[Windows 10 Tip #7] - Task View & Virtual Desktops

Category: Windows-10

If you juggle a lot of tasks on your Windows desktop, two features unique to Windows 10 can help you keep organized. They are Task View and Virtual Desktops. Let's take a look at each, and how they can help you be more productive…

Windows 10 For (Task) Jugglers

Do you typically have more than one program open at a time while using Windows? (That is, after all, the reason why the operating system is called Windows.) Right now, I have 5 open programs on my desktop -- a web browser, word processor, spreadsheet, email client, and a command prompt. I often switch between them, sometimes copying and pasting data from one to another.

[See more helpful articles in my Windows 10 Tips series: Click Here.]

Your scenario might be a word processor, a game of solitaire, and a photo editing app. Or maybe you've got Skype, iTunes, and Google Chrome running while you do your finances in Quickbooks.

You get the picture… everyone has their own set of frequently used tools. If so, today's tips will help you manage and switch more easily from one to the other.

windows 10 task view icon

Let's start with Task View, which displays thumbnails of all open apps and lets you choose any one of them with one click. It also enables the creation of Virtual Desktops, each which can contain all the apps and data associated with a particular task.

Some users think Task View is unnecessary; after all, you can switch from one app to another using the Alt-Tab key combo; this Task Switcher feature has been around since Windows 3.0. But Task Switcher is an example of sequential data access; you may have to Alt-Tab through a number of open apps to get to the one you want. Task View enables random access; you can jump right to the app you want. (In geeky terms, It’s like the difference between a magnetic tape drive and a hard drive.)

To see how Task View works in Windows 10, click on the icon nearest the “Search Windows” box on your Taskbar. The icon looks like a square with “wings” coming out of its left and right sides. You’ll see your desktop and thumbnails of all open apps, as in this example:

windows 10 task view

Take Task View for a Test Drive

I've scaled down the image to fit on this page, but it shows three active tasks: Windows Settings, FIle Explorer, and the Edge Browser. Click on any thumbnail and that app is restored; you can go right to work in it. But wait, there’s more to the Task View view!

In the lower-right corner of Task View, there’s a big + sign labeled, “New desktop.” I've labelled that with the yellow arrow. Click on that area and a new, empty desktop will appear on the Taskbar. Click on Desktop 2 to switch to it. Now you can open apps in Desktop 2 while all the apps in Desktop 1 remain undisturbed.

You can also move apps between desktops. Just drag one of the apps in the active desktop to the Desktop 2 icon above your Taskbar.

Another way to create a new desktop is to click on the Task View icon and drag an app over the “+ New desktop” area. A new desktop will be created and the app you dragged will move into it.

To close a desktop, hover over its thumbnail in Task View and click the X button on the upper-right corner. Any apps in the closed desktop will be moved to the next-lower numbered desktop. If you close Desktop 1, then Desktop 2 becomes Desktop 1, Desktop 3 becomes Desktop 2, and so on. Closing all but one desktop returns you to the normal desktop view.

There is no limit to the number of virtual desktops you can have, but they do consume RAM. Your system will slow down if you create too many desktops.

Task View and Virtual Desktops are also useful if you share a PC with a trusted adult. You can create his-and-her desktops, one holding your apps and the other holding your spouse’s apps. Then, when a spouse asks to use the PC, just switch desktops instead of logging off and logging in the other user. When the other user is finished, you can switch back to your desktop without losing any of your open apps, as you would when logging out. Obviously, I would not do this with a child who might figure out how to get into my desktop.

Yes, you can have multiple instances of a single app open in different desktops. If a browser is open in Desktop 1, the same browser can be opened in Desktop 2, but the second instance will be a “fresh start.” It won’t contain any tabs that are open in the first browser.

I do find Task View useful, but I don't use Virtual Desktops because I have a dual-screen setup. That gives me two separate desktops that I can see at the same time. With dual (or multiple) monitors, it's easy to copy/paste or move things from one screen to another. You can even stretch an app's window across two screens. Sometimes I do this when I have a very wide spreadsheet. (See my related article Dual Monitors: Six Good Reasons to Upgrade)

Task View and Virtual Desktops can help keep your computer work organized. You can maintain one desktop for work apps, another for personal/leisure/recreation apps, another one just to watch cat videos, or whatever. Even if you need only one desktop, Task View is a more efficient way to switch between apps. I suggest giving it a try.

Are you a task juggler? Which ones do you use most often? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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This article was posted by on 21 Jul 2017

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Most recent comments on "[Windows 10 Tip #7] - Task View & Virtual Desktops"

Posted by:

21 Jul 2017

Great explanation, thanks Bob!
I looked at task view and virtual desktops when I first got Win10, but never followed up on it. Virtual desktops might be very useful when working on my laptop screen.
A Snickers bar is on its way to you, sir!

Posted by:

Ralph C
21 Jul 2017

Bob, thanks for this. I see the icon everyday, and have wondered what it was for. Could have researched it, but it was never a priority. Now, thanks to your explanation, I can, and will, use it. I have always just clicked on the icons in the task bar, but this is an improvement. Always a learning experience reading your posts! Thanks.

Posted by:

21 Jul 2017

I think Mr. Rankin is being humble by saying he has got [only] 5 applications open on his desktop. ;)
For those who do not have the TaskView icon anywhere on the Taskbar >> an easy way to access it would be to press the Window+Tab keys simultaneously.
For those of us employing dual monitor setups; shuffling programs/applications [windows?] between the 2 screens can be keyboard-shortcut controlled by pressing the Windows+Left (or Right) arrow keys simultaneously. Using the FREEware "Dual Monitor Tools" (via sourceforge) is also an option. It allows for locking programs/applications in specific regions of the 2 monitors.
In my desktop system w/dual-screens, I have not been able to fix the following issue: When the PC is awakened from screen saver mode, all of the open programs/applications are automatically relocated/re-positioned on 'Monitor #1' upon desktop wake-up refresh...

Posted by:

22 Jul 2017

If you unpin an app from the taskbar in one desktop, it will also unpin it from all other desktops. I thought that, perhaps, I could customize each desktop to include only the pinned apps I would use in that desktop. Alas, this is not the case.

It would also be nice if renaming the desktops were possible for easier identification of their purpose, but this is not possible either (unless I missed something somewhere).

Despite being a long time computer professional (programmer, hardware technician, networking, software installer, BBS Sysop, magazine editor and now web host), I was not even aware of this feature until now. I can see many potential benefits to this feature despite the minor shortcomings I mentioned.

Thanks for the heads up (Doctor) Bob from the original/other "Doctor Bob" from my Fidonet BBS days (1970's-1990's).

Posted by:

John C
22 Jul 2017

Thanks for the tip, Bob. I keep forgetting about this feature!

This is definitely useful for those that have a single display such as on a laptop. Like you, however, I have dual monitors setup with my browser, Explorer (File Explorer), and other things on one display and applications, and games such as N3V's Trainz: A New Era on another.

This application does well with dual monitors as it can run windowed on the higher resolution display while I have Google Earth open on the other to follow maps when I am working on a prototypical route, which requires altitude and track grade checks, or placement of specific objects.

My complaint, though, with the Virtual Desktops is the inability to have a different desktop background on the other desktops. With a different desktop background, it could be easier to see which "application set" is active at a glance.

This is/was a feature with the old KDE environment used on Sun workstations for so many years, and I'm sure other Linux distributions, although I can only speak for Solaris as I am most familiar with that.

I brought this up while part of the Insider Program, and the developers thought it was a good idea to look into, but this has never been implemented "yet".

Posted by:

24 Jul 2017

"When the PC is awakened from screen saver mode, all of the open programs/applications are automatically relocated/re-positioned on 'Monitor #1' upon desktop wake-up refresh..."

Yes, I get the same when awakening from hibernation mode. After coming from hibernation, a quick fix for this bug is to quickly switch once to all the open virtual desktops(as you mentioned, using shortcut Windows+Left/Right). When switched to the next virtual desktop, the apps automatically move to their correct desktops.

Posted by:

24 Jul 2017

Bob, Windows have morphed into a Frankenstein horror show. This one example, on Linux multi desktop environments are super duper easy (I'm sure you know.) In windows why must the user attempt to find several clicks to do any kind of system task?

Separately, in the latest earnings call, if not for MS Office and MS Azure aka corporate cloud, MS would be in serious trouble. Many knowledgeable watchers are already predicting the new xbox one X later this year will be a dud. Their arguments are quite persuasive.

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