Windows 10 Tip: Switch Between Open Apps and Desktops

Windows 10 Tip: Switch Between Open Apps and Desktops

Task switching made easy and more consistent

In previous versions of Windows, ALT + TAB ("Windows Flip"), WINKEY + TAB ("Switcher," "Windows Flip 3D") and their touch-based equivalents were used to quickly switch between running apps. These shortcuts and actions are still available in Windows 10, though they've changed and improved yet again.

ALT + TAB dates back decades, though in Windows Vista this keyboard shortcut was retroactively renamed to Windows Flip, a term that few people probably remember, let alone use. But the theory has always been the same: Using a UI that evolved only somewhat over the years, you can hold down on the ALT key and then tap TAB repeatedly to switch between the available running applications, using on-screen thumbnails. When you find the one you wish to switch to, just let go of both keys.

In Windows 8, Microsoft added an edge swipe alternative to Windows Flip, letting users flip between running apps by swiping from the left edge of the screen. With this form of app switching, you simply keep swiping until the app you wish is displayed on the screen.

In Windows 10, these interactions have evolved yet again. The ALT + TAB keyboard shortcut works much like it did before, but the app thumbnails are now much larger.

And the edge swipe—which was further confused in Windows 8 by being overloaded by a Switcher interface described below—no longer has an ALT + TAB connection. Instead, it works as does WINKEY + TAB only. So let's look at that next.

In Windows Vista, Microsoft added WINKEY + TAB as an alternative to ALT + TAB. Dubbed Windows Flip 3D at the time, it provided a neat effect that utilized Vista's hardware acceleration capabilities.

Windows Flip 3D disappeared in Windows 8 and was replaced by Switcher and the new edge swipe interfaces. So if you hold down WINKEY and tap TAB, the Switcher UI pops up on the left edge of the screen. Subsequent taps of TAB will move the focus to other running (Modern) apps, but not the desktop, which is confusing. Let go of both keys to switch to the current selected app, as before.

Switcher is on the left

This form of app switching was further complicated by the fact that the left edge swipe in Windows 8 is overloaded. A "full" swipe in from the left edge of the screen switches to the next app in the "app stack" as noted above, and is an alternative to ALT + TAB. But you can also do a partial swipe—one of the most difficult gestures in Windows 8—and bring up the Switcher UI if you do it just right. Then you can tap the app you wish to switch to. So it's an alternative to WINKEY + TAB too.

But not in Windows 10.

If you type WINKEY + TAB in Windows 10, or swipe in from the left edge of the screen, you will see the new Task View, which will stay onscreen if you let go of the keys, a big difference from before. This interface combines the thumbnail-based app selection/switching capabilities with the new multiple desktops feature, so you can switch between both apps and desktops. (And can otherwise add and manage those desktops too.)

There's even a mouse-based way to activate this screen: Click (or tap) the new Task View button in the taskbar. This is a special button, like Start and Search, that is part of the taskbar and not something you can add or remove. (Or move.)

These interfaces are only the tip of the multitasking iceberg in Windows 10. I'll look at other aspects of this functionality—include new Snap features like Snap Assist and the new keyboard shortcuts—in future tips.

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