Windows 10 Virtual Desktops

Since my last blog on the subject of “Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?” I’ve had no more dramas with it.

I’ve also upgraded some of my computer support clients’ systems to Windows 10 and haven’t come across any new issues.

Windows 10 Start ButtonIt seems that it’s quite common to have problems, as I did, with Outlook 2013 running on Windows 10, but I don’t think I’ve encountered anything else to worry about. I’ve also now upgraded my Microsoft Surface. I have the same problems with Outlook, so I’m hoping the same solutions will work.

Egg Timer
Upgrading to Windows 10 can be a lengthy business – especially if you currently have Windows 8 (not 8.1)
I do have one major gripe with the upgrading to Windows 10, though, and that is that you have to have your previous Windows installation completely current, with all major updates, before Windows 10 can be installed. I had a big problem with this on a client’s system a couple of weeks ago as he’d bought a new system a year or so ago, loaded with the first version of Windows 8, and never used or updated it. It took us hours and hours to install all the updates, including the upgrade to Windows 8.1, before we finally got to install Windows 10.

That aside, I’m feeling pretty confident about Windows 10 now and ready to spend some time on its new features.

One of the new features of Windows 10 is Virtual Desktops.

Suppose you have, say, eight programs open at once and would like to see two particular program windows open side by side and to be able to alternate this with seeing two of the other eight windows side by side. Although it’s already possible to achieve this, it would be easier if you had one desktop in which (say) five programs that relate to each other could be open and have a different desktop with the other three programs open. If you had two windows open side by side on each of the desktops then it would be nice to be able to switch easily between the desktops.

This is what virtual desktops do and you can easily create them in Windows 10. This is one of those things that’s easier to do than to describe, so if I’ve bamboozled you with the previous paragraph, please try it for yourself if you’ve got Windows 10.

It works like this:

Task View Icon
Figure 1. The Task View Icon
There is a new icon towards the lefthand end of the taskbar (see Figure 1). This leads to what is called the “Task View”. If you click on it, you see small windows of each of the programs that are currently open (see Figure 2). It is then easy to click on one of the windows to choose it as the current one. This, in itself, is a welcome innovation, but look again at Figure 2 and you will see a “+” sign in the bottom righthand corner with the text “New desktop” underneath it (enlarged in Figure 3). Clicking on this area creates a another desktop (with no programs open in it).

You can then move to this new desktop by clicking on its image in the bottom centre of the screen. From there on, it’s just like the original desktop and you can start opening programs as normal. You could also move an open window from one desktop to another by right-clicking on it when in “Task View”.

Windows 10 Task View
Figure 2. Windows 10 Task View

Although you can move between desktops by invoking Task View (with the mouse), virtual desktops are put to better use by learning the keyboard shortcuts for navigating between them. These are:

  • Ctrl + Windows Key + cursor right key = move the focus to the next virtual desktop “to the right” of the current one
  • Ctrl + Windows Key + cursor left key = move the focus to the next virtual desktop “to the left” of the current one

Windows 10 New Desktop Icon
Figure 3. The (rather feeble-looking) Add New Desktop icon
Unfortunately, getting to the leftmost or rightmost virtual desktop and then trying to “loop round” to the beginning again doesn’t work. You have to retrace your steps to get back to the other end of the “row” of desktops. I don’t know how many virtual desktops it’s possible to have, but I just created 20 without any problem.

I like Task View and Virtual Desktops, but can’t help asking myself (not for the first time) why Windows can’t have an option for saving entire desktop layouts – ie the programs that are open and their window sizes and positions. Couple that idea with virtual desktops and you could achieve a massive increase in productivity.

By the way, just to head off any panicky moments with the shortcut keys above, it’s very easy to hit the wrong key combination and get entirely unexpected results:

  • Ctrl + Alt + cursor right key = turn the screen display 90 degrees clockwise
  • Ctrl + Alt + cursor left key = turn the screen display 90 degrees anti-clockwise
  • Ctrl + Alt + cursor up key = turn the screen display the right way up
  • Ctrl + Alt + cursor down key = turn the screen display upside down