September 2, 1998
Disclaimer and Copyright Notice
Virtual Desktop is a free utility designed to act as
a virtual desktop
manager for System 7 and Mac OS 8. The author, Ross Brown, makes no
warranty, either express or implied, with respect to this software, its
performance, merchantability, or suitability for any particular purpose.
People using the Virtual Desktop utility do so at their own risk. The
author disclaims all liability for loss of data, mechanical damage, or other
losses suffered while using the Virtual Desktop utility.
Virtual Desktop is an AWOL Software Production, Copyright
Ross Brown. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to make and
distribute copies of this software, provided this disclaimer and copyright
notice are preserved on all copies. The software may not, however, be
sold or distributed for profit, or included with other software which is
sold or distributed for profit, without the permission of the author.
There are no site license fees for the use of Virtual
Desktop within an
organization. The author encourages you to make and distribute as many
copies of the application as you wish, for whomever you wish, as long as
it is not for profit. Virtual Desktop is part of a set of cooperating
programs, AWOL Utilities. The tutorial help you are reading is designed
for handling by the help server application Help on Wheels, which is also
part of AWOL Utilities.
New versions of individual AWOL Utilities programs,
Desktop, are available by anonymous FTP from popular archive sites
including <ftp://sumex-aim.stanford.edu/info-mac/> and its various
mirror sites, such as <ftp://mirrors.aol.com/pub/info-mac/>.
For the latest information about AWOL software, including
please visit the AWOL Web page at <http://www.magma.ca/~awolsp/>.
Support for AWOL Utilities is through Internet mail
<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>. The software is not available by
FTP from this site. The address for paper correspondence is AWOL
Software Productions, PO Box 24207, Hazeldean RPO, Kanata, Ontario,
Canada K2M 2C3.
Macintosh users who do not have access to electronic
sources of free and
shareware software may obtain a copy of AWOL Utilities by sending a
self-addressed stamped envelope and an 800K (or larger) formatted
diskette to the author at the above address. U.S. users are reminded that
postage from Canada in 1998 is C$0.52 up to 30 grams (1 oz.), C$0.77 up
to 50 grams (1 3/4 oz.), and C$1.17 up to 100 grams (3 1/2 oz.).
US$0.50, US$0.75, and US$1.00 in coin is acceptable in place of stamps
for the respective weights. People outside the U.S. and Canada may send
an international postal reply coupon instead of Canadian stamps (available
from any post office). Please use sturdy envelopes, preferably cardboard
disk mailers. (Mailers over 5 mm (1/5") thick require C$1.17 postage to
Please do not send return envelopes with non-Canadian
stamps, as Canada Post will not accept them.
About AWOL Software Productions
AWOL Software Productions specializes in custom development
software for the Mac OS. Since its inception in 1990, AWOL has
developed a number of programs which enhance the Mac OS user
experience, working in nearly every part of the Macintosh Toolbox. If
you have a short-term programming task or product idea but lack the
staff to do the expert design, coding, and documentation, we invite your
Virtual Desktop is AWOL's best-known effort, serving
expansion needs of thousands of Mac users around the world. Later in
1998, AWOL will release a new commercial version 2.0 to replace the
freeware version contained in the AWOL Utilities package. Please contact
us at <mailto:email@example.com> for feature and ordering
Users who want more out of the Mac's speech capabilities
out MacYack Pro, a jointly developed package of speech tools marketed by
Scantron Quality Computers (<http://www.lowtek.com/macyack/>;
<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>; 20200 Nine Mile Rd., St. Clair Shores, MI
Virtual Desktop is the answer to a growing problem among
modern Macintosh computers, who have plenty of RAM to run programs
in, but don't have the "screen real estate" to handle large numbers of
windows productively. This problem is especially acute for people using
PowerBook computers, because of their small screen size.
Virtual Desktop, the premier virtual desktop manager
for the Macintosh,
is an adaptation of the kind of virtual window manager found on many X
Window System workstations. Having allocated some memory for
off-screen buffers, they let the user's screen view move between
several "rooms" where various programs can put their windows.
Usually, these rooms are non-overlapping and arranged in a rigid grid
pattern. A small-scale window shows the user where all the windows
are, in a stylized form.
On the Macintosh, to date, there have been three successful
this problem. The first, a commercial program using software
techniques, extended the desktop by scrolling it away when the user
shoved the mouse against the edge of the screen. The second, a
shareware program with hardware dependencies, bought the user some
extra real estate by opening up the usually black area at the edges of the
monitor. The third, an increasingly lucrative business, is the sale of
graphic display stations or expansion cards with hardware-based scroll
and zoom capability.
Virtual Desktop has a number of advantages over these
it's free. Second, it works on all types of monitors. Third, it has a
sophisticated user interface. Fourth, it takes advantage of Mac OS
features to do the whole job in the fewest possible clicks and keystrokes.
And last, it's free.
Who Can Use Virtual Desktop?
Any Macintosh running System 7.0 or later can use Virtual
There is nothing special to install, but the first time you open Virtual
Desktop, it will ask for permission to install its own system extension,
then suggest that you restart your Macintosh. This system extension is
required in order for the application to operate.
See the section entitled "Virtual Desktop Extension" for more
NOTE: To work as it does, the program needs intimate
knowledge of how
Finder works. Because of this dependency, Virtual Desktop checks the
system version at startup, and if it finds itself in an unfamiliar version,
it warns you and lets you decide whether to continue. This version of
Virtual Desktop may someday be replaced by one which takes account of
changes in later versions of Finder.
Virtual Desktop also works on Macintoshes running At
Ease instead of
Finder, with the exception of one option which requires Finder.
See the section entitled "The Door Preferences Dialog" for more
Virtual Desktop can be placed on an AppleShare file
server, where any
number of users can access it simultaneously.
What Does Virtual Desktop Do?
Virtual Desktop, simply put, puts scroll bars on your
screen. This is the
most intuitive way for most people to operate a desktop which is larger
than their screen. This "virtual desktop" can be as large as the user
wants it to be, with no additional expense of memory.
It also has a mode where the user can inspect and rearrange
the layout of
windows and icons on the entire virtual desktop.
For people who use the same applications every day,
Virtual Desktop lets
them build "doors," which make the virtual desktop scroll to a preset
location when clicked, in the manner of an old push-button car radio, but
more ergonomic. You can open a door by clicking, by pressing a
Command-digit combination or F-key, by selection from an optional Door
menu, or (if you have a recent PowerBook or are running System 7.5.2 or
later) by using the Control Strip.
Virtual Desktop also has a number of "navigation
options" which, when
enabled, let you do quick scrolling actions without leaving the application
Virtual Desktop puts a horizontal scroll bar along the
bottom edge of your
main monitor, and a vertical scroll bar along the right or left edge (your
choice). In the corner between the scroll bars is a little square anchor
window with the Virtual Desktop icon on it, where you can click to make
Virtual Desktop active.
While Virtual Desktop is active, you can scroll using
either scroll bars or
keyboard. Press the Page Up or Page Down key to scroll vertically (or
horizontally, with the Option key pressed). Press the Home key to return
to the "home" or startup location. Press the End key to go back to where
you were when you last pressed Home.
By default, the scroll bars only appear while Virtual
Desktop is active,
but you can have them up all the time, losing a bit of the screen area in
exchange for easier scrolling. You can also suppress them altogether, if
See the section entitled "Navigation Options" below.
Reading the scroll bars' "sliders" tells you
where you are on the virtual
desktop in relation to all the other items (windows and desktop icons).
Ordinarily, the extent of the virtual desktop is padded by half a screenful
beyond the most extreme item in each direction. To grow the desktop,
you can increase that pad factor in increments of half a screenful. As you
move items farther outward into the pad area, the virtual desktop grows
The scroll bars appear on the main monitor (the one
with the menu bar).
If you change the monitor resolution, move the menu bar to another
monitor, or turn video mirroring on or off, Virtual Desktop adjusts
automatically, moving the scroll bars to the correct position and
positioning the sliders to reflect the new state of your virtual desktop.
Full View Mode
If you need to see beyond what your monitor or monitors
can display at
one time, to get the big picture of all items on the virtual desktop, you can
go into Full View mode. There are three ways to do it - by menu
command, by keystroke, and by double-clicking on the anchor window.
Full View mode takes over the main monitor, covering
everything but the
menu bar and the scroll bars. It shows a picture of the whole virtual
desktop, scaled down to fit, with color-keyed rectangles showing the
outline of every application's windows, including the ones that are hidden.
A white area in the background shows what part of the virtual desktop is
currently visible through a monitor. In this picture, you can get help
balloons to tell you what the windows and icons are, click and drag to
rearrange them, and double-click to scroll and bring them to the front so
that you can see them. You can also drag the white area to move the
desktop view relative to all windows and icons.
On one side of the picture, Virtual Desktop shows a
set of radio buttons
and a list box. There is one radio button for every application which has a
window open, plus one at the bottom of the heap for all desktop icons.
When you click on a radio button, Virtual Desktop fills the list box with the
names of all the items belonging to that group. By selecting an item from
the list, you can see where that item is on the virtual desktop.
Conversely, you can click on an item in the picture to see its name and
what group it belongs to.
At some point, you will begin to imagine a virtually
desktop layout for your applications - mail windows here, word
processor there, and a picture of your spouse and children in the top
corner, in case you forget what they look like. It would be hard to move
from location to location using scroll bars, and not very efficient using
Full View mode, so Virtual Desktop gives you a better tool for the job:
To make a door, you scroll to the location you want
to work in, and tell
Virtual Desktop to create a new door. It asks you for a name, and a place
on the desktop where it can drop the little door icon window with the name
on it. You could build a whole corridor of doors to different places, or use
one of the predefined multiple-door arrangements (row, column, cross, or
grid). To move from one preset location to another, you just click on a
door. The door icon "opens," and you're there. Every "room" should
have a trash can alias in the lower right corner, of course, but that's
That describes the simplest use of doors. Beyond that,
there are some
useful preference options you can apply to each door. You can associate
an application with the door, so that Virtual Desktop will make that
application active as you jump to where its windows are. Better still,
you can have it tell Finder to open any item of your choice (application,
document, folder, or other) when you open the door. If that application
prefers a specific color depth ("Thousands" of colors, or plain old "Black
& White"), you can tell Virtual Desktop to change the depth when you open
Even when Virtual Desktop isn't running, you can use
the Door menu,
placed on the right side of the menu bar, to instantaneously launch Virtual
Desktop and open any door. For PowerBook users and those running
System 7.5.2 or later, the "Virtual Desktop Doors" Control Strip module
does the same thing without clogging your menu bar. This feature,
combined with its ability to tie any item to the opening of a door, makes
Virtual Desktop an effective application/document launcher.
This version of Virtual Desktop offers five ways to
do virtual desktop
scrolling without leaving the active application.
First, you can choose a key combination which scrolls
the virtual desktop
up, down, left, or right. You choose any combination of the modifier keys
(Command, Shift, Option, Control), plus any four keys for the four
Second, you can tell Virtual Desktop to watch the mouse
pointer. If this
option is on, and you move the mouse while pressing any combination of
the modifier keys, the virtual desktop will "shift" along with the pointer
when you release the keys.
Third, you can tell it to react when you shove the mouse
pointer into any
edge of the screen, while pressing any combination of the modifier keys.
The virtual desktop will scroll away in the opposite direction.
Fourth, you can tell it to show the scroll bars at all
application is active. If you operate a scroll bar while using another
application, Virtual Desktop will return you to that application as soon as
it has scrolled the desktop.
Fifth, you can click on a door icon window, or use the
Door menu or
Control Strip, to open a door, having set that door to switch back to the
frontmost (active) application.
How Does Virtual Desktop Work?
Virtual Desktop Extension
Virtual Desktop requires a system extension to persuade
Finder that the
desktop is larger than your monitors, and to ensure that off-screen icon
positions are recorded correctly.
When you open the Virtual Desktop application, it will
check to see if the
"Virtual Desktop Extension" system extension was loaded at startup. If
not, it will ask for permission to install it in your Extensions folder, if it
isn't already there. If you agree, the application will suggest a restart,
then quit, because the extension must be loaded at startup in order for the
application to operate.
If the extension was loaded, but is not the same version
application, you will be prompted to replace it. You must then restart
your Macintosh in order to use the application.
If you remove the extension, or disable it by pressing
the Shift key at
startup, Finder will bring any desktop icons positioned off-screen back
into view. (Unfortunately, when running Mac OS 8, this repositioning is
permanent. When running Mac OS 7.6.1 or earlier, if you do not
reposition the desktop icons, they will return to their off-screen positions
after the next restart.) This shows how Virtual Desktop manages the
virtual desktop. It works not by enlarging the "real" desktop area using
extra memory, but by actually moving windows and icons around on the
desktop. Part of that trick is to persuade Finder not to round up the "lost
How to Start Up Virtual Desktop
The first time you start up the Virtual Desktop application,
you will be
working with a very small virtual desktop, and nothing off the monitors.
If you move some icons off the desktop view using Full View mode, scroll
with the scroll bars, then quit, you will notice that Virtual Desktop has
returned you to the "home" location, and that the items you moved off
the desktop remain out of view. You must reopen Virtual Desktop to
access them. Because the extension implements the illusion of a virtual
desktop, the application need only be open when you want to do some
Once you are comfortable with Virtual Desktop, you may
want to start it
up by putting it (or an alias to it) in your Startup Items folder. Another
way is to use door files, Virtual Desktop documents that open the
application and scroll the virtual desktop to a preset location when opened.
You may want to replace some of your current startup items with door
files, having set the preferences for each door so that Finder will open
each item in its own place on the virtual desktop.
See the section entitled "The Door Preferences Dialog" for more
information about door files.
Another way to start up Virtual Desktop is to select
a door from the Door
menu or the Control Strip.
Virtual Desktop works by moving windows and icons, not
by enlarging the
actual desktop. Therefore, applications are never aware of where you
are on the virtual desktop. In a way, this is good, because they will
normally put their windows where you can see them.
You will probably want to dedicate an area of the virtual
desktop to some
commonly used application. However, the application doesn't know what
that location is, so you have to help it somehow. One way would be to
move to the location by clicking on a door icon window, then to open the
application using the Apple menu or some desktop icon which you have
placed there for the purpose. (If you have set the application preferences
for Finder so that Finder's windows are exempt from scrolling, you can
always find the icon you want through those windows.)
There are several ways to automate the opening of applications
documents in "preferred" virtual desktop locations. One way is to set
the door preferences so that Virtual Desktop asks Finder to open the item
just after scrolling to the door location. (The only problem with this
approach, depending on the application in question, is that later attempts
to open the door, leading to more requests to open the item, may cause
unwanted effects.) Another way is to use an alias file converted by
Maybe, another AWOL Utilities program, which automatically tells Virtual
Desktop to scroll to this location just before opening the target item. Yet
another way is to open the items in question, then start up Virtual
Desktop, which (with the application preferences appropriately set) can
shuttle the windows out to their various door locations.
See the section entitled "Suggestions for Use" for more information on
The great majority of applications tolerate Virtual
behavior with no problems. There are others, though, and you should be
aware of the symptoms of trouble.
First, some applications may not work right if their
off-screen. This is especially true of well-programmed applications
which use a "device loop" to compute the right drawing effects for each
monitor their windows intersect, because they typically need to know
which monitor has the greatest color depth, and may get confused if there
isn't such a monitor.
Second, some applications don't use the Macintosh's
model to draw on your monitors. An example would be any
frame-grabbing video expansion card which addresses screen memory
directly. Their windows will come apart when Virtual Desktop scrolls the
frames without the contents. Even HyperCard has a little trouble
sometimes. QuickTime movie players seem to get along fine with Virtual
Third, some applications don't listen to the operating
system when it tells
them to redraw parts of their windows which have been exposed by
scrolling, because they think they know which parts are exposed. These
applications seem to respond better to door jumps than to manual
scrolling. Applications built with Apple's MacApp® framework seem
especially prone to this problem.
Despite these glitches, though, life with Virtual Desktop
is arguably better
than life without.
How to Shut Down Using Virtual Desktop
Virtual Desktop has a Special menu which contains Restart
and Shut Down
commands, like those in Finder. If you use Virtual Desktop regularly, it's
good practice to use this Special menu rather than Finder's, because it
makes sure that Virtual Desktop gets a chance to clean up and quit before
any other application.
If you have a scriptable Finder (version 7.1.4 or later,
or version 7.1 or
later with "Finder Scripting Extension" installed), you may find it helpful
to have the "Quit Virtual Desktop" application in your Shutdown Items
folder. This will force Virtual Desktop to quit first when you request a
restart or shutdown by any standard method (Finder's Special menu, the
Power key, or the "* Shut Down" desk accessory). Note that items in
the Shutdown Items folder may not be opened if you restart or shut down
using any indirect method, such as an installer application.
The first time you open Virtual Desktop, just after
you agree to install
"Virtual Desktop Extension," the application will offer to install "Quit
Virtual Desktop" in your Shutdown Items folder, if you have a scriptable
Finder. (You may refuse the offer if you don't want "Quit Virtual
Desktop" installed; if you change your mind later, you can get it using the
If Virtual Desktop doesn't clean up before a restart
or shutdown, some
applications may record their window positions as off-screen, so the next
time they start up, they may choose a default on-screen position. This is
quite understandable behavior, actually helpful, except when you are
using Virtual Desktop to manage your desktop. Virtual Desktop provides
an application preference option to handle this sort by bringing their
windows back into view before they quit. By practice, you will come to
know which applications need such special treatment.
Using the Control Strip
If you have Apple's Control Strip control panel, or
one of the
"aftermarket" shareware programs that let you use Control Strip
modules on any Macintosh, you should consider using the "Virtual Desktop
Doors" Control Strip module instead of the Door menu. It gives the same
capability, without taking up space in the menu bar.
The first time you open Virtual Desktop, just after
you agree to install
"Virtual Desktop Extension," the application will offer to install the
Control Strip module in your Control Strip Modules folder, if Control Strip
is available. (You may refuse the offer if you don't want the Control
Strip module installed; if you change your mind later, you can get it using
the Install menu.) The module will appear in your Control Strip after the
next restart, though you may have to drag the tab at the end of the
Control Strip to make it visible.
The menu that pops up from the Control Strip has the
same commands as
the Door menu.
See the section entitled "The Door Menu" for more information.
You may find that the Control Strip obscures Virtual
scroll bar window. If you do not intend to use the scroll bars, you can set
a navigation option to suppress them. If you do intend to use them, you
can Option-drag the tab at the end of the Control Strip to move it up from
its usual position at the bottom of the screen.
Suggestions for Use
Virtual Desktop is distributed as part of a free set
programs, AWOL Utilities. This section explains how Virtual Desktop can
work in conjunction with the other programs.
Help on Wheels
Help on Wheels is an efficient and full-featured help
server which displays
help files on behalf of client applications. The help file you are reading is
distributed alongside the Virtual Desktop application file as a separate
Help on Wheels document.
You can read this help at any time while using Virtual
Desktop, either by
selecting "Virtual Desktop Help" from the Help menu, or by pressing the
Help or Command-? key. Alternatively, press the Help or Command-?
key while the machine is starting up, and release the key once you see the
Virtual Desktop extension icon with a help balloon on it. The help server
will open to display the help file after startup is complete. This version
of Virtual Desktop has some support for the sophisticated features of Help
on Wheels, such as context-sensitivity, casual displays, and "hot"
This help file can be stored separately from the Virtual
application, archived, or trashed, without affecting Virtual Desktop's
Among the options of Maybe, a Finder alias enhancer,
is one which lets
you open any other item just as the target item is being opened or printed.
Virtual Desktop has an option to create a very small document called a
door file, whose name matches the name of a door. Opening a door file
from Finder is another way to open the door.
If you have an alias to a document or application which
you might like to
work on in a preset location on the virtual desktop, Maybe can convert
that alias, attaching the door file as the item to open first. Then,
whenever you open the converted alias, whose icon looks like the original,
Maybe and Virtual Desktop co-operate to scroll the virtual desktop to the
"right" location for that target item, then open it.
Menu Events is a small, single-purpose system extension
which lets any
program send Apple events to most high-level-event-aware applications
having a menu bar. These "Menu events" let you query the contents and
state of the application's menus, then select a menu command and tell the
target application to do it.
Virtual Desktop is a useful target for a Menu event,
because it has many
menu commands, and no scripting interface. Any action you can do using
Virtual Desktop menus can be instigated by any application which can send
an Apple event, such as Maybe.
NOTE: Menu Events is intended for Macintosh programmers
familiar with Apple event scripting. If your favorite archive site does not
have Menu Events and its companion application Menu Grabber, you may
request a copy from the author at the addresses listed above.
This page was created using TextToHTML. TextToHTML is a free software for Macintosh and is (c) 1995,1996 by Kris Coppieters