Chrome OS Virtual Desks
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Google is finally adding virtual desktops to its repertoire of Chromebook features—something other major operating systems already have—with Chrome OS version 76. The function has been in testing for several months and is now available for those in the Stable channel.

Virtual desktops, which Google calls Virtual Desks, let you separate the desktop into multiple workspaces where you can organize applications and windows. Chrome OS enables you to have up to four Desks at the same time that you can quickly switch between.

After you update your Chromebook to the most recent version of Chrome OS, all you have to do is press the “Overview” key ([]]]) to see the option in the top-right corner to start using Virtual Desks.

How to Enable Virtual Desks

If you don’t see Virtual Desks (of the +New Desk button) available when you press the Overview key, the feature might be hidden behind a flag that you have to enable before being able to access it. Here’s how to turn the feature on.

When you enable anything from chrome://flags, you’re using experimental features that haven’t been tested on all devices and could misbehave. You can potentially run into a few bugs along the way, so be careful when playing around with some of the available flags.

Fire up Chrome, type chrome://flags into the Omnibox, hit the Enter key, and then type “Virtual desks” into the search bar.

Go to chrome://flags, and then paste virtual desks into the search bar.

Alternatively, paste chrome://flags/#enable-virtual-desks  into the Omnibox and hit Enter to go directly there.

Click the drop-down box next to “Enable Virtual Desks” flag and then select “Enabled.”

For changes to take effect, you must restart Chrome OS. Click the blue “Restart Now” button at the bottom of the page.

How to Add Virtual Desks

Now that the Virtual Desks feature is working on your computer, press the Overview key ([]]]) on your keyboard to see all active windows. At the top of the screen, notice the “+ New desk” icon. Press this to add a new virtual desktop.

You can add and use up to four Desks at a time.

Have up to four active desks at your disposal.

How to Switch Between Virtual Desks

Virtual Desks are great for applications that you can leave open without minimizing it to the tray. The application lives there, waiting for your return. You can have social apps on one Desk and a word processor on the other, for example.

Whenever you want to switch between desktops and use apps that you’ve dedicated to them, you can do this in a couple of ways.

The first way to switch Desks is to press the Overview key and then click on a desktop at the top of the screen to switch to it immediately. As long as you remember what apps are in which Virtual Desk, moving between them is fast and simple.

The second method lets you snap directly to the application that you’re looking for without having to guess which desktop it’s on. Every app that’s currently open has an icon that appears on the shelf. So, all you have to do is click on the application, and you snap directly to that desktop. If the app is minimized, selecting the app icon also maximizes it.

How to Move Applications Between Virtual Desks

Once you open an app on a specific Desk, it doesn’t have to spend the entirety of its life there. Instead, you can move it between desktops. This feature is handy if you accidentally opened an app on the wrong Desk and want to move it without killing it.

Press the Overview key while viewing the Virtual Desks with the app you want to move, click and drag the window to the middle of the screen, and then drag and drop it on to the desktop you want.

Drag an app from Overview mode directly onto a desk to move it there.

Note: Make sure to drag the application to the middle first. Chrome OS mimics Android and kills the app when it’s dragged straight up or down from the sides.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Virtual Desks are Coming Soon

Currently, Chrome OS doesn’t have a way to navigate through virtual desktops with the use of gestures on the trackpad or keyboard shortcuts. However, as noticed by Chrome Unboxed, the Chromium bugs post for virtual desktops notes that the following shortcuts are coming soon:

  • Ctrl+Search + =: Add new desk.
  • Ctrl+Search + -: Remove desk.
  • Ctrl+Search + ]: Activate desks on the right (if any).
  • Ctrl+Search + [: Activate desk on the left (if any).
  • Ctrl+Search+Shift + ]: Move active window (or highlighted window in Overview mode) to the desk on the right (if any).
  • Ctrl+Search+Shift + [: Move active window (or highlighted window in Overview mode) to the desk on the left (if any).

We’re not sure when these shortcuts will be available, but it’s probably safe to assume that it’ll be sooner, rather than later.

With the addition of Virtual Desks to Chrome OS, Google is finally joining every other major operating system with multiple workspaces to streamline your desktop(s) for a more productive and clutter-free life.

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Brady Gavin has been immersed in technology for 15 years and has written over 150 detailed tutorials and explainers. He's covered everything from Windows 10 registry hacks to Chrome browser tips. Brady has a diploma in Computer Science from Camosun College in Victoria, BC.  
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