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Windows 8 : Running Programs and Apps (part 1) - Switching among open programs

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12/6/2014 8:26:21 PM

You can start any program or app that’s installed on your computer by finding the program’s icon on the Start screen or by searching for it using the Search app, and then clicking that icon. There are other ways to start programs as well. For example, if you see an icon for the program pinned to the taskbar, you can click that. If you see a shortcut icon to the program on the desktop or pinned to the taskbar, you can click (or double-click) that icon to start the program.

Every time you start a program or app, an instance of that program opens in a program window. No rule exists that says you can have only one program open at a time. Some programs even enable you to open multiple copies of the same program. (New Windows 8 apps, however, limit you to running only one copy of that app at a time.) You can have as many programs open simultaneously as you can cram into your available memory (RAM). Most programs allow you to run multiple instances. The more memory your system has, the more stuff you can have open without much slowdown in performance.

Note
When it comes to using programs, or apps, the terms start, run, launch, and open all mean the same thing—to load a copy of the program into memory (RAM) so that it’s visible on your screen. You can’t use a program or app until it’s running.

Most programs you open show their own name somewhere near the top of the program window. Figure 1 shows Microsoft PowerPoint open on the desktop. You see its name in the title bar at the top of the window, appearing either by itself or as part of a string of items.

FIGURE 1 Sample title bar and taskbar button

image

Note
Windows 8 apps do not follow the same window conventions that regular Windows programs do. For example, many apps, such as the Weather app, do not show a title bar or status bar. Also, you do not resize their windows as you can conventional Windows programs.

Most items that you open also have a taskbar button. The name in the taskbar button matches the name of the item. For example, the taskbar button for the open PowerPoint program also shows the name of the PowerPoint presentation we’re editing on the taskbar. You can click the PowerPoint taskbar button to make the open window appear and disappear. That’s a good thing to know because sometimes you want to get something off the screen temporarily so that you can see something else on the screen.

When you have multiple program windows open, they stack up on the desktop the way multiple sheets of paper on your real desktop stack up. When you have multiple sheets of paper in a pile, you can’t see what’s on every page. You can see only what’s on the top page because all the other pages are covered by that page.

It works the same way with program windows. When you have multiple program windows open, you can see only the one that’s on the top of the stack. We call the program that’s on the top of the stack the active window.


Note
Some programs have an option called “Always on Top” that makes them display on top of the stack even when they are not active. So, a program could be active but not necessarily on top of the stack.

The active window

When two or more program windows are open on the desktop, only one of them can be the active window. The active window has some unique characteristics:

  • The active window is usually on the top of the stack. Any other open windows will be under the active window so that they don’t cover any of its content. The exception is a window configured for Always On Top, as described previously.
  • The taskbar button for the active window is highlighted with a brighter foreground color.
  • Anything you do at the keyboard applies to the active window only. You cannot type in an inactive window.

Switching among open programs

Whenever you have two or more programs open at the same time, you want to be able to easily switch among them. You have several ways to switch among open programs, as discussed in the sections that follow.


Note
The taskbar shows a miniature version of the window by default. Pointing to a taskbar button reveals a tooltip with the name of the window or program. You can set the size of the icons used by the taskbar through the properties for the taskbar.

Switching with taskbar buttons

As mentioned, almost every open program has a button on the taskbar. When you have multiple open programs, you have multiple taskbar buttons. To make any one particular program active, click its taskbar button. If you’re not sure which button is which, point to each button. You see the name and a miniature copy of the program that the button represents, as in Figure 2. You also see a full-size preview of the window.


Tip
If any portion of the window you want to bring to the top of the stack is visible on the screen, you can just click that visible portion of the window to bring it to the top of the stack.

FIGURE 2 Pointing to a taskbar button

image

Switching with the keyboard

If you prefer the keyboard to the mouse, you can use Alt+Tab to switch among open windows. Hold down the Alt key and then press the Tab key. You see a thumbnail image for each open program window, as in the example shown in Figure 3. Keep the Alt key pressed down and keep pressing Tab until the name of the program you want to switch to appears above the icons. Then release the Alt key.


Tip
The Tab key shows two arrows pointing in opposite directions and is usually just to the left of the letter Q on the keyboard.

FIGURE 3 Alt+Tab window

image

The last (rightmost) item in the Alt+Tab window represents the desktop rather than an open program. If you release the Alt key with that selected, all windows are minimized to the taskbar. But you can still bring up any open program by clicking its taskbar button.

 
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