Six, Minus Seven

Some useful free software.

Some programs are bigger than your screen. They've got large, complex, multiple windows, and you don't have enough pixels on your screen to display them all at the same time.

One solution is to have tabs, or some other way to quickly flip between them. Another is to enable the user to cut down the display to only those modules or windows which they use a lot - calling up the others when necessary.

Or you could get a second display screen to sit on your desk next to your main one, displaying different windows of the same program. Or you could just get a really big screen - which if you're using a laptop, does rather defeat the point of having a laptop.

If you're running Windows XP with an ATI video card, you can set up your physical screen as a scrollable 'viewport', showing part of a larger, virtual screen. You pan-and-scan around the larger screen with the mouse.

You can right click on the desktop, go to Settings > Advanced > Monitor, uncheck the 'Hide modes that this monitor cannot display', then find the control panel of your video card, and set up a custom resolution.

My physical screen is 1280x800 pixels, and my custom resolution is 2560x800 - double width, and extremely useful. In fact I couldn't work without it.

Microsoft, being fuckwitted as usual, have disabled this feature on Vista, Windows 7, and 8. So the userbase have come up with ways undo the damage.

The free version of GiMiSpace gives you an endless horizontal ribbon to scroll along. 360 Desktop gives you an extended horizontal space that you can loop around like a carousel. Both work on Windows 7, leaving me with only 199 reasons to stay with XP intead of 200.

A slightly different solution to a slightly different problem is to have several virtual desktops, and switch between them.

One has a browser open streaming golden-shower midget porn, and another shows the accounting program you're supposed to be using. Your boss/parent/partner walks into the room, you click a hotkey, and you look for all the world to have the exact same figures on screen as you did when they walked in an hour before.

Of course, it's the same mouse, pointer, screen, speakers etc on all the desktops, so pressing Space will enter a blank character onto the spreadsheet, but also unpause the video window on the other desktop, complete with moans and 70s funk on the soundtrack.

VirtuaWin lets you have up to ten desktops, and DexPot has a load more features.

If you want a separate desktop running in the background, you'll need a full virtual machine - and I'd recommend VirtualBox.

People are nosey. Label a folder 'Private' or 'Personal - Keep Out', and they'll look in it while your back's turned. Label it 'Misc Backup 1997B', and they might be less tempted.

People are also extremely stupid. Label a folder 'Current Working' or 'Very Important - Do Not Delete', and they'll assume it's okay to delete it. In one place I worked, the IT department was forced to plaster notices on every wall reading "Do not delete any folders marked as 'DO NOT DELETE".

Much better to hide the folders than trust to people's decency or basic intelligence. But most methods of hiding are quite easy to get around. The one I like at the moment is Folder Hidden. It makes folders invisible, lets you set passwords to unhide them, and it'll run from a USB stick.

A screen strewn with windows is a messy thing, with wasted space and confusion. What if you could neatly dock them together, and prevent them drifting offscreen, while aligning them to the edge?

What if you had a tiny little program like AllSnap to do all that for you? Instead of the pointless and annoying feature of fullsizing a window if you move it near the screen edge, and back again when you move it away. Did I mention how much Windows 7 annoys me?

And finally, how often have you switched on your computer at four in the morning...and had your eyes seared with the white harshness of the display? Screens are designed to be seen clearly in a brightly lit office in full daylight - even when all you need or want is a gentle glow.

F.lux is a little Windows program which gradually adjusts the colours of your screen to match the probably ambient natural light.

 Six good ideas which in any sane world would come as standard in any operating system.

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