The trail that has led to Virtual Desks finally rolling out in Chrome OS 78 has been a long one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the team took the time to get this new feature fully-formed before actually introducing it to the world. Though we’ve been talking about Virtual Desks for nearly the entirety of 2019, Chrome OS 78 is the first Stable Channel update to include this feature right out of the box without any additional steps necessary.
Here’s the thing, though: the entire experience is STILL not complete. Yes, from the overview mode you can now add up to 4 virtual work spaces and, yes, you can use a click to get between them from that screen. The real usefulness of virtual work spaces, however, isn’t just in the availability of extra screen real estate in a virtual sense: it lies in the quickness with which you can move through them.
I’ve railed on this before, so I won’t belabor the point again. Just know that most users highly value the ability to use a gesture to get from one Virtual Desk to another. Without those gestures, you have to get to your overview screen with a 3-finger gesture, select your desktop, and click the desk you’d like to view. This workflow completely interrupts the feel of having multiple displays just sitting to either side of your main display and kills the productivity that a feature like Virtual Desks supplies.
To be fair, this latest implementation of Virtual Desks does come with all the keyboard shortcuts to move about your virtual spaces pretty quickly, so I’m very glad to see that included right out of the box this time around. You can move between desks, add/remove desks, and slide windows from one screen to an adjacent screen all with keyboard shortcuts. Here those are if you were wondering:
- Search + Shift + = New desk
- Search + Shift + – Remove desk
- Search + ] Navigate to desk on right
- Search + [ Navigate to desk on the left
- Search + Shift + ] Move active window (or highlighted window in overview) to desk on the right
- Search + Shift + [ Move active window (or highlighted window in overview) to desk on the left
Even with those in place, I still want to be able to move around using my trackpad for the ultimate Virtual Desk experience. A quick 3-finger swipe left or right is all it takes to move between your desk setups if you have the right settings applied, and it is beyond simple at this point to do this. All you need to do is go to chrome://flags/#enable-virtual-desks-gestures in your URL bar, click the button to enable it, and restart. After doing so, you’ll have not only the keyboard shortcuts, but also the ability to switch between desks with a simple 3-finger swipe left or right.
This does come at a bit of a cost, though. If you are used to scrubbing tabs with the same 3-finger gesture left or right, you’ll need to retrain your brain to make that a 4-finger gesture instead. For me, this is a small price to pay to be able to move around my Virtual Desks with ease and quickness, and I’m looking forward to the day when they simply implement this change and be done with it. Perhaps there’s some push back on the idea of changeing the long-standing 3-finger gesture for tab scrubbing, but they could easily remedy it by giving users the option of maintaining the 3-finger gesture for tabs and relegating the 4-finger one to Virtual Desk switching.
Either way, I hope this helps you take full advantage of this great new feature that is available to all Chrome OS users now. It’s been a long time coming, but it is nice to finally get to the point where Virtual Desks are simply part of the Chromebook experience and not a ‘coming soon’ feature any longer.