Chrome OS is a step closer to finally receiving its own virtual desktops, based on a recently spotted commit pushed through and merged in the Chromium Gerrit code repository. The new code lays out a simplistic "initial scaffolding" for a multi-desktop feature called Virtual Desks.
That's still basic for now, only ensuring that the underlying premise works properly. The code adds a bar meant to house thumbnail or icon representations of individual desktops. It also adds a 'New Desk' button that's currently not coded out to do anything useful and moves gesture and mouse overview handling from a 'pre-target handler in WallpaperView to ShieldView'.
What is a virtual desktop?
A virtual desktop is typically referred to as a way to separate out applications and windows into groups, effectively creating multiple workspaces. For example, a user might open up tabs and apps for work but find that there are too many to have open all at once. Virtual desktops allow users to emulate a multiple display setup through software as a solution to that.
Rather than having multiple hardware displays and simply looking from one to the other when needed, users effectively map tabs, windows, and apps onto separated desktops and then switch between them using UI. That allows all of the necessary elements to remain open and accessible without having to dig through icons on the launcher.
The visual representation of the new feature for Chrome OS seems to point to the above-outlined specific use of the term 'virtual desktop'. With that said, the commit currently doesn't provide specifics for how the feature will work either and that isn't the only solution that the term could apply to. Less commonly, a virtual desktop can also refer to a cloud computing environment providing virtual access to another computer.
In effect, a virtual desktop can refer a solution that gives users with high-speed internet access to much more powerful hardware or a virtual representation of that on a server.
While the first usage of virtual desktops is far more common — and, by proxy, more likely — isn't immediately clear which usage Google's code here is aiming for since Chrome OS is widely regarded as a cloud-first platform. Google has dabbled with cloud computing before, most recently for its project streaming Assassin's Creed Odyssey to low-power machines and in its long-rumored 'Yeti' streaming gaming platform.
However unlikely it may be, the new commit could feasibly point to a similar solution for common non-gaming high-intensity computing tasks.
Incoming but not soon
The feature is not currently found in the official Chrome OS release schedule's list of incoming changes for Chrome 73. That version's release is currently less than a month away — set for March 12– and this is still a very early build. That means that Virtual Desks aren't likely to arrive anytime soon and shouldn't be expected until at least Chrome version 74.
There isn't a scheduled launch date for that version of Chrome 74, which only just recently moved to the most buggy beta version in the Canary Channel. Depending on how the feature is ultimately implemented, it may not arrive in Chrome 74 at all, which might ultimately push the feature out into the second half of the year.