A better desktop with RocketDock and Vista Start Menu

Sitting in front of a computer about 80% of your working day it is important that your work environment – that is your desktop – is both visually pleasing and functional. Having switched to Windows Vista not too long ago and just bought a new laptop I spent some time customizing my desktops to increase functionality and decrease clutter. Along the way I found some useful applications and some nice tricks that I’d like to share with you.

Get a Dual-Monitor Wallpaper with DisplayFusion

One of the things that has bugged me from day one was that out of the box neither XP nor Vista allowed you to have different wallpapers on different screens if you have a dual screen setup. I’ve been working with two screens for years and a cohesive background graphic for my workspace has always been one of the items on my wishlist. When I came across the beautiful Mandolux multi-monitor wallpapers I decided that now was the time so I started digging around on the web for a small app that would let me split my desktop in half so to speak. After some trial and error I landed on DisplayFusion – a free multi-monitor desktop wallpaper application that runs on both XP and Vista alike. The application is light and easy to use and combined with a Mandolux wallpaper the result (as seen at the top of this article) is quite stunning.

Keep your tools handy with RocketDock

It’s no secret that I’m a Windows guy and I have less than kind things to say about it’s rival the Mac. But that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to say that Steve Jobs and his fruity company hasn’t come up with some briliant ideas. Ideas like the customizeable launch bar. Fortunately clever coders have created several clones of this application that run in Windows environments. One of these is the nice and spiffy RocketDock. It lets you drag and drop any application, folder or whatever else comes to mind into a dockable launch box and makes them available to you with one click. I’ve installed it on both my office computer and my laptop (as seen below) and moved the regular Windows Taskbar to the left hand side to get it out of the way. Now I have all my frequently used applications handy with one click at the bottom of my screen and if I want to dig deeper I can always go to the Taskbar. As Candide would say, it’s the best of all possible worlds.

Harness the launching power of the Vista Start Menu

An often overlooked application that I myself wasn’t fully aware of until recently is the Vista Start Menu search box. More than just a regular search box, this powerful feature lets you launch any application by simply writing (part of) it’s name and hitting Enter. This comes in handy when you want to launch a seldom used or hidden application like the equally genius Snipping Tool which for some bizarre reason is hidden within Vista. The search box catalogues all your applications and lets you launch them without digging through folder trees on the Program menu.

“But wait. That’s exactly what Launchy does” you might say (if you’re a real nerd or a Lifehacker reader). And you are right. But think about this for a second: Why would you use a third party application to do something that has been built into the operating system anyway? Sadly the prevalence of Launchy and applications like it on Vista systems shows how buggy the transition from XP to Vista has been. But fret not: If you’re already a Launchy user, try switching over to the Vista Start Menu for a while and you’ll see that you can safely get rid of that extra 3rd party bulk and still get pretty much the same results.