Virtual desktop

Updated: 04/30/2020 by Computer Hope
Windows 10 desktop.

The term virtual desktop refers to an expanded or enhanced GUI (graphical user interface) for a user's operating system, beyond the limits of the actual display. Most modern operating systems feature the ability to position application windows in a virtual desktop, where they remain hidden until that virtual desktop is selected.

Virtual desktops enable the user to organize multiple applications on separate desktops, reduce visual clutter, and increase productivity.

  • In Windows 10, the Task View provides an interface that adds or removes virtual desktops, and switches between them. Virtual desktops can be previewed and selected using the Windows key+Tab keyboard shortcut.
  • In macOS, the Mission Control feature is similar to the Windows Task View. Virtual desktops can be added or removed, and keyboard shortcuts can be configured to switch automatically to any Virtual desktop by number.
  • In Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux, the X11, and Wayland display servers each provide mechanisms for creating multiple virtual desktops, or "workspaces." Desktops can be switched with configurable keyboard and mouse shortcuts, with custom visual transitions, such as dissolving or sliding. Unlike those on Windows and macOS, these virtual desktops can be oriented vertically, horizontally, or in a grid, according to your preference.

Virtual reality desktops

Illustration: VR user interacting with a virtual desktop.

VR (virtual reality) systems, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality, offer virtual desktop software that displays the operating system GUI in a 3-D space. These VR desktops can be viewed with a VR headset, and manipulated with one or two motion-tracked handheld controllers.

Using a virtual desktop, a VR user may reach out with their hand to select a file, double-click an icon, or close an application window, and see results in a virtual 3-D space.

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