One of the best things about any Linux Desktop Environment/Window Manager, is the ability to have as many virtual desktops as you like. On any system I set up, I stick with the default of four, and reserve the first one for chatting, the second for browsing and e-mail, the third for any multimedia-apps and the fourth for file managers and terminals. My system feels uncluttered, and my panel isn’t filled with a thousand applications. Whenever I’m working on a Windows system, I feel like everything is a mess and I have to search way too much where I put every window (at work, I have a second screen. This helps, but it’s still no match for four virtual desktops).
Funnily enough, whenever I put a Windows user on a Linux system, this is the thing they struggle most with. Most of the time, they just can’t grasp the concept, or don’t understand how it could be useful. As a result, they always stick to the first workspace, and whenever a window ends up on another, they can’t find it again.
I was reminded of this because apparently, the developers of Linux Mint feel the same way. Unlike most Linux distributions, there’s no pager in the panel that lets you switch from one virtual desktop to the other. Personally, I find this a pain, but when it comes to Windows users, this makes sense…and Linux Mint is definitely geared at Windows converts. Different workspaces can be a marvelous tool to organise all your application windows, but if all your “customers” are baffled by it, why include it at all? You may disagree, but in the end, it all comes down to “what’s your target audience?”.
That being said, I find it very strange that the way Linux Mint implements this is by simply getting rid of the pager. The four virtual desktops are still there, but you have to switch between them with the Ctrl+alt+Left/Right buttons. This makes no sense to me, and only leaves the possibility for a user to move an application to another workspace without giving him or her the possibility to find it again. As a sidenote, Ubuntu, it seems, strikes the middle ground here, and includes two workspaces, with a pager.
For me, switching between workspaces is the same as switching between applications, but apparently it’s a difficult concept for most people, and the only reason I can think of why this is so, is because users have become so accustomed to Windows (or MacOS X), that they can’t think of screen estate beyond the actual borders of the screen.
So, not only is Linux free as in speech, and in most cases, free as in beer, it also frees you of the boundaries of your hardware 😉 I just love this OS!