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Windows 8 Feature Focus: Switcher

In addition to the classic Windows Flip (ALT + TAB) application switching technique that’s been in Windows for decades, Windows 8 adds new touch- and mouse-based application switching capabilities that work across all of the system’s Metro- and desktop-based experiences. One of these new application switching features is called Switcher, and it provides a handy way to switch between apps whether you’re using a mouse, keyboard, or touch.

In its mouse-based usage mode, Switcher relies on the same “hot corner” functionality that both the Start tip and Back tip use. In fact, it uses exactly the same hot corners: You must first engage either the Start tip or the Back tip before you can see and use Switcher. So the basic pattern is to move the mouse cursor to the top or bottom left corner of the screen and then guide it along that edge of the screen towards the middle. As you do, Switcher appears:


To enable Switcher with the keyboard, use the shortcut WINKEY + TAB. (This replaces the Windows Flip 3D interface from Windows Vista and 7. Sorry, Flip 3D fans.)

The touch-based approach to Switcher is decidedly more difficult. You swipe in from the left edge of the screen and when the previous app thumbnail appears, swipe subtly back to the left. If you do it just right, Switcher appears.

Switcher usage is fairly obvious. To switch to another app, simply select the app’s thumbnail in the Switcher list. Note that individual desktop applications do not receive individual thumbnails in the list; instead you’ll see a single thumbnail for the entire desktop environment. If you wish to switch to a particular desktop application, Windows Flip (again, ALT + TAB) still provides that capability.

Switcher works a bit differently if you use it with the mouse or touch. That is, with these interfaces, Switcher will remain docked on the side of the screen until you select something, whereas with the keyboard it’s transient and disappears as soon as you release a key (or select something). So you gain a couple of additional capabilities if you use Switcher with the mouse or touch.

First, you can remove an app from the list of running apps and thus close or quit it. (This works only with Metro-style apps of course.) To do so, grab the app thumbnail and drag it out of Switcher and down to the bottom of the screen. Poof, it’s gone.

Second, you can use Switcher to engage the new Snap screen-sharing feature of Windows 8. There are a few different ways to accomplish this, but the easiest, perhaps, is to right-click the app you wish to snap in the Switcher and choose either “Snap left” or “Snap right” in the menu that appears.


As you do, the app will snap to the appropriate screen side.


I’ll discuss Snap in a future Feature Focus, of course.

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