A Not-So-Common Cure for Desktop Clutter

By Joseph Moran | Posted February 22, 2006

Remember the days when computing in Windows meant using a single application at a time, two at the most? For most of us, those days went out with the floppy disk, as a typical person is now likely to simultaneously work with several documents, multiple Web pages, and various other applications. In this kind of environment it's not unusual to have a dozen or more windows open at any one time, a situation that leads to serious desktop clutter and a lot of time wasted in finding and switching between windows.

Xilokit offers a potential solution in the form of Deskloops, a free utility that runs only on Windows XP. It uses something the company calls Loop Environment Technology (LET) to provide a new and unique way to organize and streamline access to numerous open windows, rather than Windows' way of having all applications compete for the same desktop real estate right in front of your face.

Staying in the Loop
Instead of stacking open applications atop each other, with Deskloops application windows are arranged in a virtual loop so that one application is displayed on your screen and the others exist invisibly off the edges of the desktop. You can almost think of it as a Lazy Susan for your applications. To switch to the next application, you simply move the mouse cursor over to the left or right edge of the desktop and double right-click, which scrolls the adjacent application into view.

You can also continuously scroll the loop by using a single, rather than double, right-click, and the loop's scrolling speed will depend on where you place the mouse cursor on either edge of the screen. Move the cursor higher and scrolling speeds up, while moving it lower slows it down. When you see the window you want, you can stop the scroll by moving the cursor away from the screen edge. When you open a new application, it gets added to the loop and takes the front-and-center position.

The process of manipulating the loop works fairly well, though sometimes right-clicking the edge of the screen to call up the next application can inadvertently trigger a context menu from that application or the Windows Desktop. Whenever you scroll through your loop, a transparent 3D image of the entire loop rotates in the center of the screen. It doesn't seem to serve a practical purpose, but it does look cool, and in any event you can turn it off it becomes too distracting.

When you need access to something that's on your desktop (like a shortcut) you can double-click the Deskloops icon in the Windows Tray to bring the Desktop to the forefront; a subsequent double-click will take you back to the loop.

Cruising the Strip
The best way to manage a loop and the applications within is by using the Deskloops Strip, which you summon by clicking anywhere along the top edge of the screen. The strip displays thumbnail images of all open windows (along with a tally of how many windows there are) in your loop.

You access different items by scrolling through the strip thumbnails the same way you would the actual windows in the loop. Clicking on a particular thumbnail will bring that window to the fore, and each thumbnail also has minimize, maximize and close buttons.

You can rearrange your loop by dragging and dropping thumbnails around, which repositions the loop's applications. To enlarge (or shrink) the thumbnails, you resize the strip by dragging its edge in the same way that you would the Windows Taskbar (it's not always easy to discern between similar-looking applications by viewing the thumbnails.) You can adjust the strip's transparency level and make it opaque if desired.

Use the strip to close a loop, which will in turn close all of the loop's applications. Although Xilokit touts Deskloops' ability to close all open applications with a single click in this fashion, (two actually, if you count the inevitable confirmation dialog) the process may not be quite so simple in practice — if your loop contains any applications with unsaved information each one will prompt you to save (as they should) before the application shuts down.

Beyond its ability to manage the contents of a loop, you can also use the strip to save multiple loops and then reopen them again later. You can e-mail your saved loops to any other Deskloops user. While the ability to save loops may sometimes come in handy, there is a significant limitation in that the feature currently seems to work only with browser windows. Therefore, if you save a loop that contains an application (say, your word processor or MP3 player, for example) it won't be there when you reopen that loop later.

The Bottom Line
In truth, the window-clutter problem that Deskloops addresses is also ameliorated to some extent by using a Web browser with a tabbed interface like Mozilla FireFox or the forthcoming Internet Explorer 7. The example that Xilokit uses on its site is checking a half-dozen travel sites to book a flight online, and having to jump back and forth between as many browser windows to compare them. Deskloops does have the notable advantage of working with applications as well as Web pages, though it certainly would be nice if you could retain application windows within saved loops.

Deskloops' window management paradigm has its merits, and given that it's free, it's certainly worth a look for anyone who doesn't care for the normal method of sorting through myriad open windows. The Deskloops environment does take time to get used to, and fortunately Xilokit offers helpful video tutorials on its Web site. If desired, you can continue to use conventional methods of window selection like the Taskbar or Alt-Tab to interact with your loop, which can be a useful hybrid approach while you're getting acclimated to the software.

Pros: Reduces desktop clutter by aligning open windows in a virtual loop, Windows strip allows for quick switching between apps, it's free

Cons: Loop save feature doesn't work with application windows (only browser windows), "looping" between Windows can be a bit disorienting at first and can delay quick window switching at times

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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