Update

Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.

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Task View/Virtual desktops: A cool tool

Working with Windows 10’s virtual desktop mode or Task View takes some work. It’s a bit intimidating in the sense that the Windows 8 Start screen was: It’s an unfamiliar interface, and requires some effort to use efficiently. In the end, though, it pays off.

You’re probably used to opening up as many apps as will fit in a window, with the remainder either unopened or minimized to a desktop. If you want to work with more apps at the same time, you invest in another monitor. Task View doesn’t necessarily minimize those unused apps; it just hides that entire screen of apps, keeping everything the way it was.

This has two practical advantages. Say you have a nicely ordered screen of apps: a spreadsheet in one corner, email in another, with a PowerPoint document taking up the other half. Suddenly, you remember that you need to cull some client feedback from an email thread. Yes, you could rearrange those apps again—or you could open Outlook on a new virtual desktop using the Win+Ctrl+D command. (You can also click the Task View icon and the “+” icon in the lower-right corner to create a new virtual desktop.)

windows 10 virtual desktops Brad Chacos

Windows 10’s Task View allows you to arrange multiple apps across multiple virtual desktops, all but one of which is hidden from view.

Task view also allows you to multitask more efficiently. Take a typical Sunday night. The weekend’s winding down, you’re not quite ready to give up Facebook and Amazon, but there’s work to be done. By creating a separate virtual desktop with Task View, you can create a separate work and entertainment space, and then flip back and forth between them using the Ctrl+Win+the left or right arrow.

That’s the key to making Task View work: the Ctrl+Win key flip. With a second monitor, you glance left or right. With a virtual desktop, the screen moves—not your head. You can flip back and forth quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, there are a few quirks.  For one thing, if you have two monitors, both monitors flip to a new desktop with the Ctrl+Win key command—even if you don’t have a virtual desktop set up—which means you end up with a blank screen. That’s annoying. There’s also a “hard stop” at the end of the row of virtual desktops—if you keep tapping Ctrl+Win+left arrow, for example, you won’t wrap around to the beginning.

In the Settings menu, you have the option of configuring your taskbar to display every app running on your Windows 10 system, or else just the apps that you’ve tied to that desktop. Note that even if you do choose the latter, apps that demand your attention (say from an instant messaging application) should still flash on your toolbar.

Windows 10 virtual desktop gif

You now can drag and drop apps from one virtual desktop to another, too.

Things can get a little crazy if you start mixing and matching Alt-Tab commands and Task View. Alt-Tab creates a cloud of suggested apps to fill in the remaining space, which you can snap to the various locations via the Win+arrow key.  If you do choose to hide apps that aren’t being used on the virtual desktop, you can sometimes forget and “lose” them.

Don’t be intimidated, though. There’s absolutely nothing requiring you to use Task View. It’s just an advanced tool that’s there if you want.

Next: Still waiting for the Edge browser Microsoft promised

At a Glance
  • Windows 10 drives the PC platform forward with its mix of powerful, productive features. Only a few bugs and design issues mar its shine.

    Pros

    • Free upgrade for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 PC owners
    • Cortana digital assistant is potentially powerful
    • Start menu takes best of Windows 7, Windows 8

    Cons

    • Still some obvious bugs at time of review
    • Thematically, some apps are just plain dull
    • Microsoft Edge browser underperforms competition
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