Back in 2018, Google told us that it was planning on adding support for virtual desktops to Chrome OS, and following some teasing, we finally got them under the name “Virtual Desks.” The only real issue with Google’s implementation was with navigation: you had to enter the “Overview” mode then manually click around the list of desktops like some kind of laptop-wielding neanderthal. Thankfully, a recently spotted comment on the Chromium bug tracker (noticed by Chrome Unboxed) indicates we’ll eventually get a “4-finger swipe and lift” gesture that should make using Virtual Desks much easier.
It’s very early in the development cycle for this feature. The comment indicating that Google finally settled on a four-finger swipe was only posted yesterday, together with an early commit, and this could still require additional tweaks in other areas before it manifests in any update for the platform. It may ultimately be a while before we get the teased touchpad-based gestures for managing Virtual Desks in Chrome OS, but it will be worth it.
Keyboard shortcuts for managing Virtual Desks and moving windows between them were also spotted in development late last month, and they’re another necessary ingredient in a proper virtual desktop implementation.
I can’t wait to see how all of Google’s Virtual Desks vision comes together, since virtual desktops was one of Chrome OS’ most significant omissions when it came to productivity. Having a touchpad-based gesture, like that on macOS and Windows, will be less likely to break me from my productive cycle when moving between workflows.
Three-finger gesture, not four
Chrome Unboxed has more recently discovered that this new gesture for Virtual Desks will actually match the implementation present in Windows and macOS, using three fingers rather than four, as previously expected. The related commit is pretty clear:
Virtual Desks and Overview swipes finger count changes
– Tab scrubbing: change to use 4-finger gestures.
– Desk switch: change to use 3-finger gestures.
– Overview selection: change to use 4-finger gestures.
While the folks at Chrome Unboxed are pretty upset that this will move the tab navigation gesture to a four-finger slide, I consider this switch to parity with most other desktop software platforms a wise decision on Google’s part. Rather than keeping Chrome OS distinct for arbitrary, legacy reasons, folks can now more easily switch between Chrome OS and other operating systems with more consistency and a just a bit less confusion. After all, the premise behind virtual desktops is kind of hard to explain to folks, why implement it differently just to make things even harder for those familiar with it on other platforms?
As Chromebooks continue to spread and grow, matching the gesture used by other operating systems will only ever make things easier for consumers navigating between platforms — though die-hard fans that actually used the gesture to switch between tabs will have to remember to drop that extra digit when it hits. It isn’t clear yet when this tweak to the Virtual Desks feature for Chrome OS might land, but I’m all for it.