by Microsoft, but never officially supported by Microsoft. The XP Virtual Desktop Manager let you build and switch among four separate XP Desktops. There's an excellent description of the Microsoft-released product, with screenshots, on the HowToGeek website.

The Windows 7 virtual Desktop program I've used and recommend -- the Sysinternals Desktop -- also comes from Microsoft and arrived with Mark Russinovich and the Sysinternals team, which Microsoft acquired in 2006. Like the XP Virtual Desktop Manager, you can set up to four Desktops and switch among them by clicking on a taskbar icon or using a customizable key combination. Sysinternals Desktop has a number of known limitations:

Windows doesn't provide a way to move a window from one Desktop object to another, and because a separate Explorer process must run on each desktop to provide a taskbar and start menu, most tray applications are only visible on the first Desktop. Further, there is no way to delete a Desktop object, so Desktops does not provide a way to close a Desktop, because that would result in orphaned windows and processes. The recommended way to exit Desktops is therefore to log off.


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