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Secrets of Window Management

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Posted May 11 2010 04:10 PM

In this excerpt from David A. Karp's Windows 7 Annoyances, the author reviews shortcuts and visual tools for window management.

One of the perks you get with Windows 7 is a whole bunch of window management shortcuts and nifty eye candy to happily accompany the drudgery of generating soils reports. Here are some of the ways you can make working with Windows just a little more enjoyable.


Aero Snap is the name given to the feature that automatically helps you position windows as you drag them around. Drag a window to the top of the screen to maximize, or to the left or right to half-maximize. Or, drag a window so its edge mates with the edge of another window or the edge of the screen, and it’ll snap snugly into position.

Don’t like it? You can turn it off by opening the Ease of Access Center page in Control Panel. Click the Change how your mouse works link, and then turn on the Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen option.

Tweak the Taskbar

Windows window management takes place mostly on the taskbar, which got a big facelift in Windows 7. Gone is the piddly QuickLaunch toolbar; now you can use taskbar buttons to launch programs as well as manage them when they’re already open. Jump lists, covered in the section called “Start Explorer with Any Folder”, help merge these two functions nicely. You can even rearrange taskbar icons now by simply dragging and dropping.

But one thing you still can’t do is hide several icons inside of a single icon on the taskbar. As it is now, a program shortcut can either be on the taskbar or desktop, or buried several layers deep in the Start menu. If you’re itching for some middle ground, try 7stacks or StandaloneStack, both free, to add submenus of sorts to the taskbar. The term “stacks” is taken from the similar feature in Mac OS X; if you want the Windows 7 taskbar to be more like the Mac OS X dock, check out RocketDock, also free.

Want a little more room for buttons on the taskbar? Confuse your friends with Start Killer, free from http://www.tordex.com/startkiller/, which hides the Start button completely. You can still open the Start menu with the Windows logo key or Ctrl+Esc, or you can disable Start Killer by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F12.

If you have a multiple monitor setup, see the section called “Stretch Out on Multiple Monitors” for a way to extend the taskbar to all your screens.

Keyboard Is My Friend

Despite the fact that Microsoft has excised those little underlined letters—the ones that show you which letter you have to press while holding the Alt key to jump to that control—the keyboard is alive and well in Windows 7. In fact, there are tons of useful keyboard shortcuts that can be real time-savers in Windows, some even used in conjunction with the mouse.

Navigating files and folders


Hold the Alt key while double-clicking on a file or folder to view the Properties sheet for that object. Or, press Alt+Enter to open the Properties window for the selected item without using the mouse at all.


Press Backspace in an open Explorer window to go back to the last folder you looked at (which may or may not be the active folder’s parent folder).

You can also hold Alt while pressing the left or right arrow keys to go back and forth through the folder history, akin to the two round arrow buttons to the left of the path box.

Parent folder

Press Alt+up arrow to jump to the active folder’s parent folder.


Press F5 in almost any window (including web browsers and even Device Manager) to refresh the current view.

Folder tree

With the focus on Explorer’s folder tree, press Enter to view the contents of the highlighted folder in the right pane. Also, use the left and right arrow keys (or + and ) to collapse and expand folders, respectively, or press the asterisk key (*) to expand all the folders and their subfolders in the current branch.

Press Ctrl+Shift+E to scroll the folder tree so that the active folder is at the bottom of the Navigation pane.

Jump to an item

With the focus on the right pane, press a letter key to quickly jump to the first file or folder starting with that letter. Continue typing to jump further. For example, pressing the T key in your \Windows folder will jump to the Tasks folder. Press T again to jump to the next object that starts with T. Or, press T and then quickly press A to skip the first few Ts and jump to taskman.exe. If there’s enough of a delay between the T and the A keys, Explorer will forget about the T, and you’ll jump to the first entry that starts with A.


If you prefer, you can have Windows Explorer begin a formal search as soon as you start typing. Open the Organize drop-down, select Folder and Search Options, and then choose the View tab. Scroll to the bottom of the Advanced settings list, and under the When typing into list view branch, click Automatically type into the Search Box.

New Explorer window

Press Ctrl+N to open another Explorer window at the same folder. Or press Winkey+E to open a new Windows Explorer window, even when you’re not currently in Explorer.


In Windows Explorer or on the desktop, press Ctrl+F or F3 to open a separate search window so you can search without losing the current view. To search in the current Explorer window, press Ctrl+E to jump to the search box and start typing. (Or, if you’ve selected the Automatically type into the Search Box option explained earlier in this section, just start typing to immediately jump to the search box.) Press Winkey+F to open a search window no matter where you are. See the section called “Fix Windows Search” for other ways to improve search.

Show hidden context menu items

Hold the Shift key while right-clicking a file to show two new items in the file’s context menu: Pin to Start Menu (normally shown only for programs) and Copy as Path (used to copy the full path of the item to the clipboard).

Or, hold Shift while right-clicking a folder to show three new items: Open in new process (discussed earlier in this chapter), Open command window here (see Chapter 9, Command Prompt and Automation), and the aforementioned Copy as Path.

Finally, hold Shift while right-clicking an empty area of the desktop or open folder window to show the Open command window here command.


See the section called “File Type Associations” for instructions to customize the context menus for files, folders, and many Windows objects.

Path box

Press Alt+D or F4 to jump to the path box so you can type or flip through recently visited folders. Once you’re there, press Esc to close the drop-down history and select the text. Press Esc once more to revert to the modern “breadcrumbs” path box so you can navigate parent folders with only the arrow keys.

Cycle through all the controls

Press the Tab key to jump between the file pane, the file pane column headers, the address bar, the Search box, the tool ribbon, and the folder tree. The F6 key does the same thing as Tab, but it skips the Search box.

Preview pane

Press Alt+P to toggle the Preview pane on and off.

View / Icon size

Hold Ctrl while rolling the mouse wheel to cycle through the various view settings (Details, List). Roll up past Small icons, and further rolling will progressively enlarge the icons.

Selecting and managing files

Select all

Press Ctrl+A to quickly select all of the contents of a folder, both files and folders.

Select range

Select one icon, then hold the Shift key while clicking on another icon in the same folder to select it and all the items in between. To do this only with the keyboard, hold the Shift key while moving up or down with the arrow keys.


You can select a range of files without using the keyboard by dragging a rubber band around them. Start by holding down the left mouse button in a blank portion of a folder window, then drag the mouse to the opposite corner to select everything that appears in the rectangle you just drew.

Select multiple items

Hold the Ctrl key and click multiple files or folders to select or deselect them one by one. (Note that you can’t select more than one folder in the Navigation pane (folder tree), but you can in the right pane.) To do this only with the keyboard, hold Ctrl while moving up or down with the arrow keys, and then press the spacebar to select or deselect the active item.

You can also use the Ctrl key to modify your selection. For example, if you’ve used the Shift key or a rubber band to select the first five objects in a folder, you can hold Ctrl while dragging a second rubber band to highlight additional files without losing your original selection.

Delete files

Select a file or folder and press Del to delete it. Or, press Shift+Del to delete it permanently without sending it to the Recycle Bin.


Press F2 to rename the currently selected item.

Create a new folder

Press Ctrl+Shift+N in any folder window or on the desktop to create a new, empty folder.

Automatically resize all Windows Explorer columns

Press Ctrl+plus (that’s + on the numeric keypad) while in the Details view of Windows Explorer to resize all visible columns to fit their contents. You can also double-click column header separators to size-to-fit individual columns (just like in Microsoft Excel).

Starting programs

Start menu

Press the Windows logo key (Winkey) to open the Start menu, and then navigate with your arrow keys. You can also open the Start menu by pressing Ctrl+Esc. See the sidebar if you don’t have a Windows logo key.

Taskbar and jump lists

Hold Winkey while pressing a number key to open the taskbar item at that location; for instance Winkey+1 opens the taskbar button closest to the Start button, Winkey+2 opens the next one over, and so on. Or, press Winkey+T to cycle through taskbar buttons, and then press Enter to open the one selected. If the program is already running, Winkey+number switches to that program.

Hold Shift while clicking a taskbar button to open a new window rather than switching to one already open. Similarly, press Shift+Winkey and a number to open a new window of the application at that location on the taskbar.

Hold Shift while right-clicking a taskbar button to show the Properties window for the target file. Or, if the program is already running, hold Shift to show the old-school System menu for that window.

Hold Ctrl+Shift while clicking a taskbar button (or Ctrl+Shift+Winkey+number) to open the application as an administrator.

Press Alt+Winkey and a number to open the jump list for the application at that location on the taskbar, and then use the arrow keys and Enter to select an item. Or, when using the mouse, right-click the button or click down and drag (slide) up.


Press Winkey+R to open the Start menu Run box.

Windows Explorer

Press Winkey+E to open a new Windows Explorer window.

Task Manager

Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager (see Chapter 6, Troubleshooting).

View System Information

Press Winkey+Pause/Break to open the System page in Control Panel.

Presentation Mode

Press Winkey+P to activate Presentation Mode, provided you have the Professional edition of Windows 7 or better. To customize Presentation Mode, open the Windows Mobility Center (available on laptop PCs only).

Windows Mobility Center

Press Winkey+X to open the Windows Mobility Center page in Control Panel.

Ease of Access Center

Press Winkey+U to open the Ease of Access Center page in Control Panel.

Press Shift five times to toggle StickyKeys on and off. Hold Shift for eight seconds to toggle FilterKeys on and off. Hold Num Lock for five seconds to toggle ToggleKeys on and off. Press Alt+LeftShift+Num Lock to toggle MouseKeys on and off. Press Alt+LeftShift+Print Screen to toggle high contrast mode on and off.

Get Windows Help

Press Winkey+F1 to open Windows Help and Support, or F1 by itself (usually) to open Help for the active application or window.

Managing running programs

Switch to a different window

Press Winkey+Tab to show the silly Flip 3D Rolodex-style task switcher, or Alt+Tab to show the simple “classic” task switcher. See the section called “Get Glass” for another alternative. Hold Shift (Shift+Winkey+Tab or Shift+Alt+Tab) to go backward.

If you’re using an application with more than one document, press Ctrl+Tab to switch among the open documents. Likewise, press Ctrl+Tab to cycle through tabs in a tabbed window. And again, hold Shift to go in reverse.

Taskbar and jump lists

Hold Winkey while pressing a number key to switch to the taskbar item at that location, as described earlier in this section.

Hold Ctrl while clicking a grouped taskbar button to cycle through the windows in that group.

Drop the current window to the bottom of the pile

Press Alt+Esc to move the active window to the bottom of the stack and activate the one underneath it. Hold Shift to go backward.

View the desktop

Press Winkey+D to show or hide the desktop, Winkey+M to minimize all open windows, or Shift+Winkey+M to restore minimized windows. See the section called “Get to the Desktop” for more.

Show only the active window

Press Winkey+Home to minimize all windows except the active one. To do this with the mouse, grab the title bar and shake vigorously for at least a second. Do this again to restore the windows.

Resize the active window

Press Winkey+up arrow to maximize a window. Press Winkey+down arrow to restore a maximized window or minimize a standard window.


Once you’ve minimized a window with Winkey+down, it loses focus, so pressing Winkey+up immediately afterward won’t work. Instead, use Alt+Tab, Winkey+Tab, or Winkey+T (all covered previously) to switch to a minimized window.

Press Shift+Winkey+up arrow to maximize the current window only vertically; its horizontal size and position won’t change.

Press Winkey+right arrow to shove the active window to the right side of the screen (sort of a half-maximize); same thing goes for Winkey+left arrow.

Move a window to another monitor

Got a multiple monitor setup? Hit either Shift+Winkey+right arrow or Shift+Winkey+left arrow to move the window to a different screen. Or, hit Winkey+left arrow or Winkey+right arrow three times to accomplish the same thing.


Press Winkey+G to cycle through active desktop gadgets.

Close a window

Press Alt+F4 to close the current application, or Ctrl+F4 to close the current document (if it’s the type of program that can hold multiple documents). Press Alt+F4 while the keyboard focus is on the desktop or taskbar to shut down windows.

Notification area (Tray)

Press Winkey+B to send the focus to the notification area (tray).


Press Alt or F10 to jump to the menu bar (or show the menu if it’s hidden).

Zoom in, zoom out

Press Winkey+plus (+ on the numeric keypad) to zoom in where the mouse is pointing (using the Magnifier tool), or Winkey+minus ( on the numeric keypad) to zoom out. Then, just drag your mouse past the edges of the screen to pan to the extents of the desktop.

Log off

Press Winkey+L to lock your computer, at which point you unlock it by typing your password or switch users.

Editing text


Press Ctrl+C to copy the selected item to the clipboard, Ctrl+X to cut (copy and then delete), and Ctrl+V to paste the item anywhere else.


Press Ctrl+Z to undo the last text edit, file operation, deletion, etc.

Drop-down listboxes

Use the up and down arrow keys to flip through items in a drop-down box, or press Alt+down arrow to open the listbox.

Clean Up the Tray

The notification area as Microsoft calls it—or tray, as it’s called on the street—is the box full of tiny icons on the far right side of your taskbar, next to the clock.

It made its first appearance in Windows 95, but it didn’t take long for most trays to get cluttered with junk from every program installed on your PC. And since Microsoft wasn’t too careful about establishing standards for the icons put there, applications weren’t too careful about giving their customers control over those icons. As a result, many applications won’t let you remove their icons, and of those that do, the process is a little different for each one.

Microsoft snapped into action to solve the problem, and five years later came up with a system to automatically hide unused/unwanted tray icons. In Windows 7, open the Notification Area Icons page in Control Panel, shown in Figure 2.11, to choose what’s shown and what isn’t.

Figure 2.11. If you don’t want to hide the tray completely, use this window to bury unwanted clutter under a collapsible panel

Attached Image

Tired of dealing with tray icons on a one-by-one basis? If you’re using the Business or Ultimate edition, you can turn off the tray completely. Open the Group Policy Object Editor (gpedit.msc, which is not present on Home Premium), and expand the branches to User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar. Double-click Hide the notification area, select Enabled, and click OK.

In Windows 7 Home Premium, you’ll need a registry hack to do the same thing. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3, The Registry) and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer. From the Edit menu, select New and then DWORD (32-bit) Value, and type NoTrayItemsDisplay for the value name. Double-click the new value, type 1 for the value data, and click OK.

Either way you do it, you’ll have to log out and then log back in for this change to take effect.

Problem is, hiding a tray icon doesn’t accomplish anything except dealing with the clutter. Those programs are still running, eating up processor cycles and memory. You can turn on the Always show all icons and notifications on the taskbar option (Figure 2.11) to make sure there’s nothing hidden—with the glaring exception of programs that want to be hidden—but a better approach is to simply stop loading programs automatically that you don’t really need. See Chapter 6, Troubleshooting for more on Startup programs and malware for more on background processes.

Stretch Out on Multiple Monitors

Add another monitor to double your desktop space, easily view two documents side by side, or work on one screen while watching a movie on the other. It’s a relatively cheap way to make your computer considerably more useful.


On most desktop PCs, you can add a second video card to support a second monitor, or better yet, replace your current video card with a high-end model that sports two DVI connectors. And nearly all laptops include a port for a second monitor, although typically only more expensive models have the necessary DVI or HDMI port for a digital connection. If you have none of these luxuries, you can use a program like MaxiVista to use that spare laptop as a second monitor.

While Windows has supported multiple monitors for years, it wasn’t until Windows 7 that Microsoft started including some handy tools to make it easier to live with a spanned desktop. For instance, you can hold the Shift and Windows logo keys while pressing the left or right arrow keys to move the active window from one screen to the next. (See the section the section called “Keyboard Is My Friend” for more shortcuts.) You can also drag a window to the edge of the screen to dock it to the left or right side.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ground Microsoft still hasn’t covered: the taskbar and Alt-Tab window only appear on the primary screen, maximized applications can’t span more than one screen, full-screen games can’t use more than one monitor, and support for multiscreen wallpaper and screensavers is weak at best. These seem trivial enough until you spend a few hours with a two-monitor PC, at which point you wonder why Windows 7’s multimonitor support is so lousy.


Can’t get the colors to match on two otherwise identical monitors? See the section called “Get More Accurate Color” to make things right.

In the following sections, learn how to improve your experience with multiple monitors on Windows 7.

Make your background wallpaper span all your screens

This is actually something you can do without any third-party software, but it’s not necessarily obvious. First, determine your total desktop resolution: right-click an empty area of the desktop, select Screen resolution, and look at the Resolution setting. If you have two 1920×1200 screens side-by-side, then your total resolution is 3840×1200.


You’ll need a single image at least as big as your total resolution: this means a photo taken with a 12-megapixel camera for a desktop 3840 pixels wide. If it’s too small, it won’t look right. If it’s too big, you’ll need to crop or resize it with your favorite image editor so that it doesn’t run off the screen.

Open the Personalization page in Control Panel and click Desktop Background. From the Picture location listbox, choose Pictures library to browse all the photos in your Photos folder, or click Browse to pick another folder. (Unfortunately, the Browse window only lets you select a folder; to look through your non-Photos folders for a single image, open a separate Windows Explorer window.) You can also manually copy your custom image to the C:\Windows\Web\Wallpaper folder to make it easier to find (it’ll be under Windows Desktop Backgrounds).

Highlight your custom wallpaper, and from the Picture position list, select Tile. (None of the other options here—Fill, Fit, Stretch, and Center—work on a desktop spanned across multiple monitors.)


With the Tile option, the upper lefthand corner of the image is placed at the upper lefthand corner of the primary monitor. This means that if your primary monitor—the one with your Start menu and taskbar—is not at the upper left of your monitor array, the image tiles will be out of order. (Windows isn’t smart enough to pick the correct display in a multimonitor setup.) To get around this without choosing a new primary display, you must open your photo in your favorite image editor, cut it into pieces, and then reconstitute accordingly.

When you’re happy with the results, click Save changes.

Use different wallpaper on each screen

Windows lets you select more than one desktop wallpaper at a time, but not for the purposes of filling multiple screens. Rather, Windows creates a slideshow with your selected images and changes your background at regular intervals. (Use the Change picture every and Shuffle controls at the bottom of the “Choose your desktop background” page to customize this feature.)

The quick and dirty way to get a different background on each screen is to piece together your different background images into a single large image, and then use it to span your monitor array as described in the previous topic.

Several third-party tools can do this for you, including DisplayFusion and Desktop Wallpaper Tool.

Make a screensaver multiscreen friendly

A screensaver is basically just an application that runs full screen and quits when you move your mouse. Some screensavers work fine with multiple monitors, such as Bubbles (which comes with Windows 7). But a screensaver not written to take advantage of multiple screens will only fill a single screen, forcing Windows to pitch in and replicate the screensaver on all your screens.

To make a screensaver span all your screens, even if it wasn’t designed to do so, use Actual Tools Multiple Monitors.

To run a different screensaver on each screen, use Desktop Tools.

If you’re in the mood for change, get a new screensaver written specifically for multiple monitors from http://www.reallyslick.com/.

Put a taskbar on every screen

It can get awfully tiresome to instinctually move your mouse to the bottom of the screen to switch windows, only to find no taskbar at all. Instead, you’ve got to sweep across two or three desktops to get to your taskbar on the primary screen.

Several third-party tools attempt to solve this problem, but one of the best is UltraMon 3.0 (free trial at http://www.realtimesoft.com/).

When you enable UltraMon’s Smart Taskbar feature, a taskbar appears on every screen. What’s more, only those windows open on any particular screen appear in that screen’s taskbar so you can further take advantage of your increased real estate and reduce taskbar clutter. Move an application from one screen to another, and its taskbar button follows. (The downside is that you may spend a little more time hunting for minimized applications.)


Any tool that adds a taskbar to your secondary and tertiary monitors must recreate the additional taskbars from scratch. This means that if you’re particularly detail-oriented, you may notice some imperfections. For instance, you don’t get Jump Lists on additional taskbars, nor can you pin programs or drag-drop taskbar buttons to reorder them. What sets UltraMon apart is how close it gets: UltraMon automatically adopts your primary taskbar’s settings, like Auto-Hide and Locked, but lets you override them if you want.

Actual Tools Multiple Monitors (free trial available at http://www.actualtoo...ltiplemonitors/) also gives you a taskbar on every screen, and adds an optional Start button (and Start menu) and notification area (tray) on each additional taskbar. You also get an Alt+Tab window on every screen, but not the Flip3D task switcher (Winkey+Tab). The software comes with handy tools to force new windows to appear on a particular monitor, and even extra keyboard shortcuts for added control.

Other taskbar replicators include MultiMonitor TaskBar and DisplayFusion.

Force applications to remember which screen to use

Windows has never taken much of an active role in choosing where new windows appear, instead leaving to the applications themselves the job of remembering their window positions. Problem is, many applications—including some Windows components—do a poor job of remembering where they were when they were last closed, and multiple screens just make matters worse.

There’s a little trick that’s been around for a few Windows versions, and it works much of the time. Begin by starting an application and watch where it opens its window. Drag the window to the screen you’d like to use from now on, and then while holding the Shift key, click the close [×] button. The next time you open the program, it should appear on that same screen.

Shift-close not doing it for you? As long as there have been forgetful applications, there have also been utilities to force them to open in the same place every time. For instance, Actual Tools Multiple Monitors, described in the previous section, lets you choose whether new windows should open on a specific screen, whichever screen has the mouse pointer, or the screen of the parent window. You can also make specific rules for specific programs.


Buggy video drivers have also been known to cause this problem; check the website of your video card manufacturer for a driver update, and try again.

Ultimately, though, it’s the application developer’s job to make sure a program remembers on which screen it last appeared. If a program won’t behave on your multimonitor setup, don’t be afraid to contact the developer and request a fix.

Fill multiple screens with a single application or game

Probably the strangest limitation on a multi-monitor PC is that Windows won’t maximize a window beyond the extents of a single screen. Sure, you can manually stretch most application windows to span your entire desktop, but that’s a lot of fuss for something that should only take a single click of a title bar button.

DisplayFusion, mentioned earlier in this section, allows you to maximize windows to span the entire desktop, and adds hotkey support for convenience.


Ever run a full-screen, single monitor game, only to have things go awry when you accidentally move the mouse past the screen boundary? Use ComroeStudios Multi-Monitor Tool (CSMMT), available at http://www.comroestudios.com/, to solve this problem.

Where most folks run into trouble is with games and video playback software. Any programs that use your video card’s 3D processor or video overlay might not work properly when a single window spans more than one screen.

To test how well your PC handles video spanning, open a simple video clip (.mpg, .avi, or .wmv) in Windows Media Player and then drag the (non-maximized) window so that it’s split between monitors: half of the video plays on one screen and half on the other. If it works, then your video hardware should support something called Hybrid Span mode. If not, check with your video card manufacturer for a driver update.

Obviously, the driver is a big factor in how well your PC handles multimonitor 3D. If both your displays are driven by the same video adapter—a setup called “dual view”—or if you have two video cards with the same graphics chip that can be controlled by a single driver—a setup called “Homogeneous Multi-adapter”—then you’ll likely be able to span a 3D game across monitors. In theory, though, Windows 7 also supports a “Heterogeneous Multi-adapter” setup, in which you have two different video cards and two different video drivers; for this to work, both drivers must play nicely.

Windows 7 Annoyances

Learn more about this topic from Windows 7 Annoyances.

Windows 7 may be faster and more stable than Windows Vista, but that's a far cry from problem-free. With Windows 7 Annoyances, you'll learn how to deal with a wide range of nagging problems before they deal with you. Annoyances.org founder David Karp offers you the tools to fix all sorts of Windows 7 issues, along with solutions, hacks, and timesaving tips to make the most of your PC.

See what you'll learn

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