In most functional ways, Google’s Virtual Desks for Chrome OS fully arrived in the latest version: Chrome OS 78. With all the animations, features and new set of keyboard shortcuts now available to users right out of the box, Virtual Desks feels nearly complete. We talked briefly about the last, lingering piece that was missing in gesture navigation with Chrome OS 78 and that was the inability for users to move between active Virtual Desks with a gesture on the trackpad.
When turning on the single flag needed to enable this feature, the choice of gestures is a tad bit questionable. Again, as we’ve talked about in the past, there are many folks who’ve been using Chrome OS for a very long time and certain multi-finger moves on the trackpad surface are inexorably tied to certain things in our minds now. The biggest one for me is the 3-finger swipe left and right to scrub through tabs.
For me, this is one of those tiny gestures that sets using a Chromebook apart from other devices. If you’ve not tried it, you most definitely should get it into your normal workflow. With a quick 3-finger slide left or right on the trackpad, you can seamlessly move between your open tabs in the browser and it is easily my favorite productivity gesture on a Chromebook that you can’t leverage on any other operating system.
Here’s the issue. With the addition of Virtual Desks, Google chose to take that 3-finger gesture and apply it to Virtual Desk navigation instead. So, when you turn on the flag for Virtual Desk gesture navigation right now, your 3-finger swipe will no longer move you through open tabs in your browser. Instead, this behavior has been mapped to a 4-finger swipe left or right and my brain has not been able to handle it.
I’m not kidding: I’ve had Virtual Desks turned on in every way, shape and form since they were introduced and ever since they changed around the 3/4-finger gestures, I’ve been trying to retrain my brain with absolutely no success. As a matter of fact, right before this paragraph started, I was going to swipe over to my Gmail tab and check something and instead went to my adjacent Virtual Desk. It’s starting to get aggravating.
Thankfully, we’ve spotted a bug report entry that shows clearly that Google is planning on implementing Virtual Desk gestures in a way that keeps the beloved 3-finger gesture mapped to tab scrubbing. I and many other users can breath a bit easier knowing that one of the best navigation moves in the OS is here to stay. No need to retrain my brain. No need to force myself to forget years of habit. Check it out below:
Desks: Prepare Virtual Desks Gestures for launch
This CL makes the following changes:
– Tab scrubbing will always use 3-finger gestures.
– 4-finger horizontal swipes will switch desks only if
the flag “–enable-virtual-desks-gestures” is enabled.
– 3-finger horizontal swipes while in Overview will always
move the highlighter.
This CL is meant to be merged back to M-79.
A follow-up CL will remove the “–enable-virtual-desks-gestures”
flag entirely on M-80, so that virtual desks gestures will always
be enabled going forward.
Instead, moving between Virtual Desks will happen with a 4-finger left/right gesture. I know other operating systems use a 3-finger gesture, but I genuinely feel like Google is making the right call, here. After all, mapping the more-complex navigation (moving entire desks) to the more-complex gesture makes way more logical sense. And, as much as I love Virtual Desks, the more useful navigation is really tab scrubbing in Chrome OS, so I’m extremely excited to see it will continue forward as it always has: untouched and unmatched.