360 Desktop is a free innovative virtual desktop application that creates a “panoramic workspace” extending across multiple screens. It behaves as a scrollable desktop where you could travel from one side and into the other.
It also introduces the ability to embed widgets on the new desktop that clip content off the web such as RSS feeds and videos.
Imagine a desktop environment that is spread across multiple screens consisting of a single, panoramic wallpaper image, and where you can scroll smoothly across the new desktop and place both icons and applications anywhere you like.
360 Desktop tries to deliver exactly this with some success. It provides a never-ending desktop that scrolls smoothly and creates the feeling of an expansive workspace with a lot of space for your windows, apps, and icons. However, the pre-release beta tested here still has some major kinks that need to be ironed out, high on the list of which is it’s support for embedded internet widgets that still feels rudimentary and left me wishing that I could simply switch it off.
Here are more notes on this program:
- Performance: is surprisingly robust. Scrolling is mostly smooth and the navigation works very well.
- Icons: can be placed anywhere on the new desktop, however if you prefer you have the option of disabling panning for icons such that they remain in place even as the desktop scrolls. You cannot enable icon “align to grid”, which I personally always like to have. You can, however, use icon-location saving programs and these seem to work fine for icons that are visible on the screen only.
- App and folder windows: most application and folder windows can be placed anywhere on the new desktop. Clicking on the taskbar button for an application has the (rather pleasing) effect of automatically scrolling the panoramic desktop and whisking you over to wherever the application is. Some apps, however (such as floating desktop widget programs) will simply move with the desktop as you scroll through.
- Moving things around: whether moving icons or apps, you will have to do a dance where you place something close to the side of the screen, scroll the screen, then grab the app or icon(s) and move them further into the newly visible section. It works better for windows than icons, as these at times may lose the “layout” they had when you originally grabbed them. It would be great if in addition to the current system there was something like a “send to next panel” context menu entry or shortcut similar to traditional (non-scrolling) virtual desktop programs (and hopefully apply to both windows and icons).
- Navigation: is done through a floating navigation bar that expands when you click on it and displays a small representation of the desktop, complete with little icons that show you the location of the various windows/apps within it. This is not only extremely cool but works very well. I would still have liked the option to “flip” through screens in addition to the ability to scroll, and the option to go “home” automatically through a button or shortcut without needing to scroll back.
- Themes: the version I tested comes bundled with two, “Fourth of July” (depicted above) and another named “Smokin”. You can also download another handful off of the website (see image to the right to preview some of them). At the moment users cannot use their own panoramic wallpaper to create their own themes but that is promised in a future release.
- Widgets: in theory you can either (a) embed a website or part of one into your desktop, or (b) simply copy and paste the code used to embed widgets into a site and use it on your desktop. What I have found in the version I tried is that there was no way to resize the widget display, such that either a tiny part (or the wrong part) of the widget or website was displayed on my desktop. Pre-made themes come with their own set of widgets that work well enough, but I found myself wishing I could switch them off (I couldn’t).
- Shutting down 360 Desktop: will immediately revert to the normal desktop with the previously used wallpapr. Icons that were placed in a different part of the extended desktop will not be visible, though, but can be retrieved by switching “auto arrange” on and off (right click, arrange icons by, auto arrange); you will subsequently have to rearrange your icons though.
- Memory usage: approx. 33 megs, which for what this program does is less than I would have expected.
Wish list (or how this program can be even better):
- Widgets: while I am certain that widget implementation will improve markedly in future versions of this program, I couldn’t help wishing that widgets would be scrapped altogether or that they would take the form of an optional plugin. Also, being able to switch them if they come pre-packaged within themes would be great. While I understand the attractiveness of having widgets embedded into different parts of a large desktop I care much more about having a robust/reliable extended virtual desktop first.
- Bugs: some programs (e.g. Internet Explorer), if fully maximized, then minimized and maximized again, would “nudge” the desktop half a screen to the left. Also at times a program window would minimize but would still be visible and somehow replace the background wallpaper until the user scrolled away.
- Navigation: (a) a “home” shortcut or button, (b) the ability to scroll using customizable hotkeys (such as CTRL+left/right), (c) the ability to flip from one screen to the next (rather than scroll) in the manner of traditional virtual desktop software, and (d) the option not to allow moving from one edge of the desktop back into the other.
- Sending objects to other screens: as previously mentioned, a context-menu and/or keyboard shortcuts that sends windows and icons to other parts of the desktop would be a great feature.
- Align to grid: not having my icons align to grid is a deal breaker for me. I really wish they would get this to work with 360 Desktop.
The verdict: I have played with a lot of virtual desktop programs and a lot of “active desktop” applications that do various things within the desktop, and I have to say that I am very impressed with the general robustness of this program and the fact that it does precisely what it sets out to do (and generally does it well).
I will say that insofar as virtual desktops go, 360 Desktop is one of the most attractive in that it makes the concept less “virtual” and much more “real”. I also like the fact that it allows you to manipulate both windows and icons in the new environment, in contrast to most virtual desktop apps which ignore icons altogether (with the exception of Dexpot, a Freewaregenius fave).
This software is still in beta and as mentioned above there are a number of issues that need to be taken care of, a lot of little details that when implemented could improve this program markedly. That aside a very interesting and innovative program that is definitely worth checking out.
[Thanks go to reader Skadoosh for letting me know about this program].
Version Tested: 0.5.4.1479-Beta
Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista.
The program page no longer exists, but you can download ver. 0.5.4.1479-Beta of the program here.