How do you move the focus between open windows? There are several ways to do this, but I’ve noticed during one-to-one computer training sessions that most people are only aware of the method they already use. It could be, of course, that you are already using the method that suits you best, but let’s look at the options.

The Slowest Way

The very slowest way to move between open windows is to minimise one window and then restore the one you want next. “Minimising” is achieved by clicking on the “dash” icon in the top righthand corner of the window. This shrinks the window to just a name and/or icon and places it on the bottom row of the screen (known as the “Taskbar”). Clicking on a different icon on the taskbar will “restore” that window and make it the current one (ie the one in which the action will take place if you click the mouse or hit a key). A bit of computer advice: if this is how you are moving between windows then it will almost certainly pay you to learn a different method. Read on…

Better Than The Slowest Way

Just omit the “minimise” action in the method above. As soon as you click on an item in the Tasbar it will pop up and become the current window. The previously current window will then “move backwards” – probably out of sight. It can be recalled to the front just by clicking on its icon/thumbnail in the taskbar.

Escape Key (esc)The taskbar, by the way, is the row of easily-accessible icons presented at the edge of the screen. It is usually shown at the bottom of the screen but if you’re bored and looking for something to do you can click on a vacant part of it (ie a part where there are no icons) and drag it to a different edge of your screen. Something that’s marginally more useful to know about the taskbar is that you can make it bigger so as to accommodate more items. Very slowly move your mouse pointer over the inside edge of the taskbar (ie at the margin between the taskbar and the rest of the screen) and you will see the mouse pointer change to a double-headed arrow. When this happens you can then drag the edge of the taskbar inwards to give room for a second – or even third – row of icons. “Dragging”, by the way, means depressing the left mouse button and then moving the mouse (while the left button is still down).

A Very Popular Way – Alt Tab

Tab KeyDepress the key marked “Alt” (usually on the bottom row of the keyboard) and, while it is pressed, hit the “tab” key. The tab key is usually to the left of the “Q” key.

A display will pop up of all the open windows. In Windows XP and Vista the display will be of icons representing the open windows. In Windows 7 there are thumbnail views of the windows themselves and the “backdrop” of the screen you are looking at displays the currently selected window. Whichever operating system you are using, keep the Alt key down and press the Tab key several times. You will see a frame moving between the icons/thumbnails. As soon as you let go of the “Alt” key the currently selected (“framed”) program will come to the fore.

A Rather Silly Way – Windows Flip

Windows KeyIn Windows Vista and Windows 7, pressing the Windows key (usually on the bottom row of the keyboard and marked by some kind of representation of the Windows logo) and then the Tab key will pop up an angled view of the open Windows, stacked one in front of another. Repeated pressing of the Tab key moves different windows to the top of the stack. Letting go of the Windows button will then focus on whichever window is at the top of the pile.

Control Key (ctrl)If you want to get even sillier, hitting the Control key (usually marked “Ctrl”) at the same time as the Windows key, and then hitting the Tab key, will bring up the same 3-D view but it stays put if you let go of all the keys. You can then point the mouse and click on whichever Window you want. Apart from the fact that you have to hit 3 different keys at the same time, you also have to grab the mouse, work out which window you want, and then click on it. Thank you, Microsoft.

Often The Quickest Way – Alt Esc

Alt KeyIf you depress the “Alt” key, and keep it down, then repeated presses of the “Esc” key (usually in the top lefthand corner of the keyboard) will take you from one open window to the next. As soon as you see the window you want just let go of the Alt key.

When I am providing computer support and training I try to avoid jargon that doesn’t mean anything to normal people. Nevertheless, we can’t avoid new concepts when learning about computers and some of these entail words with specific meanings. It really is worth getting to grips with concepts and words such as taskbar, minimising, maximising, open windows.

Although this blog is about moving efficiently between open windows, it describes uses of several different keys that aren’t the standard letters and numbers. If you’d like to know more about the different parts of the keyboard you might like to look at these previous blogs:

Of Toggles And Missing Favorites 
Basic Keyboard Shortcuts 
What Are The Function Keys For? 
More Key Explanations 

Remote Support may be suitable for this topic

When I train clients who are new to computers, I like to mention keyboard shortcuts. The basic facts I like to get across at this stage are:

  • keyboard shortcuts are a matter of choice – they are an alternative way of achieving something that can be done with the mouse
  • there are far too many of them to learn all at once, so don’t even try
  • a few shortcuts are very useful as they work in the same way in most programs and are often used

The common ones I mention first are:
Ctrl a = Select all (eg all the text of a document or every file in a listing)
Ctrl c = copy (put a copy of whatever is currently selected into a memory area called the “clipboard”)
Ctl v = paste (put a copy of whatever is in the clipboard into the current cursor location)
Ctrl x = delete (delete whatever is currently selected from the current location but put it in the clipboard)

Note that these shortcuts are executed by depressing the key marked “Ctrl” (the “Control” key) and then, while the Control key is down, touching the letter that goes with it (eg a,c,v,x). These commands can also usually be carried out by right-clicking on the mouse and then selecting the relevant command that appears on the “context menu” that pops up.

I usually advise my trainees not to worry too much about shortcuts to begin with as there are probably more urgent things to learn, but that if they find themselves repeating what seems to be an awkward task there may be a shortcut for it, so it’s worth looking.

The moral here, though, is that I should practise what I preach. A few days ago I was having a phone conversation with a fairly novice trainee and it was important that she could navigate back to her desktop so that we could then start a remote control session. No way could she get to the desktop. It started to get quite frustrating. If only I’d remembered that there’s a shortcut for getting back to the desktop wherever you are. Simply depress the windows key (the one with the Windows logo on – see image) and then press d. Easy. Repeating the command takes you back where you were before.Winkey

So, I think I’ll run an occasional item on this blog of a few useful shortcuts at a time that it may be worth committing to memory (assuming your memory is better than mine).

In the meantime, you can find a full list of shortcut keys that use the Windows key at

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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