Windows 10 Tip: Try Task View and Virtual Desktops

Category: Windows-10

If you juggle a bunch of tasks on your Windows desktop, two features unique to Windows 10 can help you stay 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.

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.)

Task View also takes things a step further, showing you what you've been working on for the past few days. If you've ever had one of those head-scratching moments where you were trying to remember what document or photo you were working on two days ago, Task View will tell you!

To see how Task View works in Windows 10, click on the icon nearest the “Search Windows” icon on your Taskbar. The icon looks kind of like a tiny ladder. 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 upper-left corner of Task View, there’s a "+" sign labeled, “New desktop.” I've labelled that with the yellow arrow. Click on that area and a new, empty desktop will appear. 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.

Press Windows Key + Ctrl + LeftArrow or Windows Key + Ctrl + RightArrow to quickly switch between virtual desktops. 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 may 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 virtual 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.

And 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: 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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Most recent comments on "Windows 10 Tip: Try Task View and Virtual Desktops"

Posted by:

17 Jul 2020

Bob - shortcut for task view (rather than mouse) is Win + tab
useful article

Posted by:

18 Jul 2020

As Bob mentioned, the Alt-Tab method of switching between apps/programs works as a sequential selector, making you tab to the one you want, one at a time. It can actually get confusing when you notice that the sequence gets altered each time you use Alt-Tab to jump around. But I have found that if you hold control at the moment you first hit Alt-Tab (and let go) you get a stable display of all the open programs to choose from (all that fit your screen, at least) without having to hold down Alt like you normally would. This frees me to now click on any of them and not have to hit Tab multiple times to get there. So this method gives me what I would have wanted from Task View without any of the other more complex aspects of that.

Posted by:

18 Jul 2020

Just a thought.... Why not do as I have done for the last 10 years - have DUAL 24inch (or larger) monitors. Mine fit 4 apps comfortably and no having to switch around.

Posted by:

18 Jul 2020

@Francesca It may not be possible for many people to do as you have done! Many people are using laptops or working in environments where it is not possible to have 2 x 24" monitors.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Windows 10 Tip: Try Task View and Virtual Desktops (Posted: 17 Jul 2020)
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