back to article Chrome OS: Yo dawg, I heard you like desktops so we put a workspace in your workspace

Google has added virtual desktops to its Chrome OS, used in Chromebooks, enabling users to create multiple workspaces and switch between them. The virtual desktop feature is the biggest of several updates. Once the update is installed, a New Desk icon appears in the top right corner of the desktop. You can display virtual …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Virtual desktops have been available in Windows 10, macOS and Linux for some time so Google is catching up with these established operating systems."

    I don't know about macOS but, depending on the desktop manager used, Linux and the BSDs have had multiple desktops available for a long time. Windows 10 was a catch-up for Microsoft.

    1. s2bu


      Linux hell, the old legacy *IXs had it long before in good old CDE.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: *IX

        In the text-only world, Concurrant CP/M had it in the early '80s, as did BSD, a decade or so before CDE. If you consider virtual consoles "desktops", that is[0]. Prior to those, TOPS-10 and RSTS had a similar concept, as did TENEX, all in the very early 1970s. And even prior to that, Stanford's PDP6 timesharing Monitor also had similar in the mid 1960s. I don't know if this last one was common to all PDP-6s[1], or if it was Stanford specific.

        [0] I do, because that's how they were often used.

        [1] For rather small values of "all".

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: *IX

          Yup. I recall adding a virtual-console driver for a prototype graphics card (when running in text mode) to BSD 4.3; that was the late '80s, but as jake says the capability had been in BSD for a while.

          IBM's AS/400 had two virtual consoles per physical 5250 device, and I believe that was inherited from the predecessor S/3x systems. I don't know how far back that goes, but the 5250 and its twinax physical cabling (which provided the topology that let IBM do the virtual addressing of those consoles) dates back to the S/34, in 1977.

          For GUI multiple virtual desktops, X11 had this capability in principle right from the start (that is, an X11 window manager could have implemented them), but I don't recall when they first became common. I also don't remember if any of the managers shipped in the stock X11R3 distribution, for example, supported multiple virtual desktops. (X11R3 supported multiple physical displays, of course, but that's a different feature.)

          To be fair, multiple virtual desktops were available in Windows as far back as XP, using an add-on such as the one in PowerTools. The necessary OS support goes back as far as NT's WinStation and Desktop abstractions; it's just Microsoft couldn't be bothered to give users access to it.

          OS/2 had multiple desktops in Warp, circa 1996. Still late to the party, but a lot earlier than Win10.

          1. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: *IX

            Back in the early '90s there were HP Vectra PCs that came with a driver letting you flip between two sessions on top of MS-DOS. Which was fine, except they usually had to juggle whatever you ran within the 640K of conventional memory.

            And they were an unedifying shade of beige.

          2. Dave559

            Re: *IX

            And the Amiga OS and hardware had a particularly unique style of multiple desktops where you could drag a desktop screen down to reveal another screen behind it, often running at a different resolution and colour depth...

          3. Mage Silver badge

            Re: The necessary OS support goes back as far as NT

            Certainly I installed free MICROSOFT sw for it on NT4.0, though possibly it was after Win2K was released. No idea when MS released it.

            I did have Concurrent CP/M in 1992.

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      I just attach more screens to my machine if I require more desktops.

      I also like to mix sizes, models and orientations to trigger my colleague.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Virtual desktops have been available ... Win 10

      Available to install on Windows as long ago as NT4.0, just not promoted by MS.

      UNIX/Linux has ALWAYS theoretically had multiple desktops.

      Explain again why I'd want the pseudo laptop / Cloud Terminal spyware from Google rather than Windows, MacOS or Linux?

    4. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

      Mac OS, Mac OS X

      > I don't know about macOS

      Mac OS <> Mac OS X. MacOSX is just another *nix.

      I was using virtual desktops in MacOS in the late '80s.

      Not built-in: you'd pay $5 shareware, throw another init/cdev in your System Folder to hack your kernel further,* restart and you're done.

      * Interestingly, the whole old "Mac OS is unstable!" meme came from everyone modding their system to buggery because it was fun and trivial to do (very few people even realised that was what they were doing). A lot of features people take for granted now came from those 3rd party mods, eg live spellcheck, autocorrect.

      Raw unmodded Mac OS I never saw crash in 15yrs, nor even heard of an instance of despite being one of the main tech.guys on London mac user group and Oxford Uni mac user group for a long time.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if Google

    would unlock the hardware after the end of support period.

    1. s2bu

      Re: I wonder if Google

      If it’s anything like my Pixel C, which was supposed to have ran ChromeOS and still uses the ChomeOS boot loader, the “unlock” is the dev switch which is physically located on a flex cable BEHIND THE DAMN SCREEN!

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: I wonder if Google

      To "unlock" it, you select the relevent "developer" option on boot-up. The system is then yours to do what you want with.

      If you cock up, or want support, you simply select the rebuild option which will automatically factory reset the device, and install the latest chromeOS software, making it all like new again. Of course, at this point you can again choose the "developer" option.

      A shame, then, that you are too stupid to be able to chose a menu option if you want google to do it for you.... I expect they'd laugh at you, but if you know any 5 year olds, they'll be able to help you out.

      1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

        Re: I wonder if Google

        Nope, you're still stuck in ChromeOS but now with a nag screen about security. To properly unlock a Chromebook you need to dis-assemble it, remove the write protect screw and re-assemble it.. This allows you to reflash the BIOS so you can install the OS of your choice.

        1. keithzg

          Huh? I've dual-booted every Chromebook I've had without any disassembly

          For one, you'd never flash the BIOS on a Chromebook, or really any modern laptop; most laptops use UEFI instead, while Chromebooks use Coreboot.

          For two, once you flip on the Developer option, you get the nag screen about security . . . and you can now boot from devices via a "Legacy Boot" option provided by a SeaBIOS instance shipped with the Coreboot firmware to boot other OSes. Every single Chromebook I've ever had, I've dual-booted with a standard Linux distro this way. I've never opened up any of them.

          There are also other ways, like packaging a Linux distro up as a ChromeOS image, and I also think many newer Chromebooks ship with a UEFI layer too that can be used in Developer mode? I've never tried either of those two approaches myself though.

          You only need to do any sort of screw removal if you want to actually flash your own copy of the firmware. Which matters for people who want 100% Free Software running on their hardware and thus want to flash Libreboot, or have some other very very geeky reason to want to run your own firmware on the board (ex. trying to add stuff so that Windows will deign to run on it), but not so much for anyone else.

          1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

            Re: Huh? I've dual-booted every Chromebook I've had without any disassembly

            Not all chromebooks have SeaBIOS.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I wonder if Google

        My question was about cutting the machine entirely free from Google. I wanted if possible a naked system without "developer option" at all. A simple yes or know would have been greatly appreciated but then you'd have sorely missed the chance to show your superior intelligence.

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: I wonder if Google


          And you never mentioned the developer option - if you knew it existed, you already knew the answer to your own question.

          You were not, therefore, asking a genuine question, you were basically trolling.

    3. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

      Re: I wonder if Google

      My Chromebook uses an Intel chip so I stuck Windows 10 on it. Went back to ChromeOS since it just starts up so much quicker if I want to just surf or read emails.

  3. Barry Rueger

    Linux for the win

    The more that I read stories like this the more happy I am to stay with Linux where I control my workspace.

    I cannot imagine returning to Microsoft, Google, or Apple. I much prefer not being locked down.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Linux for the win

      I agree. Given the direction that the offerings from Microsoft, Google, and Apple have gone or are going, I'd go with one of the unices (using the generic because I've begun transitioning from Linux to BSD) even if they weren't otherwise the best fit for my needs.

      Fortunately, they are the best fit for my needs anyway!

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Linux for the win

        Help me out here! i'm a freebsd diehard, but currently use an android desktop as my main system - I mostly use ssh in a terminal to the freebsd boxes, or can vnc to them if i want a freebsd desktop.

        And why? ...

        Any x11 unix desktops that have the option to ditch silly sidebar scrolling, instead using left mouse button - drag as scroll, with a long press left button to activate copy mode instead?

        This is the "android way" (plug a mouse into your android box)

        We don't all like mouse scroll wheels.

        chromeOS still works the "x11" way, except under android mode, which does it the "android" way. I'm hoping they'll integrate the android way into the main os.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Linux for the win

          I'm not quite sure what you're asking here... are you asking if there are any DEs that work like Android? If so, I'm afraid that I can't be of much help. I know that if the system is using X, you could configure it to behave mostly like that, but I'm unaware of any ready-to-go configurations.

          I have to assume that there are specific DEs that would work as you want, just because there's such a large variety of them. Perhaps someone else can be more helpful here.

          1. Ole Juul

            Re: Linux for the win

            ". . . are you asking if there are any DEs that work like Android?"

            Well there's, uh, Android. :)


            1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

              Re: Linux for the win

              Well, that's something I've used, but ideally I want the mouse interface native to the unix os.

              I've hacked up my arm android tv box to have a fuller unix experience, but it's not android I want, it's the interface!

              And to the downvoter, please respond to why you downvoted a question. I'd love to know where I've gone wrong - how else can I improve myself for you in future? I know... never mention downvotes!

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Linux for the win

                With X11, there is no "mouse interface native the unix os", assuming by "interface" you mean "consistent way of interpreting input from the mouse". Mouse events are handled and interpreted by the X11 client that currently has pointer focus - that can be the window manager or an application (or potentially the X11 root window, though in practice essentially everyone runs a window manager that intercepts events to the root window).

                Mouse behaviors for applications are thus up to the application itself. Where you get consistent behavior, it's because applications are using toolkits (SDKs or frameworks) which implement that behavior, often using hints from the window manager, or in today's overengineered X11 world, some other component.

                You could write a window manager that intercepts all mouse events, translates them as you prefer, and then forwards them to the window with pointer focus. That would have seemed an amusing exercise when I was 20; now it doesn't appeal, personally. I'd just suck it up and use the default behaviors.

                Of course that's assuming you're using X11. I have no interest in Wayland and no idea how it works. X11 was good enough for me in the '80s, and it's good enough now.

                1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
                  Thumb Up

                  Re: Linux for the win

                  Mouse events are handled and interpreted by the X11 client that currently has pointer focus - that can be the window manager or an application

                  Yes, I realise that, which is why I asked earlier in the thread if anyone knew of an environment for x11 that gives that functionality.

                  When he suggested "android-x86" my reply "ideally I want the mouse interface native to the unix os." was somewhat clumsy. I meant that I want to have this functionailty on a desktop on my unix os of choice (FreeBSD), not install something else (android-x86) to achieve it - that solution would be "accessing remote ssh and X sessions on FreeBSD over a desktop android", which is what I do already (albeit android-arm64)

                  You could write a window manager that intercepts all mouse events, translates them as you prefer, and then forwards them to the window with pointer focus

                  No, *I* couldn't! :-)

                  As for X, I've been using it since about 1992ish. I've used the "default behaviors" from CDE and openwindows on HP and Sun systems, to all sorts of window managers on FreeBSD, but if I find something that works *better* (which I did), then I'm going to want to use that! The default method works ok with a scroll-wheel, but for other reasons, I can't currently use one of them.

                  I too have no knowledge of Wayland, but would be willing to use it if I could get it to do what I want, and it still has the X functionality I find useful!

                  Cheers for the reply.. I upvoted. I guess your downvote was from a wayland fan :-)

          2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

            Re: Linux for the win

            Thanks for he reply. I'm just talking about the mouse action. I've used all sorts of desktops on X since CDE on sun and HP boxes, but I've not found any that allow you to hold down the left button, and then use the "mouse" to scroll. I tend to use an "airmouse keyboard" so on android, just by holding the left mouse button, I can scroll through the page just by moving the keyboard.

            Every x system I've used treats this operation as copy (with middle button as paste)

            On android, if you do want to copy, you hold the mouse buton down for a second without moving the mouse, and then it flicks into copy mode.

            It's so intuitive, I hate going back to X - copy/paste is used too infrequently to operate using such "prime" controls?

            1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

              Re: Linux for the win

              @Jamie Jones

              I'm stuck in the same boat - though my use case is a little different.

              I have a touchscreen tablet that came with Windows Ape, to quote Bombastic Bob[0]. Naturally, I run Linux on it. In touchscreen mode, I can't scroll at all, except if I use the scroll bar ... and you probably know how counterintuitive and frankly awful that is ... especially on a touchscreen, but even with a mouse, once one gets the hang of it.

              For about a year I ran Android-x86 on the tablet, with a Linux userland instance in a 'chroot' container. It was tablet heaven ... but the Linux container was an issue, because you couldn't have both X11 and Android's SurfaceFlinger running at the same time! So I (reluctantly) had to give up Android and install Linux + GNOME.

              It's terrible. But heck, at least touch scrolling works!

              You should definitely investigate how to use GNOME's touchscreen scroll support with a mouse (emulate a touchscreen using a mouse for GNOME). Either that or wait until Linux gets touch-friendly (a few decades after the day of Linux on the Desktop™ comes).

              For Firefox at least, there's an extension called Grab and Drag. That does the touch scrolling part, even with a mouse, while Chrome/ium natively supports touch scrolling, hold-to-copy, and back/forward gestures.


              [0] I still don't understand why people hate Windows 8.1. For the times you are really, really pressed into using Windows, it is quite the best version of Windows ever. Very stable, no slurp, very light, even lighter than 7.

              1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
                Thumb Up

                Re: Linux for the win

                Sorry for the delay - only just saw your post.

                Finally, someone who gets it! :-)

                Damn.. You nailed it.. Of course! The interface I am using is bascially "mouse emulation of touchscreen" - I should have described it that way in the first place!

                And yeah, of course!! - What I need to start looking for is mouse-aware touchscreen interfaces.

                Thanks, your reply has helped a lot. I've been approaching this the wrong way.

                And thanks also for the firefox/chrome info, though I haven't managed to get it to work like that on chromium-freebsd or chrome-chromebox. Maybe there's a setting somewhere...

                What would really be the game changer is an xterm that works that way 'terminal emulator' by jackpal on android and the ability to scroll quickly and easily through previous work is so much easier!

                "touch-drag scroll, and hold-to-copy" - just as nature intended!

                I owe you many pints!

                P.S. I can't get any of the x-servers to work on android either, but the vnc solution using this free vnc product ( is pretty good if you don't need hardware accelerated graphics

            2. Dave559

              Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling...

              @Jamie Jones: Possibly I'm misunderstanding you, but if you move the mouse pointer over to the position indicator in the window scroll bar, you can then click, hold, and drag on the position indicator to scroll the window contents in the way that it sounds like you want to do?

              (Although personally I do much prefer the scroll wheel: for windows with a lot of content, you can end up having to move the mouse quite a fair way up and down your desk if you were to use the scroll bar…)

              1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

                Re: Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling...

                Apologies for the delay - only just seen your reply.

                Yes, that's how I have to scroll when using an x11 interface. I agree with both your points:

                1) A scroll wheel is much easier.

                2) It's fiddly with lots of content using the scroll bar.

                I can't currently use a mouse with a scroll wheel, so I'm forced to use the scrollbar method as you describe.

                However, with android and a mouse, I suppose the best way to think about it is that it emulates a touchscreen - holding the left button down, moving the mouse is like dragging your finger along the screen at that point.

                So with android, I can quickly scroll any window just by click/hold the mouse anywhere on the window (even if not the active one), and also "fling" it (i.e a quick swipe action) to scroll quickly when navigating something big... doing a one click ("single touchscreen tap") to stop it. It's the best way I've ever experienced for navigating through a large page.

                If you have an android device, plug a usb mouse in and you'll see :-) - it's all "plug and play"

                It's far superior to scrollbars. Without a mouse-wheel, I'm not going to go back to "the old way!"


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Linux for the win

      Unfortunately, systemd is trying its hardest to bork Linux for the rest of us, as well… :-(

    3. Ian Johnston

      Re: Linux for the win

      I have Ubuntu almost everywhere - not a Wondows or Apple machine around - but I really like the Chromebook I bought for travelling. It's light and robust, the battery last for ever and being able to run Android apps is great. For anything complicated I use VNC through an SSG tunnel to my desktop at home. I wouldn't want only to have a Chromebook, but it works well for some things.

  4. ashdav

    More slurping

    From the article :

    "Another new feature is the ability to right-click a phone number in Chrome and send it to an Android phone. This requires enabling sync between the Chrome browser on both devices."

    Stay away.

    1. explodingzebras

      Re: More slurping

      You're an idiot. If you're already logged into Google anywhere they already have your info. Do you have Facebook, Microsoft, or Apple accounts? If yes to any of those then they have the same sort of info or more in the case of Facebook.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: More slurping

      That's not much change. If your using one of these, you're almost certainly signed into a Google account (I'm not sure whether they have made it mandatory or whether there's some pretense that you have the choice not to). They'll already collect anything and everything you see on that. I have a feeling that to sync laptop Chrome to Android Chrome, they expect both devices to be signed into the same accounts. If you've done that, you probably don't need Chrome sync on for Google to have collected anything and everything they can find on both devices. The Chromebook concept does not make much sense to me, but Google's intrinsic data collection inside everything they create made it definite that I will not be buying or even using one.

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: More slurping

        If your using one of these, you're almost certainly signed into a Google account (I'm not sure whether they have made it mandatory or whether there's some pretense that you have the choice not to).

        It appears to me it is mandatory to sign in even when using a third-party build of Chromium OS. At least for the installations I tested.

        I found that if one wants a 'no sign-in browser kiosk' set-up it's better to use a Raspberry Pi.

    3. Graham 32

      Re: More slurping

      KDE Connect can already do this for "tel:" links. Click the number in the browser and it offers to send it to your phone. There's a Gnome equivalent for those such inclined.

  5. Claverhouse Silver badge

    Really ?

    Why is this news ? It must be of only marginal interest to the tiny few who use Chrome OS; and none to everyone else. Linux has has Virtual Desktops for 2 decades --- I generally use 16 of them --- and even poor old Windows finally got them 4 years ago.

    One can generally predict that most generalist OSs will eventually conform to having the basic uses all their peers do.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Really ?

      even poor old Windows finally got them 4 years ago

      Long before that, actually. There were virtual-desktop utilities for XP, and you could do it way back in NT 4 (and I believe in NT 3) if you wanted to write the Desktop-switching code yourself.

      1. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Re: Really ?

        But not natively --- which is rather the point.

  6. Blackjack

    How to recycle your Chromebook

    GalliumOS is the best Linux distribution for it. Sometimes the trackpad doesn't work but just add an usb mouse and you are done.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GEM ? 1980s ?

    Didn't GEM offer virtual desktops ? Memory is hazy now, but pretty certain there was a GUI with 4-quarted panes in the mid 80s.

    Or was that OS/2 ?

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

      OS/2 only got virtual desktops with Warp in '96.

      Never used GEM, but according to Wikipedia GEM/2 was a tiling (no overlapping windows) GUI, with two fixed windows. That's not the same as virtual desktops. (There were a number of tiling GUIs in the '80s, such as the Cambridge Window Manager for X11, part of the Project Athena collection. They never caught on.)

      Apparently GEM/XM, from the mid-80s, did let you flip between multiple GEM and DOS applications and change which ones had screen real estate, so that was more or less a virtual-desktop system.

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

        I really wish I could remember, we had an Amstrad 1640 with GEM, and not certain whether windows could overlap or not, but this looks familiar:

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

          I do remember Gem 2 that came with Amstrad 1640.

          The 'Program Manager' windows/split were tiled and not movable, but the calculator and (what few) apps were. The Paint application that came with it I think was fullscreen only.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

            The Amstrad 1640 was, what, 1987ish?

            "but the calculator and (what few) apps were (movable)."

            Borland's Sidekick did that in '84. But it was a PIM, not multiple desktops.

      2. WallMeerkat

        Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

        The fixed windows was the result of Apple taking them to court, as GEM was basically an Apple System Finder clone. This hobbled the functionality a little, made it a little less Mac-like.

        If I recall the Atari ST TOS used GEM 1.x so was very mac-like.

        1. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

          Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

          > The fixed windows was the result of Apple taking them to court, as GEM was basically an Apple System Finder clone. This hobbled the functionality a little, made it a little less Mac-like.

          Same syndrome with early MSWindows.

          Apple launched same legal action against Microsoft to prevent copying their GUI (now: "UX"). Early demos of the big Windows upgrade (2->3) got leaked, hence the action.

          Win 3.0 was painful when released: nonoverlapping windows etc. Very obviously not Mac, your honour.

          MS lawyers bulldozed and won.

          Win 3.1 released almost immediately...

    2. Just Another SteveO

      Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

      GEM! I seem to remember (it’s a long time ago), pairing this with something from ‘Brown Bag Software’ to create a switching environment but it’s all hazy now - I do clearly remember though installing a 20MB Hard Card in my Amstrad PC1640 and wondering how I’d fill it. I also used to create a RAMDrive and run programs in there for maximum speed, given it was a 640K machine with some memory above that, could you imagine doing that with the size of programs today? Admittedly I was using the WordPerfect stuff then (and DataPerfect if I remember right). God, I’m old.....

      1. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

        Re: GEM ? 1980s ?

        > I also used to create a RAMDrive and run programs in there for maximum speed

        Yeah, I gotta say, the fastest user-responsiveness I've ever had was the early 90s: an old-even-then MacPlus with RamDisk (init/cdev which auto'ly loaded System into RAM and switched to it on-the-fly (something MacOS had builtin: just hold down Option key and doubleclick on the new System to run)) on System 6.0.4. (6.0.8?)

        Chuck your apps into the ramdisk (2secs work in Mac OS, literally just chuck them in) and it ran slicker than anything I've ever used since.


        Software bloat beats Hardware eyewateringness.

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