In my previous blog post about Windows 10, I talked about the return of the Start Menu in its new and improved state. But some of the best features in Windows 10 are entirely new, or were only achievable through third party software in the past. In this article, I’ll introduce you to one of my favorite new features: virtual desktops. This feature has been a staple for the Linux and Mac OS X communities for several years, but Microsoft have put their own unique spin on this productivity boosting concept.
According to a study
having multiple monitors attached to your computer can boost your productivity by as much as 35%. This increase in productivity is because you get more screen real estate. Therefore, you can keep things organized instead of having lots of applications sitting on top of each other. These extra screens also keep you from having to sort through files and applications to find what you are looking for. I’d go so far as to say that for some things, like video editing or web design, having multiple monitors is almost a requirement! But having multiple monitors isn’t cheap, and so having virtual “displays” solves many of the problems of a single screen, but without the cost of purchasing expensive monitors. Windows 10 allows you to have a virtually unlimited amount of virtual desktops, your only limitation is the amount of memory in the computer to hold all those applications at once. As a side note, combining multiple physical monitors with multiple virtual desktops is the best of both worlds, and Windows 10 does a great job with this. In my own personal workstation, I have a Surface Pro 3 connected to two 22” monitors, and I use virtual displays all the time.
Using Multiple Desktops - Shortcuts
So how do you access this productivity boosting new feature? The answer is sitting right next to the freshly returned start menu. And it looks like this:
You can either click this icon to bring up “Task View” (which shows you all your open windows on all your desktops), or you can press Windows key + tab if you prefer keyboard shortcuts. From this window, you can create or remove virtual desktops, and you can drag and drop windows onto other desktops. This is probably the easiest way to move windows around.
For instance, I always keep open web browsers and file explorer in Desktop 1, but I like to move Outlook and OneNote (I keep a LOT of notes in OneNote!) on Desktop 2. That way I always know where they are, and can reference my notes in OneNote while composing emails in Outlook. If I’m doing web development work, I keep several browser windows and inspectors open on Desktop 3. As you can see, I try to group my virtual desktops by work type, so that on any given desktop I have access at a glance to the tools I need.
To switch between virtual Desktops, just use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + Control + Left/Right arrow.
The idea of snapping windows to the sides of your screen isn’t new in Windows 10, but this latest OS does expand on the concept in an effort to give you even more screen real estate. Using some simple gestures or keyboard shortcuts, you can now snap applications into the four quarters of your screen instead of just the left or right halves. This feature really shines on a high resolution display, like a 4K monitor, because you can have four “full screen” applications running in 1920 X 1080 resolution, all in their own quadrants of a single display. Combined with multiple displays and virtual desktops, this maximizes the screen space efficiency.
To use snapping with just the mouse, grab the title bar of any application, and drag your mouse to the edge of the screen. Top of the screen maximizes the window to run full screen. Left and right sides dock the application to fill exactly half the screen on that side. Dragging the application title bar to either of the corners will cause it to fill and snap to just that quarter of the screen.
The keyboard shortcuts for snapping are pretty simple; just hold down the Windows key and press the arrows. Windows Key + Left Arrow docks the window to the left. Now press Windows Key + Up Arrow, and the docked window only takes up the top left quarter of the screen. Press the same combination again to maximize the app to run full screen. Multiple monitor bonus: Windows Key + Shift + Arrows will shift the entire app to the next display while maintaining size and position.
Default Settings to Change
There are a few settings I think you should turn on, which are turned off by default. I believe that virtual desktops are much more useful if you can still see which apps are running across all desktops, not just the current desktop. By enabling just two features in Settings, you’ll see all running apps on the taskbar and be able to use the Alt + Tab shortcut to switch between apps no matter what virtual desktop they currently reside on. Go to Settings (Windows Key + i), click on System, and then click on Multitasking. Change the bottom two settings to “All desktops.”
My Wish List
The great thing about Windows 10 is that Microsoft can (and will!) add features in the future, and release them in software updates, just like they do with Office 365. So what we see now is the first implementation of virtual desktops in Windows. Other than tweaking the default settings, there are a few things I’d love to see added.
First, I’d love to be able to assign apps to virtual desktops so that they always launch in the same place. An app’s ability to remember which virtual desktop it should default to would save a lot of time after every reboot. Also, I’d love to be able to move windows around with complete freedom between displays in Task View. Right now I can drag an app on my second monitor to a different virtual desktop, but it will still be on the second monitor.
Even if your company has not upgraded to Windows 10 yet, it’s going to be in your near future. If you need some help with this transition, we can lend a hand. Just get in touch using the contact button below.