Use multiple desktops in Windows 10 and spread your apps

Organise your desktop by moving applications and windows to their own spaces

Many people work on small screens, such as a laptop or Microsoft Surface, and screen space is limited. Windows 10 enables you to expand the desktop by creating new virtual ones. This guide shows how to use them.

Unless you are lucky enough to have a large high resolution monitor with acres of screen space, opening more than a couple of windows will inevitably cause them to overlap. Application windows become buried beneath one another and they become awkward to work with.

One way to solve the problem of an overcrowded desktop is to use multiple desktops. The best way to do this is with a multi-monitor setup. Your laptop might be able to drive both the built in screen and an external monitor or TV at the same time.

You might not want to spend extra money on an external monitor and it can only be used when you are at your desk. It cannot be taken with you when you travel with a laptop or even when you are sitting on the sofa watching the TV.

Multi-monitor setups are great for offices and big desks, but not so much for anything else.

The alternative is virtual desktops. It is a bit like having an extra monitor, or two or three. Windows maintains multiple desktops and you can switch from one to another with a mouse click, key press or swipe and tap.

"The whole idea is to avoid having lots of windows open and overlapping"

It is a bit like switching TV channels and you can have an app on one desktop, such as a web browser, and another app on another desktop, such as a word processor. You can switch from one to another.

Each desktop can have any number of application windows open, but the whole idea is to avoid having lots of windows open and overlapping. It is therefore best to have just one or two windows open on each desktop and to switch desktops when you want to switch apps.

Virtual desktops have been around at least since Windows XP and probably longer, but they were not officially supported by Microsoft. They were provided by third party utilities. Now the facility is built in to Windows 10.

To get started with virtual desktops, click the icon to the right of the search box in the taskbar. It is called Task View.

 Windows 10 Task View

In the bottom right corner of the screen is a plus button labelled New desktop. Click it.

 Windows 10 Task View

You now have two desktops and thumbnail images are shown just above the taskbar. Another way to create new desktops is by holding down the Ctrl+Windows keys and pressing D. There isn’t any feedback when you do this, so don’t press it half a dozen times thinking nothing is happening. It is.

 Windows 10 Task View

Click the Task View icon in the taskbar and thumbnail images of all the desktops appear. Click one to switch to it. Different applications and windows can be opened on the new desktop and you can switch from one desktop to the other using Task View and the thumbnails.

A quick way to switch desktops is by holding down the Ctrl+Windows keys and pressing the left or right arrow keys to go to the previous or next desktop. If you have a touch-screen display you can swipe in from the left to display the Task View desktops, then tap one to switch to it.

Mouse over a desktop thumbnail and extra large thumbnails of the windows open on it are displayed. This makes it easy to locate the desktop with the program or window you want. You can click an app or window to switch to it and make it the active one.

You might open a window or application and then decide it would be better if it was on a different desktop, such as one that is less crowded. To do this, click Task View and mouse over a thumbnail. The open windows and applications on that desktop are shown above. Click and drag a window or app to one of the desktop thumbnails at the bottom of the screen and it is moved to that desktop.

That’s the quick way, but there is another way. Right click one of the big app/window thumbnails and a menu appears. Select Move to, and then the desktop to move it to.

 Windows 10 Task View

A great way to switch from one app to another is to hold down the windows key and press tab. Large thumbnails of the open windows/apps are displayed and you can tab to the one you want. When multiple desktops are used, you can only Alt+Tab to apps/windows that are on that desktop. Ones on other desktops are not displayed. Is that useful or not? Probably not.

There is a way to change this behaviour though. Click Start, Settings and select System. Select Multi-tasking on the left and on the right, down at the bottom, are two settings for virtual desktops.

The first enables you to show icons on the taskbar for the apps open on all desktops or just the current desktop. The second affects task switching using Alt+Tab. You can see either the apps on all desktops or apps on desktop you are currently using. Both these settings are more useful with All desktops selected.

 Task View in Windows 10

Desktops are easily closed when you don’t need them. Click the Task View button, mouse over a thumbnail at the bottom of the screen and click the close button (a cross) in the corner. A fast way to close a desktop is to hold down Ctrl+Windows and press F4. Any programs and windows on the desktop are moved to the previous desktop and then the desktop is deleted. No windows or applications are closed.

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