Hold on, let me open that file... just one minute here...
July 15, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I the hive can help me find a program that will allow me to instantly switch my desktop to any number of current setups that includes programs and files. I’m not quite sure how to boil it down to the simplest terms for searching.

I’m a graphic designer working in a very busy environment and I am forced by the nature of the company environment to switch several times between many projects everyday. As an example, I’ll send out a proof on one project and start a new project, or begin working on edits to a current project. I’ll get the edits back from the previous proof and have to switch back to that project. Sometimes, the people I am working with (copywriters, marketers, engineers) will call me to ask me about their particular project I am working on while I have another open. So, I’ll have to reopen their files and some of the programs I am using for the design. To avoid overwhelming myself and making unintended changes, I prefer to close out or unrelated files and programs entirely. I’m constantly opening and closing Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, notepad, etc. plus previous emails and PDFs.

Ideally, I would like a program that will batch my workflow for projects and minimize them until I need to open them and do so at a moments notice. Sort of like the Save Desktop feature in many programs, but one for all the programs and files for a project. For example, say I'm working on a map with Water Treatment Plant locations and I have Illustrator, InDesign, the sketch the engineer sent to me, google maps open in chrome and three emails of edits. Then, an admin calls me to make last minute adjustments to a poster being sent to a printer asap, so she needs to give me direction on the phone. So, I need to open Photoshop, InDesign and the poster file. Rather than do all that opening and closing, I'd rather just click a button on the task bar and switch back to the configuration of windows and program files I previously had open for the poster.

I’m PC windows XP at work. (Don’t know if I’m ignoring a feature in XP that will already let me do this?)
posted by studentbaker to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I *am hoping* the hive can help me...
posted by studentbaker at 7:47 AM on July 15, 2010

If you were on a Mac it would be as simple as setting up a "user" for each project and use instant user switcher to toggle between projects (as long as you never logged out from any particular user, or shut down)... is there something like that on a PC?
posted by HuronBob at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2010

You would probably be served by having multiple desktops.
posted by notsnot at 7:56 AM on July 15, 2010

You should look into Virtual Desktop Managers. You can get a manager from Microsoft or you can download a program that does the same thing (and probably better) from a third party. You might also look into setting up dual monitors.
posted by eunoia at 8:08 AM on July 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks! I'll research virtual desktop managers. I forgot to mention that I have a dual monitor setup and use all available screen space per project already. I'm also on a corporate network and have to access several different servers throughout the country so account switching won't really work for me.
posted by studentbaker at 8:13 AM on July 15, 2010

VMWare has been the well-respected standard wherever I've worked.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:14 AM on July 15, 2010

Best answer: Dexpot
It's free, it switches workspaces quickly, and each workspace can have it's own instance of an application running.

"Dexpot 1.5 turns your monitor into up to 20. Dexpot creates additional workspaces you can quickly switch between."
posted by axismundi at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2010

While VMWare is a decent suggestion for having several isolated workstations, if you are working with video, then your machine may not be powerful enough to handle the video editing app running inside a VM. Virtual desktops will allow you to have multiple workspaces, but the individual applications are all still running on the computer, so they are all taking up memory and CPU cycles...as if you had all of your projects open at the same time, just on seperate monitors...again, your machine may not be capable of handling this much.

A different way to go about this, but decidedly more costly, would be to have a secondary computer or two, and connect them with a hardware KVM switch. This would allow you to switch between multiple PCs all using the same Keyboard, Monitor, and Mouse to control them. Just a quick couple of key commands and you are in one computer....another key combo and you are in another system. The main problem with this method is that it would technically/legally require a separate license for your OS and editing software for each PC....if you're using something like Premiere or Photoshop, this will be quite expensive. :(
posted by AltReality at 11:42 AM on July 15, 2010

Easiest way to make this happen will be to set up multiple VMWare or virtualbox environments. This will allow you to have one environment for each project, and when you switch from one to the next you'd just "hibernate" the VMWare session.

This, conceptually, is just as if you had multiple laptops on your desk, one for the water treatment project, one for the poster project, etc. You'd never have to worry about closing and opening files, as you'd just close the lid on the water treatment laptop, put it on the shelf, then open up the poster laptop.

This will require a bunch of setup up front [which I'd be happy to discuss if it comes to this], and you'd be bending the license agreements for your software installing it on multiple "machines". The software may have protection in place that would prevent this.

This also may have performance problems depending on your hardware. It will certainly take a raft of disk space.

If your hardware and licensing can handle it, this would be my preferred way to handle it, as it is the cleanest and requires the least invention.

But, say that's not feasible for performance or other reasons.

Multiple desktops will help with this, but not much, I don't think. Sure, you could have a "Water treatment" virtual desktop and a "poster" virtual desktop and so forth, but that's going to mean that all these documents and applications are all open all the time.

Looking at your two examples:

Water Treatment Plant locations:
  1. Illustrator document
  2. InDesign document
  3. the sketch the engineer sent
  4. google maps open in chrome
  5. three emails of edits
Poster project:
  1. Photoshop document
  2. InDesign document
  3. poster file.
As a test, open all that stuff at the same time, without any virtual desktop software running. That's what running the virtual desktop solution will be like. You'll be able to switch from one desktop to another quickly, but the price is that all that stuff is running all the time. Maybe that's not a burden, in which case maybe that works.

The virtual desktop situation also might have an issue with programs that display all their documents in one window. If any of your software does that, you couldn't have the water treatment InDesign file on one virtual desktop and the Poster InDesign file on another.

However, the hurdle you're still left with is the facility to define just what constitutes a "project". Your water treatment project files are:
  1. Some particular Illustrator doc
  2. Some particular Indesign doc
  3. that sketch file
  4. A particular URL for your webbrowser.
  5. some email messages
Switching to that project will involve telling your computer:
  1. Open watertreatment.eps in Illustrator
  2. Open watertreatment.xxx in InDesign
  3. Open sketch.yyy in WhateverApp
  4. Open chrome and go to http://maps.google.com/here
  5. Open emails a, b, and c in EmailApp
The first four there are no big deal. Assuming your extension mappings are set correctly, it'd be as easy as a batch file like this:
start watertreatment.eps
start watertreatment.xxx
start sketch.yyy
start /d c:\path\to\ chrome.exe http://maps.google.com/here
and there you go. The emails are trickier.

I did find a utility called "spiveyworks multifire" that claims to be a friendlier way to do this half of the problem.

Switching to the poster project involves closing everything for the water treatment project, then doing the same "open this list of random stuff" task for the poster project. Except, switching to a given project really involves:
  1. Close everything related to the currently open project, whatever it is
  2. Open everything related to the poster project.
At a minimum, for each "project", you'll need files describing, in some way, recipes for "open this project" and "close this project".

I don't know that there's a reliable way, under Windows, to script something like this. There may well be. Under Mac OS X, there's the standard system-wide scriptability, which makes a lot of this possible, though still non-trivial [for example, you can use an AppleScript to tell just about any Mac app to start, quit, or open this\file\right\here.txt]

Sorry about the stream-of-consciousness wet-blanket post, but this is some of the stuff to consider. I really hope there's a single tool to do this in someone's toolbox.
posted by chazlarson at 1:25 PM on July 15, 2010

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