When we first heard that a new button was coming to ChromeOS that would allow users to move through their open Virtual Desks a bit more quickly, I was pretty dismissive. We already have a dedicated key on the keyboard for that, a trackpad gesture, and keyboard shortcuts. Why would I want yet another way to do what I already can easily do with a button that will take up more space on my shelf? And then I moved to ChromeOS 120 Beta during all the 119 update issues and you know what? I’ve kinda fell in love with this new, little feature.
The Virtual Desk shelf button
As I said, earlier this year, news of a new shelf-confined Virtual Desks button began making the rounds. I tried it out pretty early on and it was ugly, janky, and not something I was too interested in. So I forgot all about it until recently, and now that I’ve used the near-finished product, I’m 100% on board with this change.
The premise is simple: a small-ish button lives to the left of your pinned apps on the ChromeOS shelf that displays what desk you are on. Click the button, and you are taken to the overview mode. Or, upon hovering the button, click either of the arrows that appear to quickly move to the next/previous desk. There’s nothing exactly revolutionary happening here, but the ease of use is quite awesome.
Where I’m using this new feature
While I initially thought this was a waste of space, I’ve quickly realized exactly where it solves a pain point. When I’m typing and generally engaged in working on something with my Chromebook, my hands are up on the device. With my digits near the trackpad and keyboard, there’s no real reason for me to use the mouse pointer to go to the bottom of the screen and select a virtual desk.
But there are plenty of times where my hands aren’t in that position at all. If I’m studying something, watching something, or doing any activity where I’m not leaned forward, chances are my hands aren’t in contact with the Chromebook. And that’s where this button really shines.
When I’m leaned back and just moving through content with the mouse, the new Virtual Desks button is far simpler to use to see my open desks. Also, viewing those desks doesn’t disrupt my entire desktop, either. The new button simply shows your desks as a small strip above the shelf with no overview mode engaged. It’s far more akin to utilizing ALT+TAB than going full overview.
Again, if I’m engaged, I tend to move through my desks with the Search + [ or ] shortcut or a 4-finger swipe, but I’m beginning to really rely on the similarly-quick method of clicking the desks button and picking the desk I want to go to. It’s a fantastic combo of the speed of a gesture or keyboard shortcut mixed with a bit of visual flare you get when going into overview mode.
Give it a try for yourself
For now, this new feature is behind a flag in ChromeOS 119, but turning it on is quite simple. Just navigate to chrome://flags/#enable-desk-button, turn it on, restart, and your new Virtual Desks button will be there waiting for you. It’s really a change that I feel like many of you will learn to rely on moving forward, and one that – though quite plain to look at right now – I hope Google can perhaps make a bit more visually appealing with an icon or something in the future.