How to use virtual desktops on a Chromebook


For enhanced productivity on your Chromebook, you can create and add virtual desktops. This is a popular feature in many operating systems like Windows and macOS, so it’s no surprise that ChromeOS has an implementation of it too. Officially, the Google ChromeOS version of virtual desktops is simply called “desks.”

With desks, you can create different workspaces for work, personal, social media, and more on your Chromebook or ChromeOS tablet with a keyboard. And the best part of it all is that ChromeOS will remember and save your desks as you left them. You even can move windows between desks, save desks for later, or combine desks. Plus, managing desks is easy with keyboard shortcuts. We’ll get into all of this today for you right here.

How to create a desk

Creating new desk

There are two ways to create a desk on a Chromebook. You can do so by using a keyboard shortcut or using a trackpad gesture. The easiest way is definitely to use the keyboard, though.

Create a desk with a keyboard shortcut

  1. On your Chromebook keyboard, look for the Show windows key. It’s usually the fifth key from the left in the top row. At the top middle of the screen, you’ll see a Desk 1 option. This is your main desktop.
  2. Create a new desk by clicking the + icon at the top.
    ChromeOS desks
  3. Give the desk a name.
  4. Click on the icon for the desk to switch to it.

If you’d like to use your trackpad for creating desks, then there’s a specific gesture you can use. Just swipe up from the bottom of the trackpad with three fingers to show your desks, and then follow the same steps above. With those basics down and your first desk created, you can now manage your desks. It’s made easy by ChromeOS. The next section will have more details on this.

How to manage your desks

Save Desk for Later

There are several ways to manage desks on ChromeOS. We’ll get into how you can switch between desks, move windows to another desk, move tabs to desks, and save desks for later. Of course, closing and combining desks are covered here, too.

Saving, closing, and combining desks

  1. To close a desk: Hit the Show windows key on your keyboard and then hover over the icon for the desk you want to close and click the X.
  2. To save an open desk: Press the Show windows key on your keyboard and then choose Save desk for later. Saved desks will show up at the top-right in a Saved for later section. Once you click it, you can choose to re-open the desk from here or delete it by clicking the trash can icon.
    Saving a desk for later in ChromeOS
  3. To combine a desk: Press the Show windows key on your keyboard. Then, after that, hover over the top-right of the window preview for your Desk. Next to the X will be a Combine with button. Click it.

Going to different desks

If you created multiple desks, you can easily move between them by clicking the Show windows key and selecting a desk from the list. You also can switch between desks by swiping with four fingers left and right on your touchpad. Or, use one of the keyboard shortcuts at the bottom of this guide (Shift + Search + 1-8).

Moving windows to another desk

Moving windows to another desk is a bit of a drawn-out task. You’ll have to drag windows around and also use keyboard shortcuts. Here’s what to do.

  1. Press the Show windows key on your keyboard. It’s usually the fifth key from the left in the top row.
  2. Open the desk that has the windows you want to move.
  3. Drag the window or app you want to move on top of the icon for the desk you want to move it to.
  4. For moving windows to a desk press the Alt button on your keyboard and then right-click on the title bar of the window. Choose the move window to desk option and pick the desk from the list.

Moving Google Chrome tabs to another desk

If you want to move a tab you have open in Google Chrome to another desk, all you have to do is right-click the tab (Alt + right-click) and then choose Move tab to another window. Of course, you’ll have to move that window to a separate desk, following the steps we mention above.

Keyboard shortcuts for Desks on ChromeOS

Chromebook keyboard (1)

Like a lot of functions in ChromeOS, desks has some keyboard shortcuts that can make your life easier. The shortcuts here depend on which type of Chromebook keyboard or keyboard accessories you have. Some Chromebooks have a Launcher key, and some have a Search key. Both work the same way. Here are some of our favorite desk shortcuts that should make your life a bit easier.

Keyboard Shortcut Function for desks
Shift + Search += Create a new desk
Search + [ Switch a desk on the left
Search + ] Switch to a desk on the left
Shift + Search + (number) Switch to a specific numbered desk
Shift + Search + A Move a Window to all desks

And that’s all there is to virtual desktops — or desks — on ChromeOS! Whenever I use my Chromebook, I always keep two separate desks for work and social media. I have my work apps like Slack, and AirTable open on one desk, and my web browser with our content management system on another desk. A third desk also has my social media feeds and RSS feeds that I use to keep track of the news. Desks on ChromeOS are another awesome feature of the always-updated and always-fresh Google desktop operating system.