Windows comes with hundreds of default keyboard shortcuts. However, there are only few shortcuts that works on all machines and people use as part of their daily routine. Alt + Tab is one such keyboard shortcut in Windows to switch apps. If you are using Alt + Tab for years, here are some tips to make your life much easier.
Default Alt + Tab Function
When pressing Alt + Tab keys, Windows XP and earlier versions used to show simple icons of open windows in the app switcher. However, this was changed in later Windows versions and currently you can view open windows with large thumbnail previews. The preview includes all windows including those minimized to taskbar. You can hold the alt key and then press tab to cycle through the apps from left to right direction.
Alt + Tab Tricks and Alternatives
Here are some of the alternatives and tricks to traditional Alt + Tab keyboard shortcut.
1. Win + Tab for Task View
Pressing Win + Tab keys is the best alternate option which will open Task View. If you open Task View by clicking on the icon in the taskbar, hereafter you can use Win + Tab shortcuts for that purpose. This the best option instead of using Alt + Tab from accessibility point of view as you do not need to hold down any keys. After pressing Win + Tab, use the arrow keys to navigate through the apps and press space bar to select any window. Task View also shows your virtual desktops, and you can jump from open windows to desktops and vice versa using tab key.
2. Disable Edge Tabs in Alt + Tab App Switcher
By default, Alt + Tab app switcher will show each Microsoft Edge tab as a separate window. However, it only shows the active tab from other browsers like Chrome in a single window. In Windows 11, you have an option to disable Edge tabs showing as separate thumbnails in app switcher.
- Press “Win + I” keys to open Windows Settings app.
- Navigate to “System” section and open “Multitasking” option.
- Click on the dropdown against “Alt + Tab” setting and select “open windows only” option. This will show Edge as a single window though you have multiple tabs opened in the browser. You can also choose to show all, 5 or 3 recent tabs from Edge in separate windows.
3. Alt + Tab + Shift for Navigating in Reverse Direction
As mentioned, you can hold the alt key and press tab key to cycle through apps from left to right direction. However, if you want to go back to the previous app you need to press tab many times before reaching the app. Or press Alt + Tab again to start over from the beginning. The solution is to use Alt + Tab + Shift keys to cycle through apps in opposite direction that is from right to left. You can start with Alt + Tab keys and when you want to go back to the previous app hold shift (along with already holding alt key) and then press tab. This will help you to cycle through the app from right to left direction.
4. Use Arrow Keys with Alt + Tab
If you have any difficulty in using the tab for moving through apps, you can use the right and left arrow keys for navigation. First, press Alt + Tab to view all open windows and the use right or left arrow keys instead of tab or shift + tab. When the window is highlighted, simple leave the alt key to open that window.
5. Use Mouse with Alt + Tab for Easy Selection
Do you know that you can use mouse with Alt + Tab shortcuts for selecting the window? In addition, you can hover over any open window and click on the close icon to close that window without opening.
6. Alt + Control + Tab to Select App without Holding Alt Key
The problem with Alt + Tab shortcut is that you still need to hold the alt key while pressing tab. If you leave the alt key the app switcher will be closed, and the highlighted app will open. This may be annoying especially when you need to hold the right alt key on your keyboard. The solution is to use Alt + Control + Tab shortcuts to open the app switcher as a static view like Task View. In this case, after pressing the shortcuts you do not need to hold any keys and use tab, shift + tab or arrow keys to navigate and select the required window.
You can also use the mouse for selecting or closing any open app. The advantage here is that after closing an open app, the app switcher will remain open for you to select the app. You can select any app or press escape to close the app switcher.
7. Esc to Avoid Switching
Another problem with Alt + Tab is that after pressing the shortcut you should select a window to open. Otherwise, the app switcher will open the highlighted window and you need to start over from the beginning to open the window that you were previously working. You can easily avoid this by simply pressing the escape key. When the app switcher is open, continue to hold alt key and press escape key. This will close the app switcher and go back to the app which you were working before.
8. Customize Alt Tab App Switcher in Windows 10
If you like to use the latest app switcher but want to customize the appearance, then you need to follow few registry hacks. This works only in Windows 10 where the Alt + Tab app switcher shows larger thumbnails not in full screen. In this case, you can change the transparency effect, hide background app window, and dim the background.
- Search and open Registry Editor and go to the path Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer
- Right click on “Explorer” folder and create a new key and name it as “MultitaskingView”.
- Again, right click on the newly created “MultitaskingView” folder and create another key with a name “AltTabViewHost”.
- Right click on the right pane and create a new DWORD with 32-bit value.
- Name the DWORD as “BackgroundDimmingLayer_percent”. Now, double click on the DWORD and change the value data between 0 to 100. It controls the background dimming from 0 to 100%.
- Similarly, create two more DWORD with the names as “Grid_backgroundPercent” and “Wallpaper”.
- Assign the value from 0 to 100 and 1 for the keys respectively. It should look like below in your registry editor.
- Restart your computer and check the app switcher has new appearance as per your customizations.
9. Use Classic Alt + Tab
Some users do not like the full screen overlaying app switcher and want to use classic Windows XP style. You can either use the old app switcher temporarily or permanently setup as explained in this article. Microsoft also probably will disable the full screen overlaying effect as it does not work properly with touchscreen.
10. Third-Party Apps for Alt + Tab
Finally, there are third-party apps to tweak the app switcher and customize other options in Windows 11. You can use third-party apps like AltPlusTab or Winaero Tweaker to customize the appearance of Alt + Tab app switcher.