Virtual Desks on Chrome OS have been a great productivity addition to the workflow of many Chromebook users, but the entire experience has yet to actually roll out. Sure, the ability to turn on a flag and technically use multiple desktops is already there in Chrome OS 76, but the full experience has yet to fully be available in the latest Stable build of Chrome OS and, from the looks of it, the full-blown experience won’t arrive until Chrome OS 78.
That full version of the feature will not only bring all the gesture and keyboard shortcuts along, it will also introduce an updated way to move about the desktop with multi-finger gestures on the trackpad. We’ve talked about this change waiting in the wings and knew some version of it was coming, but in the Developer Channel with Chrome OS 78, the change is already in place right out of the box and it took me a minute to adjust to some of the differences.
When we first saw this being worked on, it looked as if the devs were going to make 4-finger swipes the way that you carry out the current 3-finger actions. I was worried at the time that this was too much of a departure from what Chrome OS has done for years, especially with the 3-finger gestures being the defacto way we got into overview mode and scrubbed through tabs.
As it turns out, we’ve ended up with a hybrid of sorts that melds 3-finger and 4-finger gestures together, making Chrome OS more familiar to users coming over from other operating systems like Windows and MacOS, while not fully upending everything in the process. Right now, if you are in the Stable Channel, your multi-finger gestures are 3-finger swipes left/right to scrub tabs and 3-finger swipes up/down to move in and out of overview. There is no gesture for Virtual Desks at this time with or without a flag. Chrome OS 77 (in Beta for at least a bit longer) enables Virtual Desk and all gestures out of the box, but currently uses the older variation with 4-finger gestures moving through your desktops and 3-finger gestures doing what they’ve always done.
In all the new updates across all channels (this latest change was just merged on September 19), we’d expect to see the new, updated setup behind a flag for Chrome OS 77 and fully rolled out without a flag in Chrome OS 78 and above. The unified, consistent setup will be:
- 3-finger swipes up/down still enter and exit overview mode
- 3-finger swipes left/right will move you through your Virtual Desks
- 4-finger swipes left/right will scrub through open tabs in the browser
In the Developer Channel right now I’m navigating with this setup and, I have to admit its a tad bit jarring. After building up a habit of 3-finger swipes through my tabs for years at this point, it will take a bit of time to retrain my brain to now start using 4 fingers for the same action. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already gone to slide to a different open tab and instead swiped a new desktop into view or vice-versa. It will take some time to adjust, for sure, but when I’m locked-in and using it properly, these new gestures work just fine and I love the congruity of overview and Virtual Desks sharing the 3-finger gestures. The more I think about that, the more it makes sense.