The recent release of Stardock's Fences tool (version 1.0) got me thinking about desktop organization. While Fences is certainly neat--the program lets you divide your desktop real estate into individual sections, surrounded by "fences," amongst other space-saving features--this freeware app isn't the only game in town by far. In fact, some of you expressed disgust at Stardock's latest release. Be it the fact that one needs to install Stardock's Impulse client just to access Fences, or your simple dislike of an application whose functionality is mirrored by other freeware apps, Fences was hardly a shot hit out of the park.
So, here we are. I'm going to show you five different alternative desktop managers that will help you bring increased tidiness, prettier looks, and funner... er... more fun functionality to your typical workspace. Auto-arrange your icons one last time for nostalgia's sake, because I'm about to mix up your desktop crazy-style.
This one's easy. WinExt expands the normal Windows shell to include an additional bar at the top or bottom of your screen. On this bar sits a number of additional features: menu buttons that you can theme by category to launch any number of applications (sure beats surfing around the Windows start menu!), quick-launch buttons for calling up all the apps you want, and an optional status bar that gives you a Resources Monitor-like look at your system's current CPU use, RAM use, and hard drive space, amongst other notes. You can customize the colors and alpha transparency of this new bar on your screen, making it just a tad more useful than the default Windows taskbar.
I've talked about RocketDock before, so I'm somewhat loathe to mention it again in a freeware update. However, a number of commenters have insisted that RocketDock is a stronger enhancement for one's desktop than Stardock's Fences, so I don't mind profiling it again just in case you missed it last time. Explanation aside, RocketDock is an application launcher that's analogous to what you'd find on Apple's OSX platform. A little, auto-hiding, transparent launcher hosts icons representing the program shortcuts that you want easier access to. Moving your mouse over said icons expands them into a larger size (again, OSX anyone?), and you can even see a live preview of your app (if it's running) similar to Windows Vista's default action.
You got your ObjectDock in my RocketDock! You got your RocketDock in my ObjectDock! Despite the similarities of the names, RocketDock and ObjectDock--also a Stardock app, for those keeping score at home--are... almost every bit the same. ObjectDock offers a different style, same treatment for adding an additional, icon-themed shortcut launching bar into your operating system. It's a bit beefier of a resource-user than RocketDock. If you can afford the hit, you'll get a kick out of the unique icons and "docklets," tiny applications like a brand-new weather feed utility that you can launch straight out of your ObjectDock bar itself!
Tired of staring at the boring ol' two-dimensional space of a normal computer desktop? All the application-launching utilities in the world can't break through your workspace's flat plane... hence BumpTop's usefulness. This app transforms your dull desktop into a three-dimensional, navigable space. Rotate this environment as if it were a Sims-like model of your bedroom, then attach your icons to the wall like a teenager's collection of rock posters. As you grow and shrink icons to reflect their importance, you can drag them around and nudge smaller, less-important icons out of the way. Clicking, dragging, and creating three-dimensional piles of icons has never been as intuitive as it is in BumpTop and--dare I say it--never as much fun, either.
Now if only there was a way to create additional themed "rooms" and pathways through your desktop a la an old-school Doom map...
Eschew the Windows environment entirely and play around with a LiveCD that incorporates KDE, or the K Desktop Environment. To be honest, a number of the fancier tricks and desktop management tools that you have to build into Windows with third-party programs are likely to already exist in KDE. It's the inspiration for many an aspiring Windows desktop enhancer--if not Windows itself. A number of the flashier features you'll find on Windows 7 desktops worldwide have already been known to KDE users for some time now. Get ahead of the desktop management curve; get KDE.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!