DeskOnTop: access your desktop from the system tray


DeskOnTop is a free program that resides in the system tray and provides access to your desktop files and folders by popping up a mini-representation of the desktop in the system tray.

Alternately, it can also provide a start menu style list of all your desktop items.

The idea behind DeskOnTop is so simple and obvious it makes me wonder why I haven’t seen more implementations of it: access a miniaturized recreation of the desktop from the system tray.

This is the sort of original program that I love to write about on Freewaregenius.

DeskOnTop mini desktopThe most obvious use for this program is a when you are working with a number of open windows and would prefer not to minimize them in order to access something on the desktop. Instead, you can left click the DeskOnTop icon in the tray and get a hovering representation of the desktop where you can access all of the desktop contents, and where mousing over the icons displays tooltips that reveal the filenames (see screenshot above). Here are more notes on this program

  • DeskOnTop context menu styleTwo display modes: you can either opt for a floating, miniaturized pop-up representation of the desktop (left click) or a cascading, start-menu style list of icons (right click).
  • Displays the desktop icons even if they are hidden on your actual desktop: just think about this for a second. You can disable your desktop icons in order to instantly get a clean and visually pleasing work environment with no icons cluttering your space. Meanwhile, DeskOnTop can provide access to everything that’s there from the system tray.
  • Customizable: the “small” desktop can use your default explorer wallpaper, or can be pointed to a directory of images to use instead. The transparency of the mock desktop, size of the icons, font size and background color in the tooltips as well as the color and thickness of display frames can all be tweaked.
  • Memory consumption: approx 8 megs in memory. Not a lightweight program but quite reasonable, in my opinion.

Wish list (or how this program can be even better):

  • Better stability: I noticed at one point the icons in the small desktop were not being displayed, and in another instance the program stopped functioning and spit out an endless loop of errors (closing and restarting the process fixed the former, while nothing short of a restart fixed the latter). I am hoping these issues will be taken care of in a future veriosn of the program.
  • Better refreshing: while the “small desktop” was good about refreshing in order to accurately reflect the files in the actual desktop, the list representation did not seem to refresh at all until the program was shut down and restarted.
  • Explorer commands in the context menu: the list of programs displayed on right click seems to be rendered graphically and does not support context menu commands, unfortunatley.

The verdict: I really like this program. In general a very nice implementation of an innovative and original idea, but could be better (see wish list above). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that some of the bugs mentioned will be addressed by the developers.

Lately I’ve had to do a number of presentations for work where I had to hook up my laptop to a projector and was feeling self conscious about the mess of icons that clutter my desktop, so I am especially interested in the idea of not displaying icons in the desktop and using DeskOnTop as a substitute in the system tray. All in all a very interesting program that is worth checking out.

Version Tested: 2.01.83

Compatibility: Windows 2000, XP; no info on Vista.

Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 0.9 megs).

  • Joe

    You can have a popup menu of your desktop items (or any folder’s contents) natively in Windows:

    1. Right-click on the taskbar, hover over “Toolbars” then select “New toolbar…”

    2. Navigate to your user folder
    XP: C:\Documents and Settings/
    Vista: C:\Users\
    3. Select the “Desktop” folder and click “Select Folder”

    The word “Desktop” will appear on your taskbar with the two little greater-than signs that you can click on to bring up the menu: >>

    You can then turn it on or off by right-clicking on the taskbar, hovering over “Toolbars”, then checking or unchecking the “Desktop” entry.

    It will likewise display the menu contents regardless of whether you have the items set to hide on your desktop.

    I’ll agree that it’s a neat idea, but I’d rather stick with Windows’ built in function. The mini graphical representation is cool eye-candy, but not much more.

  • james

    You can also use “show desktop” in your Quicklaunch bar. Click it once to show the desktop and then click it again to restore the minimized windows. Do a web search for “show desktop.”

  • Samer

    Thanks guys for the tips

    @joe: I really like the mini graphical representation of the desktop. This program would not have made it on this blog if it weren’t for that feature!

  • Tom

    Works on Vista but looks terrible – transparency is broken and looking on it almost hurts.

  • shank

    WOT shows it as an malicious site !!

  • shank

    WOT shows it as a malicious site !!

  • blogward

    This is a beta, surely – very unstable with WindowBlinds (?) – the settings window doesn’t work and the exit dialog hangs. Also those huge links on the settings window are a bit annoying. Nice idea though.

  • First of all: thanks for responses, is very pleasant that my program is useful to somebody (though and not all) it is pleasant to me.
    Further, in all discussions the first or second post – about the button “Minimize all windows” or ToolBar. Yes, I know about them…
    However, I hope that in my program these operations more habitually and more conveniently… Therefore, for example, to send the letter it is possible and in “Outlook Express”, however I have paid for “The bat”.
    About that, that DESKonTOP works in Vista – is VERY MUCH SURPRISED! In my opinion SHOULD NOT! The version compatible with Vista will be in the autumn…
    And welcome to our site…

  • The site’s homepage came up as restricted in my browser. Also, downloads from the site are restricted on my machine.

    Investigating why, I found “” and all it’s derivitives are are in my browser’s restricted sites list, either from Eric Howe’s Restricted Sites list and/or SpywareBlaster’s restricted sites list (I use both).

    Also, McAfee’s site advisor doesn’t seem too happy with any derivitive of

    I’m posting this information for what it’s worth – use your best judgement. Personally, I think I’ll pass on this one.

  • I like this program too. I use it in Vista and haven’t notice any problems regarding stability or memory consumption. 3 things that I would like to see in future releases:
    1. The desktops icons, at least in Vista, dont look so clear – you can see it even if you watch closely the screenshots of the initial post
    2. There could be an option to open the program with a shortcut key instead of clicking on the icon
    3. When clicking on some empty space of the desktop, it could show you the desktop

  • smikwily

    Why not hit WindowsKey + M to minimize everything to the taskbar, then Shift + WindowsKey + M to bring it back? Not exactly the same layout, but just a few keys away.

  • Samer, looks a good application, but I agree with smikwily you could just use WindowsKey + M or even WindowsKey + D does an excellent job too.
    I suppose the choice is yours.
    Great site.

  • Im with samer on this one. I love it. Thanks again!