I’ve tracked the development of Virtual Desks on Chrome OS since they were first mentioned back in November of 2018 by Kan Liu, Senior Product Manager for Chrome OS. It took a bit of time for the new feature to begin development, but by February of 2019 we began seeing piece after piece being added to the Virtual Desk feature for Chrome OS and, as of Chrome OS 77 Beta, the entire feature set is available right out of the box and it has completely changed my workflow on a Chromebook.
We’ve spilled much digital ink about Virtual Desks and what they are, but I’ll put it in a nutshell. The idea is pretty simple: create virtualized secondary monitors that live just out of view of your primary screen that can be brought into view with a simply gesture or keyboard shortcut. With Virtual Desks, you carry 4 displays with you at all time in a virtual sense, and the productivity benefits are both substantial and beneficial once you learn to leverage them.
For this video, we wanted to walk through all the shortcuts and functions of Virtual Desks and also give you all a bit of insight on my personal Virtual Desks setup that has been very productive for me on a daily basis thus far. So, for starters, you’ll need to know how to get Virtual Desks up and running and start leveraging them. For that, you’ll need Chrome OS 77 because the version of Virtual Desks in Chrome OS 76 is only half-baked. For now that means traveling to the Beta channel, but 77 will be along for the Stable Channel in just a few weeks.
Once there, you’ll need to enable the Virtual Desks flag here: chrome://flags/#enable-virtual-desks. Restart Chrome and now you’ll be able to access all the new Virtual Desks goodies. To get started, hit the overview key or 3-finger up/down on the trackpad to enter overview mode. Click the + New Desk button in the top right corner and you can now drag your overview windows to any desk you choose. You can also click on any desk to bring that desk into view. While this works to get around, there are gestures and keyboard keys to make all this quicker.
- 4-finger swipe left/right to move between desks
- SEARCH + [ or ] to move between desks
- SEARCH + SHIFT + = to add a desk
- SEARCH + SHIFT + – to remove a desk
- SEARCH + SHIFT + [ or ] to move a window to the next desk
Finally, you can simply click an open window’s icon in your shelf to be instantly transported to that desk. All in all, you have tons of ways to move around these virtual spaces, so work with a combo of them and find out which work best for your setup.
My current workflow has my main browser and tabs in the first desktop with my email/IDE in the second, creative tools in the third (stuff like Gravit, Photos, etc.) and my messaging and music things in the fourth. Giving some designation to each desk helps me consciously keep things in a bit of order and I know exactly where to look for the next app I need. This isn’t the only way to do it or the only setup that is possible, but it is the way I’ve been working for the past week or so.
It is also worth noting that if you have an extended, physical display, you basically get all this times 2. With an extended display, each virtual desk now has two physical screens, so you effectively double your work space. For me, I didn’t take much advantage of this since my goal with Virtual Desks is to minimize my travel gear as much as possible. For the foreseeable future, my plan is to continue using a Chromebook and a Chromebook only for my daily tasks.
So far, it has worked wonderfully. After a day or so of simply retraining myself to make a swipe instead of turning my head to a second screen, I now instinctively remember to swipe over to my other Virtual Desks instead and it has allowed me to travel lighter and be fully productive wherever I choose to set up and work. While I would advise a 14-15-inch device for this sort of workflow, Virtual Desks will undoubtedly change the way you work on any size screen. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, I highly recommend it.