How to Switch Between Windows on a Computer (Quick Shortcuts)

Switching between open application windows and browser tabs efficiently is an essential productivity skill for anyone who spends significant time on a computer. Fortunately, Windows and Mac OS both provide handy keyboard shortcuts that allow you to toggle between windows with minimal effort. Mastering these shortcuts can shave precious seconds off common tasks, helping you get more done in less time.

This guide will teach you step-by-step how to utilize quick keyboard shortcuts for swapping between open windows on either operating system. Follow along to boost your computer productivity.

Why Switching Windows Quickly Matters

Let‘s set the scene. You‘re working on an important document in Word while also having a few Chrome browser tabs open to reference sites. An email pops up that you need to address promptly. Then you want to check the latest sales figures over in Excel.

Constantly having to click and select between these different applications costs you valuable time and attention. The seconds wasted finding and swapping windows adds up over the course of a workday.

This is where swiftly switching between windows using handy keyboard shortcuts pays dividends. For example, the standard Alt+Tab command allows you to bounce between open windows in an instant on Windows.

Learning shortcuts like this takes no time at all but nets you significant efficiency gains. The more adept you become, the less you‘ll have to disrupt your flow to manually hunt around for another window. It‘s like putting all your apps within finger‘s reach.

How Window Switching Works

Before we get into the specific key commands, let‘s briefly cover what‘s happening behind the scenes when you swap between windows.

At the most basic level, your operating system keeps track of every open application and window running on your computer or laptop. Windows and browser tabs are then prioritized and brought into "focus" when activated.

The keyboard shortcuts essentially trigger the OS to shuffle through these open apps and highlight the window you desire. It‘s very similar to using Alt+Tab to shuffle between programs, except confined within a single application if using app-specific commands.

With that understanding in place, let‘s break down the essential shortcuts for both Windows and Mac.

Switch Between Application Windows on Windows

Whenever you want to bounce between open application windows on a Windows machine, your shortcut is Alt+Tab.

For example, if you have Chrome, Excel and Word all running, holding Alt+Tab will bring up small preview windows of each app. Keeping Alt held down, tap Tab repeatedly to cycle through the open apps and highlight the window you want. Release Alt to bring that window into view.

Here are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Ensure you have multiple applications and windows open that you want to switch between.

  2. Hold down the Alt key on your keyboard.

  3. While holding Alt, tap the Tab key. This will display thumbnail previews of all open windows.

    Windows showing Alt+Tab window switching

  4. Keep Alt held down and tap Tab repeatedly to cycle through each open application window.

  5. When your desired window is highlighted, release the Alt key to make it active.

It‘s that simple! Now you can swiftly bounce between multiple windows rather than click back and forth manually. This fantastic shortcut works universally across almost all Windows applications.

Toggle Between Browser Tabs on Windows

What if you want to quickly switch between multiple open tabs within a single browser? Windows has you covered there too with a handy variation.

Ctrl+Tab allows you to shuffle between tabs within an active browser window. Similar to Alt+Tab between apps, it displays a preview strip of all open tabs to choose the one you want.

Here is how to utilize this shortcut:

  1. Launch your preferred web browser and open multiple tabs.

  2. Hold down the Ctrl key.

  3. While holding Ctrl, tap the Tab key repeatedly to cycle through the tab previews.

    Cycling through Chrome tabs using Ctrl+Tab on Windows

  4. Hover over the tab you want to activate.

  5. Release Ctrl to make that tab active.

Now you can speedily flip through tabs rather than click on each one manually. This boosts web browsing efficiency significantly for research, checking work emails and more.

View All Open Windows on Windows

Windows 10 also introduced an even more robust shortcut to view all open application windows at once. This allows you to quickly jump between apps with a few clicks rather than tabbing repeatedly.

To activate this view, press Windows key+Tab on your keyboard. This brings up what‘s called Task View, spreading out thumbnails of every open window on your desktop.

Task View showing all open app windows on Windows

With Task View active:

  • Scroll through app windows by hovering over with mouse or arrow keys
  • Select desired window to make it active
  • Create new virtual desktops (spaces to group apps)

This gives you an instant bird‘s eye glimpse of everything that‘s open. You can then easily click or key to the exact window you need.

Switch Between Windows on Mac

Now let‘s discuss the essential keyboard shortcuts for fast window switching on Mac OS. Fortunately, Mac implements very similar commands so the skills carry over between operating systems.

Swap Between App Windows

The parallel of Alt+Tab on Windows is Command+Tab on Mac. Hold down Command and tap Tab repeatedly to shuffle through open applications.

The steps are familiar:

  1. Ensure you have multiple applications open to toggle between.

  2. Hold down Command key (has Apple icon).

  3. While pressing Command, hit Tab to reveal app switcher.

    Mac app switcher showing open applications

  4. Keep holding Command and tap Tab repeatedly to cycle open apps.

  5. Let go of Command once desired window is active to view it.

This will allow you to swiftly bounce between windows in a flash. It works for virtually any macOS application, making it invaluable if you jump between numerous apps.

Toggle Browser Tabs on Mac

The handy shortcut for switching between browser tabs is also comparable on Mac. Rather than Ctrl+Tab, the shortcut is:

Command+Option+Left/Right Arrow


  1. Have multiple tabs open within Safari or another browser.
  2. Hold Command+Option.
  3. While pressed, tap left or right arrow keys to cycle tabs.
  4. Let go once target tab is active.

Note this only scrolls in one direction rather than showing all tabs like Ctrl+Tab in Windows. But it‘s still invaluable for fast scrolling through web pages without mousing around.

View All Open Windows on Mac

Finally, Mac has its own software to get an aerial view of everything running on your system. The default app switcher can be accessed a few ways:

  1. F3 Key: Just tap this once to spread all windows.
  2. Four-finger swipe up on trackpad.
  3. Click app icon in Dock while holding Option.

Expose app switcher showing all open Mac applications

Similar to Task View, Expose reveals all open apps at a glance. You can then use mouse or arrow keys to pick an app and activate it.

Additional Window Switching Tips and Shortcuts

Beyond the core essentials above, there are a few more useful variations of window switching shortcuts for both Windows and Mac worth covering:

Minimize All Windows

Temporarily minimize everything with Windows key+M (Win) or Option+Command+M (Mac). Handy for clearing clutter to better reach the window you want.

Close Windows

Quickly close the active window with Alt+F4 on Windows or Command+W on Mac. Helpful shortcut rather than File > Close.

Open New Application Window

Open an extra window within an open app using Ctrl+N on Windows or Command+N on Mac. Helpful if you want to duplicate a tab while browsing for example.

Cycle Through Open Windows of Same App

Both operating systems support Command/Alt+~ (tilde symbol) to swap between multiple windows of the same application. For example shuffle between two Word documents rather than two programs.

Remember, you can combine and chain many of these shortcuts as needed. Such as minimizing all windows then swapping to one while closing others. The more você conhece, mais fluent its window switching becomes over time.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Learning and utilizing the keyboard shortcuts for rapidly switching between windows and browser tabs is guaranteed to boost anyone‘s daily productivity at the computer. It‘s one of the best bang-for-buck skills that pays dividends each time you need to toggle applications or sites.

The above guide should provide a strong foundation in both the "how" and "why" behind efficient window swapping on Windows and Mac OS. Below are some final recommended next steps to further apply what you‘ve learned:

  • Pick 1-2 primary shortcuts to start consciously practicing daily such as Alt/Command+Tab for apps and Ctrl/Command+Tab for browser tabs.

  • Develop muscle memory through repetition until accessing the shortcuts becomes second nature.

  • Leverage shortcuts during every work session to prevent productivity lag from excessive mousing between windows.

  • Expand to more advanced shortcuts like viewing all open windows as comfort level grows over time.

  • Minimize reliance on mouse/trackpad for selecting windows since keyboard commands are considerably faster.

Adopting these disciplined habits is how you‘ll internalize the full benefits of quick window switching. You‘ll transform from mouse chaser to keyboard ninja in no time!

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