Using Windows 11

Switching between tasks and desktops

As in previous Windows versions, you can switch to a different app by clicking its taskbar button. And if you’re not sure which icon your document is hidden under, hover the mouse pointer over a taskbar button to display a thumbnail image of the window (or windows) above the button.

If the live thumbnail isn’t enough to help you select the correct window, hover the mouse pointer over one of the preview images. That action brings the window to the forefront, temporarily masking out the contents of all other open windows.

On a modern PC, with ample memory and disk space, the number of open windows can become overwhelming, making it cumbersome to manage those windows manually. To simplify that task, Windows 11 offers two features that can make the management process simpler: Task View and Virtual Desktops.

Using Task View to switch between windows

Task View is a time-tested alternative to manual hunt-and-click window management techniques. It displays large, live thumbnails of each open window on the current display so that you can switch with confidence.

To begin, click the Task View button or use the Windows key+Tab shortcut. On a touchscreen-equipped device, you can swipe in from the bottom of the display using three fingers. Figure 3-26 shows the results on a system with seven windows available.

Figure 3-26

Figure 3-26 Opening Task View shows running programs using their windowed dimensions. Clicking or tapping any thumbnail opens it in its current position.

Those thumbnails remain open until you do something, usually by clicking or tapping a thumbnail to switch to that window or by pressing Esc to return to the current window.

If there are too many open windows to fit as thumbnails on the display, use the up and down arrows at the bottom of the screen to scroll through the full list.

The old-fashioned Alt+Tab task switcher, familiar to every Windows user of a certain age, is still available as well. The concept is similar, but the thumbnails appear only as long as you continue to hold down the Alt key. Hold down Alt and tap the Tab key to cycle (left to right, top to bottom) through all open windows. When you’ve highlighted the window you want to bring to the front, release the Alt and Tab keys.

When using Task View, you also have the option of closing a window by clicking the X in the upper-right corner of the preview or, if your mouse scroll wheel supports clicking, by middle-clicking anywhere in the preview image. Other basic window tasks are available on the shortcut menu that appears when you right-click the preview image.

Switching between virtual desktops

The idea of virtual desktops is straightforward: Instead of arranging program windows on a single desktop, you create a second, third, fourth, and so on. On each desktop, you arrange individual apps (or combinations of related apps) that you want to use for a specific task. Then, when it’s time to tackle one of those tasks, you switch to the virtual desktop and get right to work, without being distracted by the unrelated programs running on those other desktops.

To create a new desktop, allow the mouse pointer to hover over the Task View button and then click the New Desktop shortcut. (If you’ve hidden the Task View button, or if you just prefer keyboard shortcuts, press Windows key+Tab to make the list of currently configured desktops and the New Desktop icon visible.)

Virtual desktops show up as a row of thumbnails along the bottom of the Task View window, as shown in Figure 3-27.

Figure 3-27

Figure 3-27 Arranging groups of open windows into separate virtual desktops can help you focus on specific tasks without being overwhelmed by unrelated windows.

Right-click a virtual desktop to give it a new name or background.

The system depicted in Figure 3-27 has two virtual desktops. Windows draws a bright border to indicate which desktop is active, and it dims the others. A New Desktop thumbnail makes it easy to expand the layout. You can switch from one virtual desktop to another by clicking its thumbnail. You’ll notice that your taskbar changes to reflect the makeup of the current desktop. To close an existing virtual desktop, select its name and click the Close button that appears. If any windows are open on the desktop you are closing, they are transferred to the preceding desktop—from Desktop 2 to Desktop 1, for example.

To change the name of a virtual desktop from its generic default—for example, from Desktop 2 to Annual Report Project—right-click the thumbnail and choose Rename.