The typical computer screen is limited in size. You can get a bigger monitor and increase your resolution, but it’s always the same rectangular box. Sure you can use Linux with its virtual desktops or you can even enable pseudo-virtual desktops in Microsoft Windows Vista (with the help of a third-party application), but anything beyond that is, by default, not possible.

But you can use the application 360desktop to change things up. It really does turn Microsoft Vista into a virtual vista. To be more precise, 360desktop turns the Vista desktop into a panoramic wonder.

But what good is this? What could a rotational 360-degree desktop do for the employee working on a corporate desktop? The obvious answer to that question is that it can help to remove the usual clutter on the desktop, making the PC workspace more efficient and organized. With 360desktop you can also create ready-made desktop backgrounds with embedded widgets and Web pages created specifically for one’s job or company.

And before your concerns grow about how much of a hit 360desktop will make on your already-demanding Vista desktop, lay them aside. In fact, the hit your PC will take is barely noticeable (if at all). And the requirements are surprisingly minimal:

  • Microsoft Windows XP/Vista
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or above
  • Adobe Flash Player
  • Pentium III 800MHz or faster processor
  • 250MB hard disk space
  • 512MB RAM
  • 1024 x 768 monitor with 256 colors

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Getting and installing

Installing 360desktop is simple: Download the .exe file from the 360desktop download Web site. Once the file has downloaded, double-click the executable to begin the installation process. It’s that simple.

First run

When you first run 360desktop you will be asked if you want 360desktop to be your default desktop. You will notice your desktop background change, and two new items will appear. The first (and main) item to appear is the QuickNav bar at the top right of the screen (Figure A). This is one of the many ways to control 360desktop.

Figure A

Here you can add widgets and control the location of the desktop.

The QuickNav is not where you control the configuration. Instead the QuickNav allows you to navigate around 360desktop and install widgets.

The second new item is located in the system tray (Figure B). This is where 360desktop is configured.

Figure B

A right-click of this icon will bring up the configuration options menu.

From the system tray icon you will find the following:

  • Configure Speed: How fast 360desktop rotates
  • Configure Options: Panning, Show app icons in QuickNav, and Start 360desktop upon startup
  • Launch 360 Manager
  • Help

Once you have taken care of the basics, it’s time to really get into the heart of 360desktop.

Panning the desktop

There are a number of ways to pan around the 360desktop. The easiest is to move your mouse to the edge of the screen and “nudge” the desktop around. The “nudging” will stop as soon as you move your cursor away from the edge of the screen. You can do this on either side of the screen.

Another means of panning around is by using the QuickNav bar. From the QuickNav bar there are two ways. The first QuickNav panning method is to grab the small 360desktop logo and drag it either to the right or the left. Another way is to click on the QuickNav bar to open up the thumbnail view of the entire desktop (Figure C). When the desktop thumbnail is open, you can click anywhere on the 360desktop and you will instantly be transported to the location.

Figure C

When the desktop thumbnail is open, you can click anywhere on the 360desktop.

Along with the panning of the desktop, you are able to click and drag an open window and move it around the 360desktop to place it wherever you want. This is certainly a nice addition that allows you to fine-tune your desktop organization by placing an open window anywhere on the 360desktop.


Configuring 360desktop is simple: Right-click the system tray icon, select the submenu you want to work with, and then select the option. There are very few system configurations available for 360desktop. The main configurations you will want to toy with involve widgets.

Widgets allow you to fully customize your 360desktop to suit your needs or those of your company. To add a widget, you only need click on the “gear” icon in the QuickNav bar.

Let’s say you want to add your company RSS feed to all employee desktops. You could use the Google Module Multiple RSS feed for this (Google Modules integrate seamlessly with 360desktop). The simplest method is to go to the Google Modules Web page, find the module you want to use (in this case the Multiple RSS Feed), configure it to your specification, click the “Get Code” button, and then click on the Add Widget icon in the QuickNav. You will notice the code for the Google Module is already in place for the widget (Figure D).

Figure D

Here you have the Techrepublic open source blog rss feed on the desktop.

As you scroll around the desktop the widgets remain in their location. This allows you to strategically locate widgets that relate to particular desktop functions (RSS feed widgets in a Web browsing spot on your desktop, net traffic monitors on a desktop location designated for network administration, etc).

You can also add Web clippings to your 360desktop. A Webclip is a small applet that shows a Web site page within its borders. The 360 Webclip does not allow you to navigate within the Web site. Instead, when you click a link within the Webclip, it will open up your default browser to the link. This is a great way to have an Internet site up on the desktop at all times.

Changing the desktop background is not done in the same manner as the standard Vista background configuration. Instead you open the 360 Manager and select the 360 background you want. You can find new 360 backgrounds at the 360desktop Gallery. If you click on the download button of a 360 you like, you can just have 360 open the file and automatically change the background.

Final thoughts

It’s very easy to get caught up in 360desktop. This outstanding addition to Vista turns the otherwise less-than-helpful Vista desktop into an incredible tool for organization and customization. 360Desktop could easily become a must-have for any business looking to create a company-wide standard desktop that not only allows the users to work more efficiently but enabls the company to keep the employees up to date with customized, company-created widgets. Give 360desktop a try. It will change the way you work with Vista.

TechRepublic’s Windows Vista Report newsletter, delivered every Friday, offers tips, news, and scuttlebutt on Vista development, as well as a look at new features in the latest version of the Windows OS. Automatically sign up today!