Kwin – Changing Virtual Desktops

One of the greatest usability features of the linux desktop over the years has been the use of virtual desktops. Virtual desktops allow you to have greater visibility of multiple open windows by spreading them across different virtual desktops. They also allow you to group related tasks in different virtual desktops. However, this flexibility and power comes with a cost. It’s always been tricky to change desktops, or find a particular application on a desktop and change to that application. However, the new kwin desktop effects provide a number of features which allow for better navigation of virtual desktops.

Desktop Corners

The first step to taking advantage of kwin’s usability features is to setup your screen corners. Kwin lets you allocate actions to particular screen corners, so when you flick your mouse pointer into that corner, the action is triggered. This makes it really easy to access navigation tools with the flick of a mouse. To set these up, open the Configure Desktop application and go to the Desktop section, then the Screen Edges page. There you will find the following page:

If you click on the corners of the screen, you can add an action to each corner. I have it set up so that Desktop Grid is assigned to the top right corner. The top left corner is assigned the action Present Windows – All Desktops. The bottom right corner is assigned Present Windows – Current Desktop. Click apply and you’re done. Obviously, you can set these up as you wish.

The Grid Effect

The desktop grid effect provides a very visual way of organising and viewing windows on your virtual desktops. It simply shows you all virtual desktops in a grid and then displays all windows on each desktop using the present windows effect. This can be seen in the following video:

I activate the desktop grid by pushing my mouse into the top right corner. Once the grid starts, I can see all the windows I have open on all the desktops. I can then click on the window I want, and the screen will restore that desktop with the relevant window having focus. I can also move windows between desktops by dragging them. The grid effect shows a realtime view of the windows, so videos keep playing, and other updates to applications are displayed as they happen. This is very useful if you have a number of applications running different tasks – the grid effect allows you to watch all the windows at once, and monitor the progress of various tasks visually.

The Task Manager

The task manager also allows you to swap between applications on different desktops. If you have a number of applications open on different desktops, you can access each application by clicking on its button in the taskbar, and the screen should change to the relevant desktop to open the window, as in the following video:

The Mouse Wheel

The final way to navigate between desktops is to use the scroll wheel whilst your mouse is over the desktop. This should change to the next desktop using the relevant animation you’ve set in the basic desktop effects settings window: