MiniDesk, a Windows Desktop replacement

Since the Internet became popular, I have many times scoured it looking for neat, usable free (or nearly free) software. A couple of weeks ago, I was checking out some desktop enhancement software and saw one called iTop Easy Desktop. After installing, it asked if I wanted a clean desktop, I said yes. And poof, my desktop files were gone. Well, actually, it just used the Windows Hide Icons feature and replicated my programs, files and folders into separate windows. The advantage of this is a lot of files were accessible within a small amount of screen real estate. I tried the program for a bit but there were some issues with moving its boxes around and having them re-display correctly. But, I could see advantages of this approach.

My home PC desktop window is over half full of shortcuts and files. I decided to roll my own program and see where it led me. The result is called MiniDesktop and is an easy to use launcher for programs, files and folders. Upon launching the single file program, we have the Desktop, Documents and Downloads folders shown alphabetically.

MiniDesktop Launcher main window

A download link is here. You can place the program anywhere and just double-click to run it.

Users can double-click items to launch them or right-click items to show their location in Windows Explorer. So, if I double-click mahjong.pyw under Desktop Files, we will see.

Mahjong program was launched

If instead we right-click on mahjong.pyw, it will be displayed in its location.

Mahjong program highlighted in its source folder

It is very easy to search for any file or folder. If we search on the word bible, we will see these results.

Items matching the word bible

The filtered search lists operate with double-click and right-click as well.

The program have settings users can change in how it is viewed. Just click on the View menu to make changes.

There are also some Preferences that alter the behavior of the program. The program window will either hide itself or minimize to the Taskbar whenever an item is launched.

User Preferences menu

If you need to search throughout all sub-directories, just select Search Subdirectories and the program will restart.

On my home PC, it finds almost 80,000 files/folders in 14 seconds

Most people will not leave sub-directories turned on all the time as they will see many repeated file and folder names.

Tens of thousands of files/folders are listed with sub-directories turned on

If we search on bible now, we will see hundreds of matches in about 2 seconds. So, it would be a lot to scroll through but the search speed can make it worthwhile when you are trying to find a file whose name you don’t completely remember.

Searching on bible with sub-directories turned on

Under Preferences, you can also select Hide Desktop Icons whenever MiniDesk is active. This is an option in Windows already. By right-clicking on the background and choosing View, you can see Show desktop icons.

Windows Explorer Show desktop icons under View

In addition to the standard displayed folders, you can also show Recent Items and Picture Folders from the More Lists menu. If you have a license for Microsoft Office 365 then you should see an option for OneDrive as well. [Note: Version 1.00 doesn’t display this menu in Extended mode as these folders are already shown.]

Additional Lists are accessed here, plus other user folders

Windows maintains a list of recently accessed files and folders, which while not 100% accurate, can come in handy to lookup something you use in the last week.

A quick list of Recent Items

And, of course, we have to be able to look through pictures. Since MiniDesk is still a work in progress, I may swap the Pictures with Downloads and show it on the main window, especially in a Home setting. At work, I believe the Downloads folder is more important. 😁

Lastly, under the Tools menu are several geeky items to help speed up getting to control panels. And you can Shutdown or Restart your PC from the program, just like the Windows Desktop.

Users can perform shutdowns and restarts here, create hotstring macros and reminders and access Control Panels

The program can be added to your Autostart folder. And you can do shutdown/restart PC from here or right click the tray icon.

The program’s right click menu at the right side of the Taskbar (next to the green monitor)

The program is a single file and saves settings to either c:\temp or to your Documents folder, if c:\temp is not present.

There are no files/folders changed as this is purely a launcher. So it is very safe to use.

The About program menu item is displayed on the first use or from the menu. It is shown below and is a synopsis of what you just read.

General information on how to use MiniDesktop

If you have Preferences set to Hide the program window, then you can click on the Taskbar icon or press Ctrl \ or put your Mouse pointer in the top left corner to show the program window again.

The program can be set to auto start with Windows by checking AutoStart in the menu. This can be changed at any time by turning it on or off. Options in minimize the window or restart the program are also found in this menu.

File menu

Feb 12th 2023, Version 1.02 is available and adds the following functionality:

Users can change between Day and Night colors from the View menu.

Night mode

Users can choose Extended under View to show Recent Files, Pictures and Videos folders.

Extended View

Hotstrings can be added for keyboardists to launch items without the mouse:

Users can click any item then press CTRL and H to create a Hotstring for that item. So, they can launch a program by typing a few letters or open a file or a folder any time MiniDesktop is running.

They can edit the Hotstrings from the Tools menu. Choosing Tools, Create Text Hotstring will display:

The create text Hotstring window

Entering an abbreviation like taddr and an address will activate it as a Hotstring. Later on, you can edit it from the List Hotstrings option under Tools.

Double click any Hotstring item to Edit or Delete it.
Typing taddr in another program will enter this text for you

If one clicks on Firefox under Programs then presses CTRL H, the program will ask for a short abbreviation to use for launching Firefox.

Now one can type rfire and Firefox will either launch or will become the active window.

And viewing the list of Hotstrings shows us the entry for Firefox.

Hotstrings List, from here one can edit or delete any item.

Feb 16th update to version 1.02 adds:

  • Hotkeys for Creating Text Hotstrings and Displaying the List of Hotstrings:
    • CTRL-L to List Hotstrings
    • SHIFT-CTRL-H to add a Text Hotstring
  • Added Hotstring menu items to the program right click tray menu on the taskbar
  • Added Reposition Window to the program right click tray menu on the taskbar
  • A few bug fixes

Feb 17th update to version 1.03 adds:

  • Under More Lists, a Folder Browser window can be used to display files from anywhere the computer can get to. As with other lists, double-click to run an item, right-click to open its folder. Click on any file then press CTRL-H in any displayed folder to create a Hotstring for launching it.
  • Some color adjustments

Feb 24th update to version 1.04.7 adds:

  • Under View, users can pick Show Icons to see the icons normally assigned to each program and type of file. This does make things a bit slower at the start, but, mainly if users choose to see all sub-directories.
  • The are now hotkeys for Recent Files, Pictures, Videos and OneDrive folders.
  • For the curious, users can display a breakdown of the numbers of files found by their type.
  • Tools menu is now called System Tools. And the sub-menu inside it is called Control Panels.
  • Under Preferences there is an option to Match Windows Theme, which will sync the program to light or dark based on Windows 10/11 settings.
  • More detailed icons in Pictures and Videos folders

March 9th update to version 1.06.3 adds:

  • Some cosmetic changes
  • A drop down list to search/filter files by their modified dates. Users can search on Today, Yesterday, Last Week or Last Month

March 11th update to version 1.07 adds:

  • REMINDERS are now available in two types:
    • Reminders that are displayed at specific times of day with option day of the week
    • Reminders that are displayed after specific intervals in minutes from 1 to 999 minutes.
Add Reminder window
Display list of current Reminders
The “New Reminder” reminder displays every 2 minutes at the bottom right corner.

So, this is now the third Windows launcher program I have written.

Multi-Launcher maintained 4 lists as users were working: Programs, Files, Folders and Web URLs. The users would double click items to launch them or right click for other functions. The program kept 100 of each type and they could get stale if the user moved or deleted files and folders.

InfoWarp was a blank slate onto which users could drag Programs, Files and Folders to create short lists of them. And users could assign Hotstrings to launch any of them. Web URLs could also be added along with the preferred browser to launch them.

MiniDesktop items will never go stale because they are refreshed whenever the program is run and while the program is in use, it will update its lists when file changes are made. If items linked to Hotstrings are changed then users will need to update those particular Hotstrings.

But, I am hopeful that MiniDesktop is the easiest program to use for launching files and searching for them on your Windows PC.


By Michael Todd

An IT Professional with over 30 years of experience with PC setup & troubleshooting, programming, consulting and the use of the most popular business applications. This is all about making the technology do the most for you, so you have more time to enjoy life.

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