Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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How to use virtual desktops on Windows 10 and 11


Virtual desktops can refer to more than one thing on Windows machines, but here, we discuss the “multiple desktops” that you can create on a single Windows PC and session.


The biggest benefit of multiple virtual desktops is the ability to separate your different workflows and usage scenarios, for example – work and play – boosting your focus and productivity. One could argue that virtual desktops can mimic a multi-monitor setup’s added real estate and organisational benefits with zero additional investment.


What can virtual desktops do?

HP Victus 16 (AMD, 2023) (1)

With Windows virtual desktops, you can group your apps for unrelated projects, opening instances of the ones you need for each project on different desktops. You can also use the same instance of an app on more than one desktop or even just one window of that app.

You can move one app from one desktop to another, as well. If you close a virtual desktop by mistake, any app or window opened on that desktop will be moved to another active virtual desktop. You can also rename each desktop to help quickly switch between them.

Virtual desktop options include the ability to show windows open on all desktops on the taskbar or using Alt + Tab to switch between windows on all desktops. Everything is accessed via the Task View, which on Windows 10 also shows activity over time. A lot of virtual desktop features and navigation can be accessed via keyboard shortcuts, and we will detail all of them in this article.

Microsoft introduced the virtual desktop concept to its Windows operating systems with Windows 10, catching up with Mac and Linux. With Windows 11, Microsoft has added a few new virtual desktop features, including the ability to use different backgrounds for different desktops.

How to use virtual desktops on Windows 10

Here’s all you need to know to use virtual desktops on Windows 10. Functionality is almost identical to Windows 11, though there are some interface changes that we will also detail.

  1. Let’s get started with opening a new virtual desktop. You can either do this in one step by pressing “Windows key + Ctrl + D” or by opening Task View and pressing the “+ New desktop” button on top. To open Task View, you can click the Task View icon on the taskbar. You can see how it looks in the screenshot below. In case this icon is not visible, you will need to right-click on an empty space in the taskbar and then select the “Show Task View button”. You can also press “Windows key + Tab” to open Task View.
  2. A new virtual desktop will be opened if you’ve pressed the “+ New desktop” button on the Task View screen. You can choose to rename the desktop at this stage itself by clicking on the name or right-clicking on the desktop preview, or you can do it at any other time. You will then need to click on the new desktop’s preview to go there, or, click anywhere on any empty space on the Task View screen to visit the newly opened desktop.
  3. On the new desktop, go ahead and open the apps you want to use as usual. Switch between desktops by either opening Task View and clicking on the desired desktop’s preview or pressing the Windows key + Ctrl + Arrow (left or right) shortcut. Moving the cursor over the desktop preview will bring that particular desktop to the front.
  4. You can also modify a couple of settings to be able to see all apps/ windows across desktops on the taskbar or use the Alt + Tab to cycle between all apps/ windows across desktops. To enable these features, you will need to visit Settings > System > Multitasking. Options are shown in the screenshot below.
  5. If you want to move one app or window to another desktop, open Task View, then right-click the app/ window, and select “Move”. The resultant dropdown menu will list the active virtual desktops and allow you to move the app/ window to a “New desktop” entirely. Right-clicking an app/ window in Task View also gives you other options, such as “Snap left”, “Snap right”, “Show this window on all desktops”, “Show windows from this app on all desktops”, and “Close”. You can also use your mouse to drag and drop an app/ window onto another desktop or onto the “+” button to take it to a new desktop.
  6. You can close your virtual desktop by using the Windows key + F4 keyboard shortcut or visiting Task View and then clicking on the “X” symbol next to the desktop you want to close.

How to use virtual desktops on Windows 11

These are all the details you need to use virtual desktops on Windows 11. As we mentioned, there have been some changes in the way Microsoft has implemented virtual desktops in Windows 11, but the underlying functionality is mostly the same. We’ve listed the differences.

  1. To open a new virtual desktop, you press the “Windows + Ctrl + D” shortcut to open one quickly. You can instead also open Task View, and then at the bottom, click the “+” button for “New desktop”. Task View can be accessed either by clicking or hovering over the Task View icon on the taskbar or by pressing the “Windows key + Tab” combination. The Task View taskbar icon is different on Windows 11 compared to Windows 10; you can see it in the screenshot below. If the Task View icon is not visible on the taskbar, right-click an empty space, select “Taskbar settings, ” and turn on the “Task View” toggle.
  2. The “+” button on the Task View screen opens a new virtual desktop. Right-clicking the new desktop’s preview lets you rename it, move it left or right, choose a background for it, or close it. You can also close a virtual desktop by pressing the Windows key + F4 keyboard shortcut. Click on the new desktop’s preview to maximise it, or click on any empty space on the Task View screen.
  3. Once you have the new virtual desktop opened, go about business as usual – open the apps and windows you want. You can then switch virtual desktops via the Windows key + Ctrl + Arrow (left or right) shortcut or by visiting Task View and selecting the desktop you want. You can also hover over the Task View icon to quickly switch desktops or use the right-click context menu.
  4. Windows 11 keeps its multitasking options for virtual desktops in a different location – Settings > System > Multitasking > Desktops. Here, you can modify settings to show apps/ windows from all desktops on the taskbar or to be able to use Alt + Tab to cycle between apps/ windows from all desktops.
  5. Right-clicking an app/ window in Task View brings up several options, namely “Move” (lets you move an app/ window to another or new desktop), “Snap left”, “Snap right”, “Show this window on all desktops”, “Show windows from this app on all desktops”, and “Close”.

Handy virtual desktop keyboard shortcuts

We’ve mentioned these virtual desktop keyboard shortcuts in the two sets of steps above, but here they are – all together – for your reference:

  • Windows key + Tab: This key combination opens Task View, where you can add a new virtual desktop with the “+” button, rename desktops, as well as move, snap, or unify windows/ apps between desktops.
  • Windows key + Ctrl + D: This key combination opens a new virtual desktop. While this method is the quickest way to create a new desktop, bypassing the Task View altogether, you will still need to visit Task View to do things like rename the desktop.
  • Windows key + Ctrl + F4: This key combination closes the current virtual desktop. As we mentioned, any open windows or apps on this desktop will be moved to the remaining active desktop when the former is closed.
  • Windows key + Ctrl + Arrow left/ Arrow right: This key combination helps you quickly switch between virtual desktops, with the “Arrow left” key opening the previous desktop and the “Arrow right” key opening the next desktop.



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