Basic Windows concepts – mouse & keyboard window management

Let’s go through the basic Windows concepts of window management with the mouse and keyboard. New versions of Windows have improved this dramatically with Windows 7 being a significant improvement in keyboard operations but taking a step back with mouse operations by forcing taskbar grouping.

Windows can be managed with the mouse / touchpad, keyboard, and touchscreen. Besides, there are some special functions on the taskbar too. In fact, there are so many ways for mouse & keyboard window management that it’s easy to forget a method or two.

Manipulating windows with the mouse / touchpad

Switching with mouse / touchpad

To switch between windows with the mouse, the window’s taskbar button can be left clicked directly. However, this only works well for fast switching when buttons are ungrouped and uncombined. As we saw in user interface basics, most windows are represented on the taskbar, except for a few ones which may be hidden or only in the notification area.

Or left click the Task View button on the taskbar and click the window.

Task View allows window management with both mouse & keyboard
Task View (Win + Tab)

Moving and resizing with mouse / touchpad

To move a window with the mouse, you can left click and drag the title bar. To resize a window with the mouse, take the mouse pointer to one of the four edges of a window and if it turns into a double headed arrow, click and drag to resize it. You can also resize from any of the four corners!

Resizing from corners via mouse or keyboard
Resizing from the corners

Minimize, Maximize and Close with mouse / touchpad

Obviously the caption buttons (➖ 🔲 ❌) are the fastest way. Or right click on the taskbar button (Shift + right click without 7+ Taskbar Tweaker) to access the functions from the window menu. For closing, the Close button from Jump lists and taskbar thumbnails/popup lists can also be used. Or, with 7+ Taskbar Tweaker, you can middle click on the taskbar button to close.

Jumplist and list popup
Jumplist (left), Taskbar list popup (right)

If windows are ungrouped, active (focused) windows can be minimized by clicking on their taskbar button. Double clicking the title bar maximizes a window or restores down.

Another way to maximize is by dragging the title bar all the way to the top of the screen till the mouse cursor touches the top edge. Similarly, you can drag down a maximized window to restore it down.

With the addition of 7+ Taskbar Tweaker, the mouse wheel can be used to minimize, maximize and restore down windows by scrolling the wheel on the taskbar button.

Snapping with the mouse / touchpad

Snapping is moving + resizing in 1 step to take the window to a particular position on the screen and resize it. To snap with the mouse, left click and drag the title bar and touch the mouse to the left edge or right edge. In Windows 11, you can hover your mouse over the Maximize button. A popup will appear, where you can choose the layout to snap to.

Windows 11 has new ways for mouse & keyboard window management
Windows 11’s Snap regions

Windows 10 and later also support snapping to the four quadrants of the screen by dragging the title bar until the mouse touches the four corners.

Manipulating windows with the keyboard

Switching with keyboard

To switch between windows with the keyboard, one way is to use Alt + Tab. Keep pressing down the Alt key and do not let it go, then press Tab till you find the window you want and switch to it and let go of Alt. Ctrl + Alt + Tab will make the UI not close automatically.

Alt Tab also supports window management with both mouse & keyboard
Alt – Tab

Another way is by using Win key + <number> e.g. Win key + 1 will switch to the first window, Win + 2 to the 2nd and so on.

A third way is by using Win + Tab. Press Win + Tab once, then use the arrow keys to find the window and press Enter to switch to it.

Finally, with 7+ Taskbar Tweaker installed, you can use your own custom keyboard shortcuts e.g. Ctrl + Alt + left/right ⬅️➡️ arrow keys to switch.

A little known obscure built-in keyboard shortcut is Alt+Esc which can switch windows in the order in which they were opened or last switched to (called the Z-order). This is the least convenient method since the Z-order is not visible anywhere on screen, unlike Alt+Tab.

Moving and resizing with keyboard

To move a window with the keyboard press Alt + Space to open the window menu. Then press M or choose Move with down arrow key and press Enter. The mouse cursor will change to the Move cursor and will be taken to the title bar. Use arrow keys to move the window in any direction and press Enter when you are done. Obviously for maximized windows, they will first have to be restored down to move.

Resizing is similar. Press Alt + Space, then S, and thereafter the arrow keys to size the window from that particular border. Press Enter once finished. Moving by keyboard is especially handy for windows that are out of bounds of the screen but when their taskbar button is still showing.

The Alt+Space menu - the oldest way of mouse and keyboard window management
Window menu

A little known trick is to start moving or resizing with the keyboard, then after the first arrow key has been pressed, you can use the mouse to continue moving or resizing just by moving the mouse cursor. There is no need to click and drag with the mouse if you use this trick.

Minimize, Maximize and Close with keyboard

To minimize an active (focused) window, press Win key + Down ⬇️ arrow key. If it’s in a restored down state, it will be minimized instantly. If it is maximized, you need to press Win key + down twice. But there is a way to minimize a maximized window directly. Press Alt + space to show the window menu and then N.

To maximize a window, Win key + Up ⬆️ works very well, as also Alt + Space, then X. To close, Alt + F4 directly closes a focused window. Alt + Space, then C does the same thing.

To minimize all open windows, you can use Win + M and to restore them all, use Shift + Win + M. Or you can use the keyboard shortcut, Win + D which shows the desktop without minimizing windows (brings the desktop to the front). Press Win + D again to restore. A lesser known hotkey is Win + Home which minimizes all windows except the active (focused) one.

Snapping with the keyboard

Press Win key + Left/Right ⬅️➡️ arrow keys to snap windows left and right. If after snapping to the left or right, you don’t let go of the Win key and press Up/Down arrow keys, then the window will be snapped to that quadrant of the screen. Snapping to four quadrants is new to Windows 10 and later.

Windows snapped side by side
Snapped windows

Bulk operations on windows

If you right click the Taskbar and choose Cascade windows, all non-minimized windows will be cascaded. The minimized ones will be left alone. Show windows stacked and Show windows side by side from the taskbar right click menu do something similar to Snap. This depends on the number of non-minimized windows you have open, and also on the Snap settings in the Multitasking section of the Settings app (System -> Multitasking).

Taskbar Menu 1

There used to be a way to maximize and close windows in bulk, up to Windows XP and Windows Vista but it was removed. Thankfully, 7+ TT’s Taskbar Inspector allows this. You can actually select windows and do any bulk operations on all of them.

Taskbar Inspector of 7+ Taskbar Tweaker

Moving windows across multiple monitors

You can move windows across multiple connected displays with the hotkey combination Win + Shift + Left/Right ⬅️➡️ arrow keys. If the monitors have the same resolution and DPI scaling, the window position and size proportion will be neatly maintained.

The hotkeys used for snapping windows, Win + Left/Right (without Shift) can also move windows across multiple monitors, in stages. Each time you press Win + Left/Right, it will be snapped to a new position until it crosses over to the previous/next monitor.

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to do exactly this with the mouse unless you use third party apps such as Actual Multiple Monitors. Without such apps, you need to click and drag the window’s title bar with the mouse all the way to another monitor.

Window operations with touch

Touch operations are similar as mouse. Windows 8 had a fantastic touch-first user interface for Metro/Store-only apps but it was completely unsuitable for the mouse and keyboard. So it was dropped instead of being continued for touch-only or touch-first apps.

Microsoft has this weird obsession of combining the user interfaces for mouse & keyboard with touchscreens UIs. Naturally, the mouse & keyboard window management is compromised because of this decision – exactly what happened in Windows 8/8.1. In the same operating system, touch-only app UIs can co-exist with mouse and keyboard UIs, only if they are cleanly separated and no functionality is common.

Flip 3D in Windows 7 and Windows Vista
Windows 7 and Windows Vista had Flip 3D – a fancy way to switch but not very useful as you had to switch sequentially

That’s all for mouse & keyboard window management. Did you learn a new way from these dozens of ways to manipulate windows?

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