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Organize open windows in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

How to organize open windows in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 - cascade, stack and show side by side; Flip3D and snapping

By . Last modified: 2014-04-22.

When you have several programs open, they tend to overlap and hide information you need to see. You can close programs (and Modern UI/Metro-style apps in Windows 8 and 8.1) using keyboard shortcut Alt+F4 .
In Windows 8 and later, you can also close Windows Store/Modern apps by moving your mouse to the top of screen and dragging the app all the way down, or acting the same way with your pen or finger on touch-enabled devices.
Windows 8.1 without Update enables shutting down Modern UI apps with keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Arrow Down; in Windows 8.1 with Update, this minimizes the current app instead.

In Windows 8.1, you can quickly restart an app by dragging it down and then holding for a few seconds. When the app icon starts spinning, drag the icon back to top.

In all versions of Windows, you can use keyboard shortcut ALT+TAB to scroll forwards through open program windows and Desktop or use Alt+SHIFT+TAB to cycle backwards. Release the keys to bring the currently selected window to front.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, this cycles through open Desktop programs (not Modern UI/Metro apps) only.
In Windows 8.1 Update (available since 8th of April, 2014), the keyboard shortcut lists all running Desktop programs and Windows Store apps.

In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, you can cycle through open windows only (excluding the minimized ones and Modern apps) with keyboard shortcut ALT+ESC.

Windows Vista and 7 include Flip 3D that shows previews of windows and Desktop in three-dimensional style. Use keyboard shortcut WINDOWS KEY+TAB to scroll forwards through open windows or Windows Key+SHIFT+TAB to cycle to backwards. Release keys to bring currently selected window to front.
If you don't want to hold down WINDOWS KEY while cycling through windows, use keyboard shortcut CTRL+WINDOWS KEY+TAB to activate Persistent Flip 3D. Now you can use both arrow keys or TAB and SHIFT+TAB combination to cycle through windows. Press ENTER key to bring the currently selected window to front.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, the previous shortcut keys cycle through open Modern UI apps (not Desktop programs), Start screen and the Desktop only. 

Windows 8 and 8.1 users can also cycle open Modern UI (Metro) apps, Start screen and Desktop by moving mouse pointer to the top left of screen and clicking the small preview windows that appears. Moving pointer downwards to the small rectangle on the left edge opens full list of running Modern UI apps.
Touch screen users can swipe in from the left edge of screen to cycle between open Modern UI apps and the Desktop. This is called App switching. To reveal a full list of open apps, swipe in from the left edge and drag back to the left a little without lifting the finger.
Windows 8, move mouse pointer to top left of screen to switch between open Metro apps and Desktop.

Windows Vista users have easy access to Flip3D on Quick Launch Bar - the Switch between windows button.
Windows Vista, Switch between windows (Flip3D) on Quick Launch Bar

And this is how Flip3D and cycling through Metro apps look like:
Windows Vista, Flip3D Windows 8, keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Tab cycles through open Metro apps and the Desktop

This all is good for displaying only one window at a time, but sometimes it is necessary to see two or three or four or even more windows, all at the same time. The effectiveness of this depends, of course, on your screen/display resolution - the higher the screen resolution (for example, 1440 x 900 is higher than 1024 x 768), the more information you can see. Screen resolution is always width in pixels x height in pixels.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, most of the following applies to Desktop applications only.
In Windows 8, you can display two Metro/Modern UI-style apps side by side, but only if display resolution is set to at least 1366 x 768.
In Windows 8.1, you can snap two apps side by side even at 1024 x 768 resolution, and up to four apps on high-resolution displays (2560 x 1440, for example).
Window snapping in Windows 8 and 8.1 is covered in the end of current article.
Remember, to simulate mouse right-click on touch screens, touch and hold.

Cascading open windows

You can always try cascading windows first. Cascading aligns all open windows so that you can always return to any open window by clicking on its Title bar or any corner you can see.

To cascade windows, right-click on an empty area of Taskbar and click Cascade Windows on the menu:
Windows XP, Taskbar right-click menu. To cascade all open windows, click Cascade Windows. Windows Vista, Taskbar right-click menu. To cascade all open windows, click Cascade Windows.

This command aligns them like in picture below. As you can see, you can always click on any of Title bars to activate a window and bring it to front.
If you don't like cascade, you can right-click on an empty area of Taskbar again and click on Undo Cascade command.
Windows 7, open windows cascaded

Showing windows side by side / Tiling windows horizontally

To tile open windows horizontally, right-click on an empty Taskbar area and choose Tile Windows Horizontally (in Windows XP) or Show Windows Side by Side (in Windows Vista, 7 and 8).
Windows XP, Taskbar right-click menu. To tile all open windows horizontally, click Tile Windows Horizontally. Windows Vista, Taskbar right-click menu. To tile all open windows horizontally, click Show Windows Side by Side.

In case you need to undo the operation, right-click on an empty Taskbar area again and choose Undo Tile or Undo Show Side by Side.

Here are windows tiled horizontally, or side by side.
Windows XP, windows tiled horizontally or side by side.

Showing windows stacked / Tiling windows vertically

To tile windows vertically, right-click on an empty Taskbar area and click Tile Windows Vertically (in Windows XP) or Show Windows Stacked (in Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1).
Windows XP, Taskbar right-click menu. To tile all open windows vertically, click Tile Windows Vertically. Windows Vista, Taskbar right-click menu. To tile all open windows vertically, click Show Windows Stacked.

In picture below three windows are stacked, or tiled vertically. You can undo the operation by right-clicking Taskbar and choosing Undo Tile or Undo Show stacked.
Windows Vista, windows stacked or tiled vertically.

When you have more than two windows open, the effect of tiling depends on your screen resolution. I have 1024 x 768 (width in pixels x height in pixels) resolution and such small resolution makes most of windows' contents unusable.
If you have more than three windows open, it does not really matter whether you tile windows horizontally or vertically - the result will look the same.
Windows Vista, more than 3 open windows will look the same whether showing them stacked or side by side.

Minimizing all open windows

When you need to minimize all open program windows, you can click the Show desktop button on the Quick Launch Bar (in Windows XP and Windows Vista). In Windows 7 and later, the button is on the very right of Taskbar's Notification area (aka System Tray).
Windows XP, to minimize all open windows, click the Show Desktop button on Quick Launch Bar. Windows Vista, to minimize all open windows, click the Show Desktop button on Quick Launch Bar. Windows 7, to minimize all open windows, click the Show Desktop button to the right of time and date in Taskbar Notification area.

You can also right-click on an empty Taskbar area and choose Show the Desktop. You can also use keyboard shortcut WINDOWS KEY+D for this. Keyboard shortcut Windows Key+M minimizes all open windows and Windows Key+Shift+M restores these.
Windows XP, to minimize all open windows, right-click on Taskbar and click Show the Desktop.

Moving and sizing open windows in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1

Windows 7 added several very useful keyboard shortcuts that are also available in Windows 8/8.1. If you need to minimize all other windows except for the one you're using, press WINDOWS KEY+HOME or click and hold left button of your mouse on a window's Title Bar and just shake the window. Cool, huh? Cool

If you want to see two windows side by side, you can also select a window and press WINDOWS KEY+Left ARROW KEY to move the active window to the left part of screen. Using the shortcut keys again restores the window's previous size and position. You can also drag the window to the left side of screen with mouse.
Naturally, press WINDOWS KEY+Right ARROW KEY for an active window to move it to the right part of screen. Or use your mouse to drag the window to the right side of screen. Smile
Windows 7, to move a window to the left part of screen, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Left Arrow key.

Pressing WINDOWS KEY+UP ARROW KEY maximizes current window. You can achieve the same by dragging the window to the very top of the screen with mouse.
To restore window's previous size, press WINDOWS KEY+DOWN ARROW KEY or drag the window down a bit with mouse. Pressing WINDOWS KEY+DOWN ARROW KEY again minimizes the window.

Working with multiple displays in Windows 7 and later

If you have multiple monitors, you can move Desktop program windows between them. Use WINDOWS KEY+SHIFT+LEFT ARROW KEY to move a window to the left monitor and WINDOWS KEY+SHIFT+RIGHT ARROW KEY to move a window to the right monitor.

In Windows 8, Start screen opens on your default display until you open a Modern UI app and move it to secondary screen. After this, all modern apps and Start screen open on that screen. Please note that this works only until you log off or restart your PC.
In Windows 8.1, you can force Start screen to appear on primary display only. Just right-click on Taskbar, select Properties, open Navigation tab and tick the Always show Start on my main display when I press the Windows logo key combo box.

Organizing Modern UI-style apps in Windows 8 and 8.1

In Windows 8, above instructions work only if you're using Desktop applications. All new Modern UI/Metro-style apps can be displayed only side by side, but just two at a time. One of these apps always takes about two thirds of screen estate. You cannot snap two windows of the same app (for example, two Internet Explorer windows) side by side.
You also need to set screen resolution to at least 1366 x 768 for the following to work. If display resolution is lower, only one Modern UI/Metro app can be shown at a time.

In Windows 8.1, you can snap windows even on displays with 1024 x 768 resolution, and possible window sizes are more flexible (for example, 50/50 or 60/40 in addition to 30/70). On higher resolution screens, you can view up to four apps side by side (the minimum width for a snapped window is 500 px). You can now also display two windows of the same app at the same time.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, use keyboard shortcut Window Key+Tab to open a list of running Windows Store apps. Pressing Ctrl+Windows Key+Tab instead makes the menu stick to make selecting somewhat easier.
Touch screen owners should swipe in from the left edge of screen and immediately drag back a little to the left to reveal the full list.
Windows 8.1 Update users without touch screens should activate the app they need to snap, move mouse pointer to the top of screen to reveal good old Title bar (or use keyboard shortcut Alt+Spacebar), click the app icon on the left and select either Split Left or Split Right. That's it for them!
Windows 8, keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Tab cycles through open Metro apps and the Desktop Windows 8.1 Update, Title bar for a Modern app. To snap the window, click the app icon and select 'Split Left' or 'Split Right'.

Now drag an item to the left or right corner of the screen.
Windows 8, drag an open app from the list (Windows Key+Tab) to the left or right side of the screen. This will display two apps on side by side.

The app will then get about one third of screen space in Windows 8, or half in Windows 8.1. To resize the window, use the slider between the two open apps. In Windows 8.1, there is a small white line in the slider that reveals which window is active.
As you can see, even all running Desktop programs change their size to fit in the tight space.
Windows 8, two apps side by side. To give one app more screen space, use the slider between windows. Windows 8.1, two apps side by side 50/50. To give one app more screen space, use the slider between windows.

To set one of the running apps full-screen again, drag the slider all the way to the left or to the right. You can use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+. in Windows 8 to move the smaller app to the right - first time makes the app full-screen, second time moves it to the right corner and gives it about 2/3 of screen space, third time moves it back to the left corner with 1/3 of screen space. Keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Shift+. does the same, but cycles to the left.
In Windows 8.1, the Windows Key+. cycles between app windows and sliders, so that you can resize any of the windows using arrow keys. Windows Key+Arrow Right (or Arrow Left) makes windows switch places, Windows Key+Arrow Up maximizes the active window.
Windows Key+Arrow Down closes the active app in Windows 8.1 without Update; in Windows 8.1 with Update, it minimizes the window instead. In Windows 8, this shortcut does nothing in Modern UI apps.

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