How to use virtual desktops on Chrome OS

how-to-use-virtual-desktops-on-chrome-os

Learn how to make your Chromebook a more efficient and productive tool with the help of virtual desktops.

Image: Jack Wallen

The Chromebook is a simplistic take on the laptop that takes working efficiently to a completely new level. But, just because Chrome OS is a simplified platform doesn’t mean you can use it in ways similar to those found in other, more full-featured, operating systems. 

Take for instance the virtual desktop. You might think this feature to be one relegated to more traditional platforms. In that thinking, you’d be wrong. In 2019, Google added virtual desktops to the Chromebook, and they’ve been refining them ever since. Now, the feature works to perfection (with one tiny caveat).

I want to show you the ins and outs of using virtual desktops on your Chromebook.

SEE: Tips for becoming a Chromebook expert (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What you’ll need

The only thing you’ll need is a Chromebook with an updated version of Chrome OS. I’ll be demonstrating on a Chromebook Pixel 2015 (my all-time favorite laptop), running the beta channel of Chrome OS, version 84.0.4147.67.

What is a virtual desktop?

First, let’s answer the simple questions: What is a virtual desktop? To put it simply, a virtual desktop is a way to expand the desktop into multiple screens. So, instead of having just one desktop, you can have numerous desktops.

With virtual desktops you can dedicate different screens for different tasks. For example, say you want one screen for productivity, one screen for web browsing, and one screen for entertainment. With virtual desktops, that’s possible.

Let me show you how to make this work on your Chromebook.

How to create a new desktop

The first thing you’ll want to do is create a new virtual desktop. To do that, hit the Show Open Windows key (the button on the top row of your keyboard with a square and two vertical lines). When you hit that key, you should see a button at the top-right of the screen labeled New Desk (Figure A).

Figure A

The open window overview in Chrome OS.

Click the New Desk button and you’ll see the new desktop listed at the top of the window (Figure B).

Figure B

Our new virtual desktop has been added.

If you click on the default name (Desk 1, Desk 2, etc.) you can rename the desktops to indicate what they’re used for (Figure C).

Figure C

I’ve renamed my desktops.

How to switch between desktops

The one caveat to using virtual desktops is that, although it was rumored to be coming, there is no keyboard shortcut to make it easier to switch between desktops. Even though that has yet to come to fruition, switching between desktops isn’t hard. To do this, hit the Show Open Windows key and then click on the desk you want to use. 

There is, however, another way. If you have a window open on a specific desk, you can click that window’s icon in the shelf to be taken to that desk. You can even open multiple Chrome windows, place them on different desks, and move back and forth between those desks by clicking the Chrome entry from the shelf icon (Figure D).

Figure D

Selecting between different Chrome windows, each on a different desk.

How to move windows to a different desk

Say you open a window and realize it needs to be moved to a different desk. Easy. Go to that new window and then click the keyboard shortcut Shift+Search+[ or ]. If you want to send the window to a desk to the right, you use the right bracket key (]). If you want to send the window to a desk to the left, use the left bracket key ([).

You can also move a window to a different desk by clicking the Show Windows button and then dragging the window to the new desk (Figure E).

Figure E

Dragging a window to a different desk.

And that’s the gist of using virtual desktops on your Chromebook. With this feature, you can turn that simplistic platform into a much more productive and efficient machine.

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