For Desktop Neatness Freaks

by Jonathan Plutchok

As your devoted Tool Bar & Grill chef, I admit to more than a touch of what the nice man with the white coat and butterfly net said is “anal retentiveness.” Apparently, this is a common ailment among chefs as well as technical writers. I’ll have to take his word for it, because they don’t let me have any books in here since I bounced them off the walls. Certainly, I can spend hours keeping my computer tidy and clean.

Organize the Desktop Clutter

I recently stumbled across 8start Launcher, a free utility for bringing order to the Windows desktop chaos. I don’t usually spend any time on cosmetic utilities like screen savers, launchers, and other desktop accessories. But I gave 8start a chance to organize my icons into categories and subcategories (called groups) when it got increasingly harder to find anything in the forest that was my desktop.

Here’s my desktop before 8start:


Setting up 8start through its GUI is very tedious. I had to create categories and at least one group under each category. Then I could select only one item at a time (shortcuts or files from the desktop, Start menu, Favorites, or My Computer) to copy or move into the group.

Using a file manager like Windows Explorer to set up 8start was a lot faster and easier – especially with a dual-pane file manager like my favorite, xplorer2 (reviewed here on 25 October 2006). After using the GUI to establish categories and groups, I could drag and drop multiple items into the 8start group folders. Soon I had nearly cleared my desktop of icons. (A few Windows system icons could be copied but refused to be moved off the desktop, as you can see below.)

Here's my desktop after 8start:

I am quite pleased overall with the new sense of organization that 8start Launcher lends my desktop. It takes more clicks to find and launch a program, but at least now I can find it quickly, and see it together with all other related programs.

Some helpful suggestions to the designers of 8start: In the setup GUI, 8start should remember my preference for moving rather than copying; I should not have to reselect the Move option for each file, and then confirm each move. Multiple file selection would be nice for each action. After each action, the cursor should remain where it is in the item list, rather than jump back to the top each time. And is it just me, or does 8start seem upside-down? It seems to me more natural to place the category buttons at the top of the 8start window and the groups at the bottom.

Otherwise, the 8start GUI is highly customizable. Many skins are available for download at the 8start Web site (the default out-of-the-box skin is shown above). And you can customize the button appearance, for example by adding labels as shown here for my Internet category:

Button labels

You can download 8start Launcher version 1.4.1 (with Vista support) at, where you also will find a help file and additional skins. The author encourages PayPal donations, and I hope they will be used for English lessons.

Caution: If you decide to stop using or uninstall 8start, you’ll need to move your icons back to their original positions (use your file manager). 8start won’t do this for you.

Despite the tiresome initial setup, I can recommend that you try 8start. But for all I know, there may be dozens of similar free tools out there. If you have a favorite, please share it with the rest of us by emailing

Update Bulletin

Last week I told you about Phrase Express. This week there’s a new version (4.1.12) with a new wizard for importing Autotext and Autocorrect entries from Microsoft Word. Visit for the update.

You also can obtain today's utilities, and thousands more, from C|Net's I especially like for its Watch List function, which alerts you by e-mail to any new updates to programs you previously downloaded.

Thanks for visiting. Do come back next week for another snack at the Tool Bar & Grill, and don't forget to bring your friends!