Revisiting virtual desktops for Windows

It must be something about the slightly warmer air in Spring time because the last time I looked at virtual desktops for Windows was almost exactly two years ago.

Back then I tried an app called Desktops and mentioned VirtuaWin in passing but I honestly don’t remember why I stopped using Desktops and barely remember using it at all.

I installed VirtuaWin last Friday and I’ve been using it over the weekend and it’s a fine replacement for the same Linux functionality I used for many years. I have browsers in desktop 1, MTPuTTy in desktop 2 and I’m experimenting with xchat and Skype in desktop 3 so if you ping me on either of those and I don’t react it’s probably because the status bar icon doesn’t flash.

There’s also Dexpot but I’m in no hurry to try it just yet.

Yes, finally fixed the SSD freezing my computer!

TL;DR If your computer is freezing after installing an SSD change from AHCI to IDE mode in the BIOS.

Argh! This has been driving me slightly mad for a while. I bought a Samsung 840 SSD a few weeks ago to make things a bit faster. It does too, mostly to the boot up (which I rarely do, this machine is on 24×7) but it feels smoother in day to day tasks too.

SSD

I keep the Lightroom catalogue on the SSD, Windows 7 is on there too but most apps, all games and all photos are on other drives.

It worked fine for a while but then it started freezing and stuttering without warning. It was usually when I had a few dozen Chrome tabs open, Firefox running, Skype, xchat, and various services going. The mouse cursor would disappear and the keyboard would stop working for about 5 seconds. Then the problem would go away for a while.

It came back this morning with a vengeance. If I reloaded a browser tab I was guaranteed to freeze my PC.

I had gone searching for solutions before. I’m not the only one with this problem but forum threads were usually:

  • Filled up with replies from people saying, “me too”.
  • A few brave souls asking for log files
  • Suggestions to update firmware and BIOS
  • Solitary pleas for help.

I made sure my SSD firmware was updated (it was) and updated the BIOS of my ASUS P8Z77-M motherboard for the first time to no avail. No change. I was getting ready to put Windows back on the original disk.

Finally, one last desperate search later, I came across this thread and in the same search this page suggesting two methods I hadn’t tried. I did not try disabling LPM (some sort of power saving mod) but I did change the SATA mode from AHCI to IDE. Supposedly the SSD won’t work as well, but it fixed the stuttering and freezes, probably because it apparently disables power saving mode too, or so I’ve read.

Phew. No more stutters! If I hit any performance problems I’ll try the LPM trick with the registry.

Oooh, look at the size of that will ya?

games

Games and apps are getting bigger and bigger. It wasn’t so long ago when games that came on more than one CD were a rarity. Yes, those were the times when a packet of crisps cost 15p and you’d have change from 30p when you bought a Mars Bar.

Oh, ok. It was long ago but you know what I mean.

This is the output from Space Sniffer after running it on the C drive. Besides the massive Steam folder there’s also GOG.com at 22.3Gb, the Witcher 2 taking up 22.2Gb of that, and the “Origin Games” folder makes an appearance in the app where Battlefield 3 consumed 34.2Gb of space!

The unfortunate thing is that I haven’t played many of these games but I’m consoled by the fact they were almost all bought during the insane Steam sales where price cuts of 75% are common. Thankfully backing up Steam games is easy but Origin doesn’t have a backup plan. You have to manually copy files to their backup destination!

Hibernate your Windows 7 Desktop

Windows 7 on desktop machines doesn’t have a hibernate button. It does have a sleep option which in fact is a “hybrid sleep”, a half way house between hibernation (RAM copied to disk) and sleep (RAM kept alive by a small voltage).

Hybrid sleep is a good compromise but I really prefer to have the machine turned off but I like to keep the state recorded. I need hibernation and that’s where this FAQ came in. It has a good explanation of the different sleep states, how to enable hibernation and most importantly, what to do when your machine won’t stay in hibernation (chances are your mouse is waking up your PC).

It didn’t mention “powercfg -h on” which I found recommended on several forums like this one. Odd. I ran that from an Adminstrator’s cmd shell so I can’t say for sure if it’s required or not any more.

In a nutshell:

  1. Turn off hybrid sleep in the Power Options advanced settings.
  2. In your mouse device properties disable the checkbox that allows it to wake up the computer.

Also, if you right click on the Shutdown button you can change the default action to Hibernate, sleep or any of the shutdown options. When updates are to be installed it changes back to “Shutdown”.

Scroll like you mean it in Windows

One of the most annoying aspects of Windows after using Linux on the desktop for 10+ years was how the mouse wheel scrolled windows.

On Linux desktops I could hover over a window and scroll it without focusing. It was really useful when I had a browser window with instructions behind a terminal or just comparing the contents of two windows. The same happened when scrolling panes in file managers. I could scroll directories when hovered over that side of the window and files when over on the other..

So, imagine my frustration when I realised I had to click the side of the Explorer window I wanted to scroll in Windows? It was doubly annoying if I had selected files as I’d have to click an empty area or CTRL click an already selected file to select that side of the window.

Well, there’s a simple solution. Alex Leonard found and blogged about Wizmouse. It simply does what I expect, it scrolls the window under my pointer, whether it’s focused or not.

Wonderful!

Virtual Desktops for Windows

One of my favourite things about the Linux desktop is that virtual desktops are a standard feature of just about every window manager. Mac OS X has Spaces and I have a vague memory of using some sort of virtual desktop in Windows years ago.

It isn’t a standard feature of the Windows experience but there are apps you can download to do that job. Desktops v1.02 is one that I tried, but there’s also VirtuaWin. Desktops is basic but works fine in Windows 7!

Have you tried any other ones?