Master multitasking with multiple desktops in Windows 10

Spread out applications across multiple desktops so windows don't overlap

The screen can become crowded with overlapping windows when working on a laptop, but mastering the use of multiple desktops can help with multitasking and working on several applications at once.

See how to create and use multiple desktops in Windows 10 to make using multiple applications and windows easier.

The smaller the screen on your laptop computer, the smaller the desktop workspace, but even with the popular 15in screen size there isn’t a lot of space to position windows side by side.

Trying to work with two or three applications at once, each with separate windows can be annoying because one or more windows is often buried under another. A window-filled desktop is distracting when you are trying to work on something important and switching between apps takes time and effort.

A big screen, such as with desktop computers, provides the desktop space to position app windows so they don't overlap, but on a laptop with a small screen there isn’t enough room. However, it is possible to create multiple virtual desktops to make a small screen seem bigger.

With virtual desktops, a single application window can be placed on each desktop to give a clearer and less distracting view. Multiple windows can be placed on virtual desktops, but the idea is that you can spread out the windows across several desktops.

You could have Microsoft Word on one desktop for writing a document and Adobe Photoshop on another for creating images, or if you are a cheapskate like me, Google Docs on one desktop and GIMP on another.

What is a virtual desktop?

The easiest way to understand this is to look at your phone. You can swipe left and right over the home screen to see other screens. One screen is too small to fit all the app icons on, so extra screens are used to store them.

Virtual desktops on computers are similar in some ways and when all the application windows that are open will not fit on one desktop, some can be made to appear on other desktops.

I don’t know the maximum number of virtual desktops available, but you are unlikely to hit the limit. Usually two, three or four is sufficient. Each extra desktop is just like the normal default desktop, but when an application is opened on a virtual desktop, it is only visible when that desktop is displayed.

How to create virtual desktops

The easiest way to understand virtual desktops is to try them. Press Windows+Tab on your Windows 10 computer. This shows open application windows and at the bottom of the screen is a bar that shows the virtual desktops. Click the plus button at the right hand side to add another desktop, and another.

Windows virtual desktops

Press Windows+Ctrl+D to create a new virtual desktop with the keyboard.

How to switch virtual desktops

Press Windows+Tab to show the desktops in the bar at the bottom of the screen and then click a desktop to switch to it.

Open an application, such as an Explorer window, then switch to another desktop and open another application, such as Notepad. Now that two applications are open on different desktops, clicking the app icon in the taskbar switches to the desktop with that app.

The best way to switch desktops is by pressing Ctrl+Windows+right or left arrow key. It switches to the desktop on the right or left or the current one.

Windows virtual desktops

You would not want to use this method if you had 10 desktops because you would have to go through each one to get from desktop 1 to desktop 10. It is best when there are just two or three desktops and you can quickly switch from one to another with a keypress when you are multitasking and working on two or more applications.

Move applications between desktops

Suppose you have three windows on the desktop that are overlapping and you want to put them on different desktops where each has its own space with no overlaps.

Press Windows+Tab and in the upper part of the screen are thumbnails of the windows that are open. Click and drag a window to the desktops bar at the bottom of the screen and drop it on the desktop you want. The window is moved to that desktop.

Any window can be moved to any desktop by dragging it and dropping it on a desktop in this screen.

Multitasking settings

Open the Settings app by pressing Windows+I and click System. Select Multi-tasking on the left. On the right are two settings under Virtual desktops.

The first one lets you choose whether to show windows that are open on all desktops or just the current desktop in the taskbar. The best setting is All desktops, then you can switch desktops by clicking the app icon in the taskbar.

The second setting is to choose whether to show all applications when Alt+Tab is press or only those on the current desktop. For those that don’t know, Alt+Tab is used to quickly switch from one application to another using the keyboard.

Windows 10 multi-tasking settings

One final keyboard shortcut, press Windows+Ctrl+F4 to close the current desktop you are using.

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