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When the Windows 10 rumor mill started churning, out came the promise of native virtual desktops. That piqued the imaginations of many administrators, but the feature may not be what people were expecting.
When Windows 10 and the native virtual desktop feature were announced, there weren't many details available. All we had to go on was conjecture and a bit of hopeful anticipation. For many of us, expectations ran high and people believed that Microsoft was about to embark on a state-of-the-art virtualization journey that would turn Citrix and VMware on their heads.
We were wrong.
The new feature, officially dubbed Task View, has nothing to do with virtual machines (VMs) or virtual desktops or remote desktops or remote anything. It simply provides a way to organize running applications into logical workspaces. Some people -- such as those at Microsoft -- would call those workspaces virtual desktops. The idea is that Task View helps users multitask better and be more productive in the process.
You can hardly blame those of us confused by the native virtual desktop promise. It turns out that the term virtual desktop has several meanings. There is the virtual desktop as VDI admins know it, and there's also the logical workspace, like what we find with Task View. Thirdly, there's the notion of a virtual screen -- an image that spreads beyond the borders of the physical monitor. It's no wonder some of us had our hopes dashed with the promise of native virtual desktops in Windows 10.
The virtual promise
It's hard to say exactly what administrators were expecting with Window 10 in terms of the virtual desktop feature. We know that a virtual desktop is essentially an interface to an operating system that resides on a remote server. A client application runs on the user's desktop, providing a window into the virtual environment.
Although there are different ways to configure desktop virtualization, most implementations follow a host-based model. Users connect over the network to a remote system, either directly to the physical hardware or to VMs hosted on that hardware. The users can then interact with the remote environments just as they can with their own machines, except that the majority of the processing takes place on the server.
Some implementations follow a client-based model, where most of the processing occurs on the desktop. In this scenario, the operating system is streamed from a remote disk image and provides all the features of a local desktop, except for the hard drive.
Perhaps this is what many of us had in mind when the Windows 10 native virtual desktop rumors were first flying. Maybe we thought Microsoft would implement some type of fat client to better stream the OS -- or even a new and improved thin client that would make the virtual desktop more like the real thing.
Of course, that didn't happen. All we got is a chance to better organize our windows.
Moving beyond the virtual screen
It could be that some of those who tuned in to the early Windows 10 scuttlebutt were thinking native virtual desktop meant something closer to a virtual screen. The term virtual screen refers to a system's actual display area, as it extends beyond the limits of the physical monitor. For example, your monitor's resolution might max out at 1024x768, but you might configure a virtual screen on your desktop to support a resolution of 1920x1080. That gives you a larger viewable area than what your monitor can display.
You can scroll from one part of the virtual screen to another, which lets you have multiple windows open, such as two documents sitting side by side. You simply move your mouse or pointer beyond the monitor's edge to view one window or the other. You could also display your virtual screen across multiple monitors and treat them as a single desktop with one giant screen.
But that's also not what we're getting with Task View.
Windows 10 native virtual desktop
Task View lets you create logical workspaces for organizing your running applications. For example, you can run Word and Excel in Desktop One, Adobe InDesign and Acrobat Pro in Desktop Two, and Visual Studio in Desktop Three. You can still easily switch between applications, as with earlier Windows versions, but you can now also switch between desktops. And you can easily move applications from one desktop to the next.
Windows 10 is not the first operating system to offer a feature like this. Linux and Mac OS have had it for years. In addition, there are third-party products for implementing these kinds of virtual desktops in Windows, such as Dexpot. Often, the third-party options provide more features than what you'd get in Windows 10.
If logical workspaces were what you had in mind when you heard the Windows 10 virtual desktop hype, then you're in luck. Task View might not be up to par with some of the third-party products that have been doing this a lot longer, but it's free, and it promises to make life with the Windows desktop just a tad easier for some people.
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