I’ve raved quite a bit about the Virtual Desks feature on Chromebooks. I use them every day and even gave you my tips and tricks for the best way to set them up and name them. However, after spending more time with them, I came to a sad realization – they’re useless if I need to reach up to the top of my keyboard in order to pull them up every five seconds. For someone who separates out all of my open windows into different desks based on the type of task – watching, reading, listening, creating, and more – I find myself swapping between desks extremely often.
Now, this would be fine if clicking on a shelf icon would automatically switch you to the desk where that open app resides, but it doesn’t. Instead, it simply opens a new instance of that app, which is extremely frustrating. Also, considering that there’s a Chrome developer flag that only displays icons on the shelf of the desks where they’re open, the ability to jump to a desk just by clicking an icon wouldn’t even be a long-term solution anyway.
It may seem like a ridiculous complaint, but when you have eight desks for each account signed in to your Chromebook and four accounts total, that’s a total of 32 desks used for organization (Yes, jumping back and forth between accounts and desks gets annoying, but that’s a talk for another time). If you’re multitasking quite a bit – and I do – you’ll find yourself keeping your left hand on the overview key constantly. When you’re laying down or just wanting to use your left hand to type, it feels very inconvenient to have to rely on the overview key at all in order to pull up your virtual desks.
So, to solve this problem, Google has implemented the three-finger simultaneous swipe up on the touchpad. This is fantastic, and when I’m not using an external mouse, I do this instead. Unfortunately, I’ve taken heavily to using a Bluetooth mouse in laptop mode, and prefer it quite a bit more for navigation than I do the touchpad these days. For people like me, I don’t see Google offering a rapid access solution to activating Virtual Desks.
I propose two solutions – first, I would love the ability to activate Virtual Desks in overview mode by clicking the middle mouse button or scroll wheel of an external mouse. Even being able to click it down and swipe it up would be phenomenal. Second, I think that the company needs to bring back the long-forgotten overview button that used to sit on the Chromebook shelf! Check out the image below of the Pixel Slate – you’ll see that prior to its gesture-based navigation update, a rectangle with two vertical lines to the right of it appeared at the bottom-right side of the shelf. This would pull up overview mode and show your open windows. Now, you’re forced to swipe up from the shelf and hold in order to pull these up in tablet mode.
Though this button no longer makes much sense to have for tablet mode Chrome OS, I believe that it should make a comeback for laptops and desktops running Google’s operating system. Being able to navigate my mouse down to the shelf and click in order to pull up my desks would be great, and it would mean that I wouldn’t need to reach up to the top row of the keyboard or use my right hand to activate them with a gesture on the touchpad before moving my hand back to the mouse all of the time.
Even if Google allowed users to toggle the overview button to appear or disappear from the shelf using an Accessibility option, I would be on board. Because I believe that the shelf’s time and date indicators should be the furthest right UI element at the bottom, I think that the overview mode button (should it be activated via the Accessibility settings on a device) should appear to the left of the time and date instead. Most users probably wouldn’t gripe about this the way I am, but I’m doing my best to stress test my Chromebook for productivity and find ways to make it highly functional in this regard. Let me know in the comments section if you miss the overview icon appearing on the shelf or if you haven’t given it a second thought since the gesture-based navigation became standard!