How to efficiently start Windows virtual desktop

After the release of Windows 10, Microsoft finally integrated virtual desktop functionality into its own operating system, which is already a standard feature on macOS.

This feature does have a strong demand. Before the virtual desktop, as my main device was Windows, I often had to frequently switch between browsers, calendar software, task management software, chat software, and email clients. The overlapping of windows makes people feel “messy” and uncomfortable:

Screen with overlapping windows
Screen with overlapping windows
Although the task of switching windows is just a matter of pressing the finger, the thought process is likely to be interrupted. For example, when I was about to write an email to Anna, the following things might happen:

When I want to search for previous conversation records, I need to select a chat window from a bunch of windows in the taskbar, such as Edit/Web/File Manager, and click to open it.
After watching the chat, I suddenly realized that the schedule needed to be set before I could notify Anna, so I went to the various windows in the taskbar to look for the calendar window.
When I find the window, clarify the situation, and switch back to the email window, wait, what did I originally want to say to Anna?
An ideal solution is to buy more monitors. In this way, you can extend the Windows desktop to several screens. Each screen is tiled with several task windows for backup, and twisting one’s neck can “switch” the desktop.

After having the function of virtual desktop, you may be able to save the budget for buying a monitor to expand your desktop first.

What can a virtual desktop do?
Each virtual desktop can be viewed as an independent workspace.

Creating a virtual desktop is like opening a new workspace. In the new space, you can start a completely different set of tasks without worrying about mixing up with previous task windows.

The management interface for virtual desktops
The management interface for virtual desktops
During use, I found that the three desktops were just right. I call it “Three Desktop Streaming”, and these three desktops are:

Work desktop: a window used to place editors and other software for development/creation
Reference desktop: a window for placing GTD/calendar/reference notes and other software
Communication desktop: a window for placing WeChat/Slack/email and other software
In this way, when I want to focus on creating, I don’t have to care at all, and I can’t see the window content on the other two desktops. When I need reference information, I can simply switch to the “Reference Desktop”, which is already the reference window that was previously opened, so I don’t need to go to the taskbar to find the window anymore. If you want to discuss things with someone on WeChat, just switch to the “Communication Desktop” and the WeChat window that has already been opened is waiting for me there.

To a large extent, it avoids the sense of interruption caused by frequent maximization, minimization, and window switching.

An example of “Three Desktop Streaming”
An example of “Three Desktop Streaming”
How to use a virtual desktop?
Although Windows 10’s virtual desktop is good, the startup entry is slightly hidden. The following are several common ways to start and switch virtual desktops:

Visualization entrance
If you want to start a virtual desktop, the most intuitive entry is the “Task View” button on the Windows taskbar. Based on my observation, this small button may vary slightly across different Windows 10 iteration versions.

Firstly, this button needs to be right-click on the Windows taskbar to bring up the menu and select “Show Task View Button” from it.

Open the “Task View” button option
Open the “Task View” button option
Then, such an icon will appear on the taskbar.

Task View button
Task View button
Once clicked, the “Task View” will appear, from which you can switch or create a “Virtual Desktop”.

Demo from Microsoft’s official support site
Demo from Microsoft’s official support site
Shortcut key entry
If I am performing keyboard operations such as typing and editing, I usually use shortcut keys to switch between virtual desktops.

Shortcut keys can make my operations smoother, and my hands won’t easily leave the keyboard and then return to the keyboard due to the “switch” action, causing interruptions.

Compared to the operation of visual entry, the following 5 “shortcut keys” may be much more practical:

Win key Tab: Open the “Task View”, which is equivalent to clicking on the “Visualization Portal”.
Win key – Ctrl D: Create a new virtual desktop.
Win key – Ctrl F4: Delete the current virtual desktop.
Win key Ctrl left key: Switch to the adjacent virtual desktop on the left side.
Win key Ctrl right-click: Switch to the adjacent virtual desktop on the right side.
Among them, the fourth and fifth shortcut keys are particularly practical, almost equivalent to the legendary Boss key. If the boss comes, they can immediately switch from the “sheep herding” desktop to the “work” desktop.

Advanced usage of virtual desktops
Although shortcut key switching is already a very efficient method, in my personal practice, the following uses are more efficient in some scenarios.

Firstly, the reason why shortcut keys are fast is because muscle memory replaces brain thinking, without the need to search for windows, move the mouse, and then click. However, if I want to switch virtual desktops while browsing web pages, viewing information, or other mouse based operations, shortcut keys will cause me to move my finger away from the mouse, causing interruption and increasing psychological costs.

So my personal summary of several experiences is:

  1. Define mouse “extension button” shortcut
    This method directly fixes the virtual desktop shortcut on the mouse.

Firstly, there should be a customizable mouse with additional buttons, which means there are other buttons besides the left and right buttons that can be used.

Currently, many mice support custom buttons (especially gaming mice), so the hardware threshold may not be very high. Then, I bound the “extra keys” to the shortcut keys mentioned earlier, and I bound the following three:

Win key Ctrl left key (switch to the left virtual desktop)
Win Key Ctrl Right Click (Switch to Right Virtual Desktop)
Win Key Tab (Entry to Task View)
I am using a Logitech mouse, which comes with a settings application called Logitech Options.

After startup, select the mouse for the current application
After startup, select the mouse for the current application
Find the corresponding extension button
Find the corresponding extension button
Finally, click on the key position to modify the button function.

  1. Use “macro” shortcuts
    If there is really no custom button mouse, you can consider using AHK (AutoHotkey) script.

I have tried before to add a script for quick desktop switching using the Ctrl mouse scroll wheel. But personally, I don’t recommend it because the experience is not as good as the one above. It requires coordinated operation with both hands, but at least there is no need to release the mouse.

The script is as follows:

Send {LWin Down} {Ctrl Down} {Left} {Ctrl Up} {LWin Up}
Send {LWin Down} {Ctrl Down} {Right} {Ctrl Up} {LWin Up}
This is essentially a simple “macro” that replaces a series of Windows system actions through some preset triggering methods. If you have research on this, you can consider incorporating more convenient ways to trigger virtual desktop switching.

  1. Use the laptop touchpad to switch
    Although I use a laptop with an external mouse and keyboard, sometimes I don’t have mouse support when carrying my laptop out of the house. At this point, switching virtual desktops can be achieved using simple gesture operations.

The gestures on my touchpad are as follows:

Three pointed up: Place three fingers on the touchpad, then swipe outward to open the “Task View”.
Four Finger Swipe: Place four fingers on the touchpad, then swipe to the right or left to switch to the virtual desktop on the right or left.
I haven’t been able to find the screen for this setting, and I initially discovered it occasionally on Windows based on my experience using Mac laptops. Later, I found in Microsoft’s official documentation that Windows 10 virtual desktop gestures are built in like this, supporting all mainstream Windows 10 laptops with touchpads currently available.

Microsoft Official Reference Document: Touchpad Gestures for Windows 10

Write at the end
I believe that upon seeing this, everyone has a set of ideas for dividing their virtual desktop and creating a workspace. If you don’t have any ideas, you can try the “three desktop streams” mentioned earlier (i.e. work desktop, reference desktop, and communication desktop), which may open up some ideas.

If you have tried interesting virtual desktop usage, please feel free to leave a message and let me know!

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