Adding an extra monitor to your computer is one of the best upgrades you can make to help improve productivity, but space (and financial) limitations mean that this is not something that everyone can consider.
Microsoft introduced virtual desktops as an alternative to multiple monitors back in Windows 10, but with the release of Windows 11 the feature has been improved.
The idea is still the same. Rather than one desktop to house all of your running apps and open windows, you can set up several and switch between them as a required.
Virtual desktops give you a handy way to keep work and personal things separate, or just reap the benefits of additional space. Here’s how to get started.
1. Getting started with virtual desktops in Windows 11
There are various ways to access the virtual desktop feature of Window 11, and perhaps the easiest is to make use of the Task View button in the taskbar – this should appear next to the Start button and looks like two overlapping squares.
If you cannot see this button for some reason (you may have disabled it either accidentally or on purpose), you can get it back by right-clicking an empty section of the taskbar and selecting Taskbar settings. Flick the Task view toggle to the ‘On’ position and then close the Settings window.
2. Start using virtual desktops
To start using virtual desktops, hover your mouse over the ‘Task View’ button. Hovering the mouse cursor is sufficient; there is no need to click.
After a very short pause, a pop-up will appear that shows a preview of virtual desktops. Even if you have not used the feature before, you will find that it is immediately available and ready to use – there is no initial configuration needed.
To start with, you will see a single preview of the desktop you have been working with up until now, labelled Desktop 1, as well as a large button labelled New desktop.
3. Switch between virtual desktops
Although we have just said that there is no need to click the ‘Task View’ button and that simply hovering is enough, you can click the button if you like.
If you prefer the more decisive feel of clicking a mouse button rather than just passively lingering the cursor in position, you can click ‘Task View’ and gain a slightly different view of virtual desktops.
In terms of functionality, features and so on, there is no difference between hovering and clicking – it is really a matter of personal preference. If you do click, the desktop previews are displayed in a floating bar at the bottom of your screen, and your current desktop is slightly dimmed in the background.
4. Add more desktops
Regardless of whether you have clicked or hovered, you can expand you working space by clicking the ‘New desktop’ tile.
In fact, you can do this as many times as you like – within reason – to create as many virtual desktops as you like.
As you launch additional desktops, the preview can help you to identify which is which as you should be able to see which apps and windows are open on each. You can tell which desktop you are currently using as it has a blue line underneath its preview.
5. Rename your virtual desktops
To make it easier to identify an individual virtual desktop, and to help with distinguishing between them all in general, there are other things you can do.
You can rename virtual desktops, so ‘Desktop 1’ can be changed to something more useful, such as ‘Work’.
Right-click a preview and select ‘Rename’ from the menu that appears; type a name and press Enter.
You can also change the background for each virtual desktop to make identification even easier. From the menu that appears when you right-click a preview, select Choose background and then select an image.
6. Rearrange the desktops
There are two more useful things to know before you jump in a start reaping the benefits of virtual desktops – how to move them and how to close them.
As you create new virtual desktops, they are added to the right, so the newest desktop appears to the far right in the preview.
If you want to rearrange the order in which they appear, right click a preview and select ‘Move left’ or ‘Move right’ as required. When you have finished with a virtual desktop, you can closing any you don’t need by clicking the x button that appears to the upper right of a preview.
7. Preview your desktops
We mentioned that it does not matter if you hover or click on the ‘Task View’ button in the taskbar, but there are circumstances in which you will almost certainly wanted to click.
While you see a preview of all of your virtual desktops in the case of clicking or hovering, when you click the button, you can then hover over individual desktop preview tiles to see a neatly organized display of the apps and windows that are open on that particular desktop. You can even click the preview of an app or window to jump directly to it if you want.
8. Additional options
As well as left-clicking on the preview of a running app or open window to jump straight to it, you can also right-click such a preview to access additional options.
One of the most useful is the ability to move apps and windows between desktops, as this gives you an excellent way of managing your workspaces.
Right-click the preview for an app or window and from the ‘Move to’ menu you can select the virtual desktop you would like to move it to. This is one of the times it helps tremendously if you have taken the time to name your desktops as this will make things much easier.
9. Using apps on the virtual desktops
There are two more handy options in this right-click menu. The one labelled ‘Show this window on all desktops’ will do just that – launch the current app or open the current window on each of your virtual desktops.
For commonly-used things such as your web browser or Explorer, this can be a great timesaver as it saves having to manually launch the same things several times.
The one labelled ‘Show windows from this app on all desktops’ serves much the same purpose, but will treat multiple instance of the same program or windows as a single unit.
10. More useful keyboard shortcuts
There are some very useful keyboard shortcuts associated with virtual desktops, and these can be a great deal faster than clicking with your mouse or trackpad.
You can create a new virtual desktop by pressing Win + Ctrl + D, and yet another way to access the virtual desktop previews and switching screen is to press Win + Tab.
Using this keyboard shortcut work much like Alt + Tab does for moving between windows and allows for fast navigation of virtual desktops. You can also use Win + Ctrl + Left or Right arrow to move back and forth between virtual desktops. Note that keyboard shortcuts are listed in context menus to help you learn them.