How to juggle multiple apps in Windows

Learn how to rely on keyboard maneuvers and mouse movements to better manage multiple apps in Windows.

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Image: Getty Images

Windows lends itself to multitasking. But sometimes the more apps and windows you open, the more cluttered and confusing your screen becomes, defeating the whole point of multitasking.

There are ways to manage and bring order to multiple apps floating about your screen. You can use various keyboard shortcuts to switch from one app to another. You can position all your open windows by stacking or cascading them. You can also use Snap Assist to better position each window by snapping it into place.

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First, open several apps and windows in Windows—don't worry about organizing or positioning them just yet. To start, you can easily bounce from one app to another through the Alt+Tab keyboard shortcut. Hold down the Alt key and press tab to see thumbnails of all your open apps and windows. Each time you press the tab key, the cursor moves to the next open window. Release the key when the cursor is on the app you want to access (Figure A).

The downside with the Alt+Tab shortcut is that you must keep holding down the Alt key to cycle through the thumbnails. To keep the thumbnails on the screen, press Ctrl+Alt+Tab. You can now remove your finger from the Alt key and click on whichever app you wish to open.

Figure A

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Another way to see all your open apps is to jump into Task View where you can access the Windows Timeline to boot. Hold down the Win key and press tab to enter Task View. You'll see all your open windows at the top of the screen. From there, click on the thumbnail for the window you wish to access. You can also move from one thumbnail to another by using the arrow keys and then pressing Enter when the cursor is on the app you want to see. From here, you can scroll down the Timeline to gain access to files you've worked with over the past 30 days. Press Esc to exit Task View or Timeline (Figure B).

Figure B

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Want to be able to see your desktop amidst all the clutter of open windows? Easy enough with the Peek feature. Move your cursor to the lower right corner of the screen, and let it rest there for a second. Your desktop appears, allowing you to peek at it. Move your cursor, and the desktop vanishes. Another way to peek at the desktop is to press Win + the comma key.

To keep your desktop visible, click on the same area at the lower right corner of the screen, and now it stays on the screen. Click on the same button, and your previous windows and layout return. A second way to show and hide the desktop is to press Win+D. A third way is to right-click on the Taskbar and select Show The Desktop to display it and then select Show Open Windows to hide the desktop.

If Peek is not working, then it may be disabled. To check, go to Settings and select Personalization. Click the entry for Taskbar and turn on the switch to Use Peek to preview the desktop when you move your mouse to the Show Desktop button at the end of the taskbar.

You can arrange your open windows in one of several ways. One option is to cascade them, which places one behind another but with enough space visible of each window so you can click on any one to access it. Right-click on the Taskbar and select the entry for Cascade Windows from the popup menu. All your open windows line up one in front of the other. Click on the title bar or other accessible areas of an app or window you wish to access (Figure C).

Figure C

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To exit cascade mode, right-click on the Taskbar and select Undo Cascade All Windows.

Another way to arrange your open windows is to stack them. Stacking puts your open windows into columns, with one window placed vertically on top of another. But the arrangement depends on how many windows are open and the size of your monitor. Right-click on the taskbar and select the entry for Show Windows Stacked. All windows are arranged one on top of the other (Figure D).

Figure D

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To exit stacked mode, right-click on the Taskbar and select Undo Show All Windows Stacked.

Next, you can view your windows side-by-side. This is similar to stacking them, but here the windows are arranged more as rows. Again, the layout for this will vary based on how many apps are open and the size of your monitor. You may see little or no difference between stacked view and side-by-side view. Right-click on the Taskbar and select Show Windows Side By Side. Your open windows display in rows one next to the other (Figure E).

Figure E

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To exit side-by-side mode, right-click on the Taskbar and select Undo Show All Windows Side By Side.

Finally, one of the most useful tools for organizing open windows is Snap Assist. With Snap Assist, you can precisely line up open windows so they each take up a specific area of the screen. Snap Assist is an effective way to display two windows side-by-side, especially if your screen is cluttered with multiple windows.

Choose one of the windows you want to display. To snap it to the right, hold it down by the title bar and move it all to the right until you see a faint vertical bar down the middle of the screen. Then release your mouse. You can also snap it to the left side of the screen. Alternatively, press Win+Right Arrow Key to snap it to the right, and Win+Left Arrow Key to snap it to the left. The other side of the screen will display thumbnails for all your other open windows. Just click on the window for the app that you want to display side-by-side with the first window (Figure F).

Figure F

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You can also snap three and even four windows. To snap three windows, pick the first app you want to display. Press Win+Right Arrow Key to snap it to the right and then press Win+Up Arrow Key to snap it to the upper right. Pick the second app. Press Win+Right Arrow Key to snap it to the right and then press Win+Down Arrow Key to snap it to the lower right. From the thumbnails on the left, click the app you want to see in the left side.

To snap four windows, pick the first app you want to display. Press Win+Right Arrow Key to snap it to the right and then press Win+Up Arrow Key to snap it to the upper right. Pick the second app. Press Win+Right Arrow Key to snap it to the right and then press Win+Down Arrow Key to snap it to the lower right. From the thumbnails on the left, click one of the apps you want to snap in the left side and then press Win+Up Arrow Key to snap it to the upper left. Click the thumbnail for the app that you want to snap to the lower left.

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By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books—one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.