Productivity Windows

5 Ways to Improve Virtual Desktops in Windows 10

Joel Lee 28-07-2016

It’s no secret that Microsoft is trying real hard to get people onto Windows 10 How Microsoft Has Pushed Windows 10 and the Results Microsoft has been promoting Windows 10 aggressively for over a year. The goal was to get the new operating system running on one billion devices by 2018. We look at Microsoft's methods and the numbers. Read More . And even though their methods are questionable — annoying at best, destructive at worst — we can’t deny that the new operating system (OS) offers a lot of improvements that weren’t available before 10 Surprising Reasons Why You Will Like Windows 10 It's almost cool to hate on Windows 10 these days. Don't let that deprive you of all the benefits Windows 10 will bring! We show you what you're missing out on. Read More .


In this article, we’re going to explore the Virtual Desktops feature. We already took an introductory look at how to use virtual desktops An Introduction to Virtual Desktop & Task View in Windows 10 Windows 10's new Virtual Desktop and Task View features are quality-of-life enhancements that you shouldn't overlook. Here's why they are useful and how you can start benefiting from them right now. Read More , so this post is going to be all about taking your productivity to the next level. That’s why virtual desktops exist after all, to make you more productive!

By the end, I hope you’ll see why I think the Task View feature is one of the more compelling reasons to switch to Windows 10 10 Compelling Reasons to Upgrade to Windows 10 Windows 10 is coming on July 29. Is it worth upgrading for free? If you are looking forward to Cortana, state of the art gaming, or better support for hybrid devices - yes, definitely! And... Read More . So without further ado, let’s get started.

1. Use a “Current Desktop” Indicator

One of the biggest oversights of Virtual Desktops is that there’s no obvious way to know which particular desktop you’re currently using. On Linux, for example, most desktop environments have a tray indicator showing which desktop you’re on.

Unfortunately, such an indicator isn’t available natively, so for now we’ll need to use a simple but effective workaround.



Head over to the VirtualDesktopManager project on GitHub, click on Releases along the top, and download the latest binary release in ZIP form. (Make sure you don’t confuse it with the source code ZIP!)

It’s a portable app so you won’t need to install it or anything — you can run it as soon as it’s unzipped, though we recommend moving it somewhere logical like Program Files in a folder called VirtualDesktopManager.

When running, you’ll see a new icon in your system tray that indicates which virtual desktop you’re currently on, which is exactly what we wanted.

Pro Tip: Create a file shortcut How to Create Windows Desktop Shortcuts the Easy Way Smart desktop shortcuts can save you mindless sifting through menus and folders. We show you quick & easy ways to create them. Read More and stick it inside your %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup directory to start VirtualDesktopManager every time you log into Windows.


2. Set a Unique Wallpaper Per Desktop

If the system tray indicator mentioned above is too subtle for you, then there’s another workaround that you can try: setting each virtual desktop to a unique wallpaper. That way you can instantly see which one you’re on.

Or win the best of both worlds and use both applications.


Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t support individual wallpapers per virtual desktop (yet?) so you’ll need to use a third-party application to get it done.


Head over to VirtualDesktop on CodeProject and download the Demo file (the other file is just the source code). This one is a portable app as well so no installation necessary, but you will need to create a free CodeProject account to download it.

While running, you can designate a different wallpaper to each virtual desktop, and when it detects a switch between virtual desktops, it will change the wallpaper accordingly. It has a bit of a delay so it isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad either.

Pro Tip: Create a startup shortcut using the instructions in Tip #1 to start VirtualDesktop every time you log into Windows.

3. Launch Directly on a Certain Desktop

There’s one more third-party application that’s worth mentioning: VDesk on GitHub. This is a command-line utility that comes with an optional “installation”, which basically adds a new item to the menu when you right-click a file.


To get it, navigate to the Releases page at the top and download the latest EXE release.


Once downloaded, you can run VDesk from anywhere using the following command in Command Prompt:

vdesk [#] [application]

So if I wanted to open Notepad, for example, then I could run the following command to launch Notepad on the second desktop:

vdesk 2 notepad

If you omit the number, it will launch on a new desktop:

vdesk notepad

But this is cumbersome to do on a regular basis, so we recommend using the optional installation feature to hook the utility right into the context menu:

vdesk -install

Now when you right-click on any file, you’ll see a new action called Open in new virtual desktop, which does exactly as it says. To get rid of it, just run the opposite command:

vdesk -uninstall

4. Learn the Keyboard Shortcuts

Perhaps the easiest way to maximize your productivity with virtual desktops is to simply learn the keyboard shortcuts for adding, removing, and switching between open desktops. It’s much faster and more convenient than using the mouse, period.

We’ve explored the keyboard shortcuts for Virtual Desktop 5 Keyboard Shortcuts to Master Task View & Virtual Desktops Virtual desktops are an effective way to boost your productivity. Here's how to use Task View keyboard shortcuts to become a pro. Read More before, but in case you aren’t familiar, here’s a quick overview:

  • Win + Ctrl + D: Create a new virtual desktop.
  • Win + Ctrl + F4: Close the current virtual desktop.
  • Win + Ctrl + Right: Switch to next virtual desktop.
  • Win + Ctrl + Left: Switch to previous virtual desktop.
  • Win + Tab: Open the Task View.

I personally don’t mind these shortcuts, but I’ve heard many users complain about how uncomfortable and/or unintuitive they can be. If that describes you, then you should consider installing VirtualDesktopManager (instructions are in Tip #1).

With this application, you get two more shortcuts:

  • Ctrl + Alt + Right: Switch to next virtual desktop.
  • Ctrl + Alt + Left: Switch to previous virtual desktop.

Sometimes it doesn’t register, maybe because another application is already using it, in which case you can go into the settings and use the alternate shortcuts:

  • Shift + Alt + Right: Switch to next virtual desktop.
  • Shift + Alt + Left: Switch to previous virtual desktop.

In any case, these shortcuts are the best way to maximize control over your desktops 7 Ways to Organize and Control Your Windows Desktop Your Windows desktop is more versatile than you think. You can utilize a number of tricks and tools to keep things tidy and get things done quicker. Read More . Ignore them to the peril of your office productivity.

5. Organize Your Desktops by Function

This final tip also answers the frequently asked question, “Why should I use virtual desktops, anyway?” Even if the feature sounds cool, a lot of people aren’t sure how to use it productively. If that describes you, keep reading.

Virtual desktops aren’t as nifty as having multiple monitors, which allow you to see all of your desktops at once. So instead of using virtual desktops as a way to expand your desktop, you should think of them as ways to organize your desktop.

Here’s how I personally have my virtual desktops set up:

  • Desktop 1 is dedicated to leisure: web browsing, video games, IRC and instant messengers, etc.
  • Desktop 2 is dedicated to utilities: music applications like Spotify, email applications like Postbox, and other helpful tools I may want running in the background.
  • Desktop 3 is dedicated to work: separate browser full of research tabs, applications for note-taking and writing, etc.

When I’m working, I stay focused on Desktop 3. All of my “distracting” applications are on Desktop 1, so I’m less likely to slack off or waste time. When I’m done with work, I switch over to Desktop 1 so I can goof off and relax.

And because Desktop 2 is in the middle, I’m always only one screen away from checking my email or skipping to another song. Also, don’t forget that apps will only show as “active” in the Taskbar when they’re open on the current desktop!

You don’t have to organize your desktops in the exact same way, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how you can set them up in a way that enhances your productivity.

Let Virtual Desktops Make Your Life Easier

It’ll take about a week of daily use to really get comfortable with the virtual desktop workflow, but once you get over that initial hump, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them.

If you aren’t on Windows 10 yet, there are ways to get virtual desktops on Windows XP, 7, and 8 How to Increase Your Virtual Desktop Space Feeling overwhelmed by all the windows you need open for various tasks or jobs? If this windows clutter causes you stress, virtual desktops are for you. Read More . However, it’s nicer to have it as a native feature, so you should seriously consider upgrading to Windows 10 while you can Do This Before You Upgrade to Windows 10 On July 29, the free Windows 10 upgrade offer expires. We show you how to prepare for a smooth upgrade. Read More .

How do you use virtual desktops? Got any other interesting tips or tricks that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: Productivity, Task View, Virtual Desktop, Windows 10.

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  1. s
    July 7, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    Thank you for this. So. A person with no administrative privileges, using an account made for her by the incredibly savvy, disturbingly controlling, administrator of the family computer, could technically be spied on and have her emails deleted, etc, correct?

    If one or more virtual accounts were set up for more account it would explain why my passwords get changed sometimes several times a day - even while the admin is at work; why I don't receive emails from people that show me proof that they've been sent, why my log-ins blink from the image I choose, to yellow, to blue, to another image, then to a browser or app I've used. So many other things - this is life-changing info to me.

    I knew it was happening, because it often stops when I shut down and unplug. I just didn't know how. Unfortunately, there're one or two other networks, at least, that the computer sometimes connects to, which admin denies. It's even connected to an iPhone without notice before. That's denied as well. Thank you again.

  2. frank
    June 5, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Why Am I not surprised that the Windows 10 virtual desktop is really lame. I've been using virtual desktops for 30 years starting with HP-UX. Hewlett Packard, b.t.y. had a really good desktop manager that included v-desktops that ran on Windows 3.1. The virtual desktop app I used on Win 7 would no longer work when I had to go to Win 10. I wish Microsoft would forget the squares thing. The Windows 7 user interface was good. Reason enough to break it.

  3. MobiLock Pro
    January 2, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing this nice and interesting post! This will be very useful.

  4. Luis
    August 19, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    That's all great, but...
    It will be really useful as soon as you can save your Virtual Desktop setup. It is an annoyance to start all over again once you restart your computer.
    Yes, I know and I use Hibernate too, but it is not enough.

    • HockingHippy
      January 2, 2019 at 3:11 pm

      Totally agree.

      • Erik
        July 24, 2019 at 7:54 pm

        Or, when the piece of crap windows computer restarts itself for you (several times per week) with useless updates and reliability crashes.

        Total garbage, wish I never went back from Mac

  5. Solipsist Cynic
    February 2, 2018 at 1:16 am

    Here are some shortcuts for the Virtual Desktops:
    1) Windows key + Ctrl +D \\ // Add a virtual desktop.
    2) Windows key + Ctrl + Left or Right arrow \\// Switch between virtual desktops.
    3) Windows key + Ctrl + F4 \\// Close current virtual desktop.

  6. Jim
    January 15, 2018 at 1:36 am

    Biggest complaint I have is virtual desktop doesn't wrap. So if I create 5 desktops and I'm on the 5th, I have to hit left 4 times to get back to the first desktop. How dumb is that? I can understand that sometimes features are left out due to the complexity, but honestly, how much effort would this have taken? "if at end, go back to beginning". Two lines of code? LOL Just cracks me up how sometimes the most obvious things requiring the least effort seem to elude developers.

  7. Steve Moffett
    October 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    I'm using the VirtualDesktopManager app, and I like it a lot. It has also solved the problem of ...

    "... apps will only show as “active” in the Taskbar when they’re open on the current desktop!"

    So now my taskbar shows all my open apps regardless of which desktop I'm on. When I click on a taskbar icon for an app that is on a different desktop, it takes me immediately to the correct desktop. It's really handy.

  8. Ram
    September 22, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    An easy way to switch between the Virtual Desktops:
    In Windows 10 (If your laptop has multi touch pad), you could set 'triple finger swipe left or right' for switching the desktops. It feels so intuitive.
    And you could set 'four finger swipes' for switching the apps in a desktop.

  9. DonH402
    May 15, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Is it possible to open another account in the virtual desktop?

    • Joel Lee
      May 15, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Don, as far as I'm aware that isn't possible. Windows 10's virtual desktops are admittedly a bit basic. Hopefully that will change some time in the future.

  10. Steve
    May 4, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I'm giving the native virtual desktops a go but to be honest, it's very difficult to get used to. The comments have some good tips that I'll try out.

    However, it's not on par with something like Dexpot for example. Used this program for years with no issues. It covers everything I've read in the comments so far; programs can be assigned to always open on a designated desktop, shortcuts for each desktop (e.g. alt+1, 2, 3, 4), can set the shortcuts to whatever you want. Can also control the animation between desktops, can control how you can tell on which desktop you are currently using. Highly recommend it and will probably switch back now that I'm reminiscing about it!

  11. Bharath Narayan
    February 7, 2017 at 8:30 am

    I would like to know if anyone has been able to dedicate virtual desktop for a monitor in a multi-monitor setup. I use 3 monitors at my work, leisure and remote connections. I am unable to pin a virtual desktop to a particular monitor. Has anyone been able to achieve this?


  12. LB
    January 26, 2017 at 4:50 am

    Is there anyway to save virtual desktops? It takes a fair bit of time to get everything placed everytime I start up my computer.

  13. Zhekaus
    January 20, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Step 2 which show VirtualDesktop Demo app doesn't work now.

  14. Paul
    November 16, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Hi, is there a way or utility to allow you to tile virtual desktops, so if i run 4 of them have one in each quadrant of the screen? I think with sysinternal or virtuaoz it's possible but not sure if these are stable enough or if it's possible with Windows 10 built in virtual desktops.
    Any thought?

  15. David Kaplowitz
    November 2, 2016 at 10:30 am

    thanks for these. Is there any way to have an application ALWAYS launch in a particular desktop? Every time I start up I have 5 or 6 applications auto launch and I then need to move them into a particular desktop for my working preferences; it's a pain. Mac OS has a function to always open an application in a particular desktop, I'm wondering if that's possible with a third-party/open source solution?

    • Clayton
      June 15, 2018 at 8:59 pm

      I agree, it always opens in the desktop that has the latest touch of the application you are opening. It is a pain!!!!

  16. Douglas Faria
    October 9, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    It's easier to use Linux with Gnome 3 (Fedora or Ubuntu, for example).

  17. Mario Carballo Zama
    September 30, 2016 at 1:31 am

    My biggest problem with Windows 10 virtual desktops is the fact that when you use it on a multiple monitor setup you can't make the switching monitor independent

    • Joel Lee
      September 30, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      I lost my dual monitor setup just before I managed to get Windows 10 so I had no idea that problem existed. That sucks! I wonder how other OSes handle that? Does it only apply to the screen that currently holds the cursor? Yikes. Anyway, thanks for sharing Mario!

    • Gina66
      October 19, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      This my biggest problem and why I don't bother using and now have to use a 3rd party app (Dexpot, but I'm having issues with that now).

      The problems I have are these:

      1. Can only view programs on the first monitor, never the second.
      2. Can't move programs from one monitor to the other in full view mode (meaning whatever programs I want on the second screen on a virtual desktop, I have to move ALL programs to the main monitor on the first VD, then move them to the 2nd VD, THEN move them to the second destkop)
      3. Task view basically doesn't even RECOGNIZE I have a second monitor.

      Seeing as I've never own an Apple or Linux, did anyone have these issues when using their virtual desktops? And if no, why couldn't Microsoft have learned anything from them and how customers used virtual desktops??

      • Lucy
        June 20, 2018 at 8:04 pm

        I just tried Virtual Desktop by accident, after installing the April Windows feature update and looking at the new features in Tips. I have 2 monitors, and everything works fine.

        In Task View I can't drag programs between monitors, but I can move programs between desktops on each monitor. Each monitor shows its own VD thumbnails and the windows open on that monitor in the current VD.

        The only program I've had a problem with a second monitor was Quickbooks, and now I never use it on my second monitor.

  18. Anonymous
    August 22, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    A few useful things:

    1. having Alt-tab only apply to the currently focused desktop is really nice. I have my "development" applications open on desktop two so I can alt-tab just among them without getting wrangled back into some other unrelated window.

    2. I have a mouse with a left-right rocker wheel (a Logitech G700 with a bunch of other buttons as well). I have the ctrl-win-left and right assigned to the left and right rock of that wheel. Very intuitive and natural to use like this.

    Hope these two bits add something for someone else.

    • Joel Lee
      August 29, 2016 at 9:04 pm

      Point #1 is a really good one! And that mouse trick is really nice. I wish I could set up something similar but my mouse is way too primitive for that, haha. Thanks Scott!

    • Wil
      October 27, 2016 at 7:51 am

      I'm using up to 9 virtual desktops and wish I could switch directly to a desktop with a dedicated shortcut (crtl alt 1/9).

      • Bakary N'tji Diallo
        October 29, 2019 at 5:33 pm

        Have a look at virtual desktop enhancer.

  19. Anonymous
    August 21, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    This isn't a negative comment toward anyone at all, but it seems that in today's world of smartphone saturation with virtual desktops standard on every one of them, people would take to the concept here intuitively.

    But having said that, I don't use them on my phone because everything is one button press away in the App Drawer. I don't use them on my computer because all of my programs are one button press away in the Start Menu, so it's a simpler approach to me. I run programs full screen so there's no distractions there.

    My one and only big distraction is the internet rabbit hole. As in commenting on articles. :)

    • Joel Lee
      August 29, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Yeah you're right, the homescreen concept is basically a simpler version of virtual desktops. I guess it's easier to wrap one's head around it when you can just swipe left and right instead of having to hit a non-trivial shortcut like Windows Key + Ctrl + Left or Right. :P

  20. Anonymous
    July 30, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    I think Virtual Desktop can be useful in case you want to hide something in inactive desktop :)

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Haha, that's a great use that completely slipped my mind. Sneaky. :)

  21. triazo
    July 29, 2016 at 2:02 am

    I have the extra button on my mouse bound to win-tab. This has been, so far, the single most useful thing I've done to Windows, to the point where had I not done that I couldn't stand the OS and would probably just run Linux all day.

    The reason why having win-tab on your mouse is so nice this to switch workspaces easily with your mouse only. No keyboard necessary. It transforms task view from something that may be useful sometime if you can be bothered to the primary way of managing Windows.

    Currently I have 9 workspaces and dual monitors, all filled. Guess it's coming from a Linux background spoiling me, but minimizing windows is unnecessary and I can get a better visual layout of where everything is.

    • Joel Lee
      July 29, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      Wow, that's actually pretty clever. I'm going to give that a try myself now. Thanks a ton, triazo!

    • Scott
      November 23, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      I come from a Linux and Mac background and am just learning Windows 10. Virtual desktops are something I've taken for granted since I ran UNIX in the 1990s, and I've never understood how Windows users could stand *not* having them. :)

      I'm about to stand up my first development environment in Windows 10, and I'm pre-researching how to optimize the desktop. On Mac, I use an external mouse and have set up the left/right rocker switches on the mouse wheel to expose all my virtual desktops so I can move between them without keyboard. Mac also does a fabulous job of handling multiple monitors, with separate virtual desktop count and instancing for each, and even of making adding/removing monitors relatively painless by being "fairly smart" (not perfect, but good) about figuring out where to move apps when you disconnect a monitor that was in active use.

      My bar is, therefore, pretty high with what I expect to be able to do with virtual desktops. I'm hoping some of the open source utils mentioned in this article will help me optimize Windows 10.

      Thanks for the tips about the mouse, @Triazo. It's good to know that this is possible in Windows -- I was worried it might not be. :)