How to Use Multiple Desktops in Windows 10

Stay organized and productive with multiple desktops

With Windows 10, Microsoft finally brought a feature that is standard on other desktop operating systems to Windows: multiple desktops, which the company calls virtual desktops. This is admittedly a power user feature, but it can be helpful for anyone who wants an extra bit of organization.

Instructions in this article apply to Windows 10.

Multiple desktops in Windows 10
 Viktor Hanacek / PicJumbo

It Starts With Task View

The key starting point for multiple desktops is Windows 10's Task View. The easiest way to access it is the icon to the right of Cortana on the taskbar — it looks like a big rectangle with a smaller rectangle on each side of it. Alternatively, you can tap the Windows key+Tab.

Screenshot of Task View button on Windows 10 taskbar

Task View is a better-looking version of Alt+Tab. It shows all your open program windows at a glance, and it lets you choose between them.

The biggest difference between Task View and Alt+Tab is that Task View stays open until you dismiss it — unlike the keyboard shortcut.

When you're in Task View, you'll see a button that says New desktop. Select that, and at the bottom of the Task View area, two rectangles labeled Desktop 1 and Desktop 2 appear.

Screenshot of New Desktop button

Select Desktop 2, and you land on a clean desktop with no programs running. Your open programs are still available on the first desktop, but now you have another one open for other purposes.

Screenshot of Desktop 2 option

Why Multiple Desktops?

If you're still scratching your head as to why you'd want more than one desktop, consider how you use your PC every day. If you're on a laptop, switching between Microsoft Word, a browser, and a music app can be a pain. Putting each program in a different desktop makes moving between them much easier and removes the need to maximize and minimize each program as you need it.

Another way to use multiple desktops is to have all your productivity programs on one desktop, and your entertainment or game items on another, or you could put email and web browsing on one desktop and Microsoft Office on another. The possibilities are endless and depend on how you organize your programs.

You can move open windows between desktops by opening Task View and then using your mouse to drag and drop from one desktop to another.

After you have all your desktops set up, you can switch between them using Task View or by using the keyboard shortcut Windows key+Ctrl+right or left arrow key. Using the arrow keys is tricky because you have to be aware of which desktop you are on. Multiple desktops are organized on a virtual straight line with two endpoints. Once you reach the end of that line, you have to go back the way you came.

In practical terms, you move from desktop 1 to desktop 2, 3, and so on using the right arrow key. When you reach the last desktop, you go back through using the left arrow. If you find that you jump between numerous desktops out of order, it's better to use Task View where all open desktops are consolidated in one spot.

Multiple Desktop Options

The multiple desktops feature has two key options you can adjust to your liking.

  1. Select Start.

  2. Choose Settings from the Start menu.

    Settings in Start menu
  3. Select System.

    System in Windows Settings
  4. Select Multitasking and scroll down until you see the heading Virtual desktops.

    Virtual Desktop in Multitasking Settings

Here are two options that are easy to understand:

  • The top option lets you decide whether you want to see the icons for every single open program across the taskbar of every desktop or only on the desktop where the program is open.
  • The second option is a similar setting for the previously mentioned Alt+Tab keyboard shortcut.

Multiple desktops aren't for everybody, but if you're having trouble keeping your programs organized in one workspace, try creating two, three, or four in Windows 10.

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