With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft finally added something to Windows that has been sorely missed by many of its users – virtual desktops. While virtual desktops have been available for quite some time on both Linux and Mac, Microsoft waited until now to add the functionality. In the past you could get it by installing third party applications, but the functionality was clunky at best.
Now, however, you can get access to as many virtual desktops as you wish through Windows 10. Let’s take a look at exactly what virtual desktops are and how you use them to improve your efficiency and workflow while you are on your computer.
What Are Virtual Desktops
If you have never used Mac OS X or one of the many derivatives of Linux, then you may be wondering exactly what virtual desktops are and how you use them. Basically, a virtual desktop is a second, third or fourth desktop that you can use on your computer. Instead of having just one desktop for your icons and other windows, you can spread them across multiple desktops that are all easily accessible from your computer with just the press of a few buttons. This allows you to separate your apps between desktops so you can sort your computer work to make it easier for you to navigate your system throughout your work day.
The Benefits of Virtual Desktops
Are you a long time Windows user and aren’t sure if using virtual desktops is really of any use to you? I understand. There was a time when Apple and Linux had virtual desktops and I could never find much use for them myself. But, as more and more of what I did moved to the computer, the more I found exactly how useful virtual desktops truly are.
Virtual desktops allow you another layer of organization on your computer. You can sort your apps onto multiple desktops so you can keep what you need open without having to worry about all the clutter on your screen. For example, while I work, I keep all of my writing notes and sources open on one desktop, while I keep my email and social media accounts open on a second desktop. This allows me to keep my communication tools all on one desktop and I can reduce my distraction by switching to the desktop that just has my work on it at the time.
Not everyone has multiple monitors connected to their computer, after all. While it may be easier to sort your windows on multiple monitors, you can even have multiple desktops for the monitors as well giving you even more space to further organize your windows and documents saving you from having to tab through a sea of windows every time you need to switch applications.
Drawbacks of Virtual Desktops
While this article may be about how to use virtual desktops and how great I think they are. That doesn’t mean they are perfect. That being said, I must admit I have struggled on what exactly to write about in this section. But no feature is perfect.
First, when using virtual desktops, you could forget where you have put what. When this happens and you click on the app on another desktop it is easy to get confused. You can switch yourself to another desktop without realizing it and even forget that you have stuff opened.
Second, let’s talk briefly about how Microsoft has implemented the multiple desktop features. In other operating systems, the desktops are situated to either side of the one you are using. Think of it as a type of second monitor that you just don’t have a screen for. In these systems you can simple drag applications from left to right to move them to a new desktop. While Microsoft’s desktops are actually arranged this way as well, you can’t just drag them to a new desktop. You have to enter the task view to make changes to your desktops.
All this being said, it is my opinion that virtual desktops in Windows provide many more benefits than they do issues. In most cases, the problems you will encounter will simply be because you aren’t used to using them and not because of some design flaw. While switching and moving apps around could be a little simpler much like it is in Linux and Mac OS, it is still very easy to use and can be accessed in mere seconds.
Accessing Your Virtual Desktops
Now that you understand what virtual desktops are and both the benefits and drawbacks to using them in Windows, it is time to take a closer look at how you actually use them. First, let’s begin by learning exactly how you access the virtual desktop feature in Windows 10.
On your Windows 10 taskbar, you will see a new icon that looks like an outline of three boxes. This new icon is known as the “Task View” button. When you click on it, a new Task View Interface opens that shows all your apps across the top of your screen. At the bottom, you will also notice a place to add new desktops. If you happen to have already created new desktops, these desktops will be displayed across the bottom as Desktop1, Desktop2, etc.
How to Add Virtual Desktops
Adding a new desktop is fairly simple. All you have to do is click on the Task View icon on your taskbar and then click the “+ New Desktop” icon in the lower right of your screen. This will add a second or even third desktop in the bottom part of the task view that you can immediately begin using as a secondary desktop for your apps.
Switching Between Desktops
If you haven’t guessed by now, everything surrounding your virtual desktops takes place using the task view feature. To switch between desktops, all you have to do is open the task view either by clicking on the Task View icon or by pressing the Windows key + tab. When you reach this screen, simply click or tap on the desktop you want to go to and you will be taken directly there.
Move Applications from One Desktop to Another
Once you have multiple desktops setup on your computer, you can begin to organize your digital life by moving apps between the desktops. To move apps between the desktops, you have several options available to you. First, you open the desktop that contains the app you want to move and then click on the Task View icon. In the small thumbnails that open, choose the app that you want to move and drag it to the new desktop at the bottom of the screen.
Clicking on the Task View icon may get old after a while. To make things easier, you can use the keyboard shortcut to switch between apps and desktops. To switch, press the Windows Key + Tab. This will bring up the task view and allow you to switch between apps on your desktop or even switch to a new desktop and move apps from one desktop to another.
Close a Desktop
Sometimes, you accidentally create too many desktops or you simply alter the way you do things so that you no longer need one of your extra desktops. Getting rid of an unused desktop is pretty simple. All you have to do is click on the Task View icon on your Windows taskbar and then mouse over the desktop you no longer need. When you do that, you will notice an “X” appear in the upper right hand corner of that desktop. Click on that “X” and it will close the desktop. Any apps that were opening on that desktop will then be moved to the next closest desktop.
What About Touchscreens?
As you probably already know, Windows 10 can be found on laptops, desktops and even touchscreen only devices such as tablets. Multiple desktops can be used on all types of devices regardless of whether or not you have a keyboard and mouse attached to them. If you are using a touchscreen device such as a hybrid laptop or a tablet, you can simply swipe in from the left on your screen to access the task view and switch between desktops.
If you ask me, it is about time that Microsoft included virtual desktops in their operating system, even though they may only work best on slightly more powerful PCs. Competitors such as Apple and Linux have been offering virtual desktops for quite some time. This is just another example of Microsoft playing catch up on some of their operating system’s features. That’s not to say that Windows is far behind other operating systems. In some ways I would say Windows is better, but in other ways it is not. This new feature in Windows 10 is just Microsoft’s way of bringing a popular feature found in its competitors to its OS.
Virtual Desktops allow you to customize what you see on your desktop at any one time while giving you the chance to keep them open and on the screen instead of minimizing them. For me, I use them to separate my work life and home life and I also like to keep by virtual machines running on a separate desktop as well. How you use them is, of course, completely up to you. I have no doubt that after a little playing around with this new feature you will begin to see what all the fuss is about and start to adopt the virtual desktop into your workflow. Once you do, I do believe that you will discover that it is much easier to keep all of your apps organized and ready to be used exactly when you need them without having to dig through window after window or search for the app in your taskbar.