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Google confirms virtual desktop support will eventually arrive on Chromebooks

Google Pixel Slate Hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

In its current incarnation, Chrome OS — which is found on devices like Google’s Pixelbook and Pixel Slate — is already a capable multitasking machine with access to a desktop-class browser, Android apps, and inking capabilities. In the future, though, Chrome OS will be an even stronger multitasker and an even more competent competitor to Apple’s MacOS and Microsoft’s Windows operating systems, as Google has confirmed that it is exploring adding a new virtual desktop feature to its operating system.

During an interview with Android Police, Kan Liu, Chrome OS product manager, said virtual desktops “are on the road map” for a future version of Chrome OS, but he did not give a timeline for when users can expect the feature to arrive. Currently, Chrome OS allows users to see all their opened windows in an Overview mode, similar to the Expose feature in MacOS or Windows Task View. The opened windows and tabs, however, cannot be grouped together into a virtual desktop.

Virtual desktops could help users organize their workflows, giving them an uncluttered view of their desktop as they juggle multiple tasks. The feature, common on modern consumer desktop operating systems like MacOS and Windows, allows users to group opened applications into any number of virtual desktops, and users can switch between these virtual desktops to be able to multitask while also being able to focus on their workflow.

In addition to virtual desktops, Liu also mentioned how Google could use its expertise with artificial intelligence to help users stay productive. Though the Google Assistant has been useful in delivering information — like weather and stocks updates — Google is also looking into ways to make its digital assistant more proactive.

“For example, if you’re working on a major project, the Assistant could know every email, calendar appointment, file, and relevant contact you’d need, providing the necessary tools and information to pick up right where you left off,” Android Police reported, though the publication noted that at this time, an advanced Assistant is in its conceptual phase. “It could be tied to a voice command, or contextually aware of something like location or time of day.”

Though it remains unclear when these features will arrive, virtual desktops and a more intelligent assistant could help Google position Chromebooks as a stronger alternative to devices like Apple’s MacBook Air and Microsoft’s Surface Go and Surface Pro 6.

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