One of the most frequently asked questions I get when demoing Linux to new users is, “What are those little numbered boxes on your taskbar for?” Virtual workspaces have long been a key feature of almost all UNIX workstations. Ever since the first time I sat down at a UNIX workstation, a SunOS machine running FVWM, I have fallen in love with the concept of virtual workspaces. It is also one of the features of the desktop that leave me yearing for my Linux machines when I have to use Windows.
So what are virtual workspaces? Virtual workspaces are a convenient way of organizing open applications to avoid cluttering your desktop. Each desktop can have it’s own wallpaper or background color. BeOS took this a step further and made it so that each virtual desktop could not only have its own wallpaper or color settings but could also have different resolutions and color depths. I have never seen that capability since the demise of Be though.
Using a utility called a “pager” you can easily switch between workspaces and in many cases, depending upon the particular features of the pager in use, you can drag and drop applications from one workspace to another.
These pager utilities come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. The most common is the “numbered boxes” on your panel. Other more elaborate ones will actually show you a scaled down version of what your desktop actually looks like.
Many window managers or desktop environments allow you to easily move applications from one virtual desktop to another. KDE and GNOME inparticular allow you to right click on the title bar of the application you want to move and simply select the desktop you want to move it to.
So how do I usually make use of virtual workspaces? Here is an example of a typical desktop setup when I site down in front of one of my Linux boxes. I usually use 4 virtual desktops (which seems to be about the average or typical default setting). Here is how my desktops are utilized:
|Workspace 2:||Mozilla, Konqueror|
|Workspace 3:||Extra workspace for whatever i am working on.
graphics (gimp), web developement (quanta), etc…
|Workspace 4:||IM clients (usually Gaim)|
What virtual workspaces is not! As much as I tried to explain this to some people, virutal workspaces is not fast user switching! Fast user switching, made popular by Windows XP and MacOS X, is when you can log out of your current session with out closing your open applications and allowing another user to log on to another session without affecting yours. You could always do this type of thing with Linux, it was just never very user friendly. Many Linux distributions are now supporting easier “fast user switching” in their latest releases, in a more friendly manor.