How to Use the Windows 8.1 Controls for Switching Programs

By Woody Leonhard

Windows 8.1 has some built-in controls that let you switch programs. The controls work even when you’re running a “legacy” program on the old-fashioned desktop. The controls frequently work when Windows itself has frozen — that’s quite an accomplishment.

Follow these steps to switch Windows 8.1 tiled programs:

1Go to the Start screen.

If you can’t see the Start screen, press the Windows button on your tablet (or press the Windows key if you have an attached keyboard).

2To start a few programs, tap Store, tap the Windows button to return to the Start screen, tap the Desktop tile, tap the Windows button again, and tap, oh, News.

That gives you some apps to work with.

3This step is tricky: Swipe from the left, but not very quickly, and not too far.

If you swipe the sweet spot, you see thumbnails of every running program. This part of the tiled interface is the Switcher.

As you can see, Switcher treats the entire old-fashioned desktop like it’s one app, no matter how many programs are running on it simultaneously.

4Tap one of the Switcher apps.

Not unexpectedly, you switch to that app.

5Slide quickly from the left. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Windows switches you from app to app, going in the same sequence that appears in the Switcher pane.

6Slooooooowly drag from the left.

The new app appears in its own window, to the left of the main window. The new window takes up about one-half of the screen. Microsoft calls this Snap.

Note that you can Tiled Snap with the whole old-fashioned desktop, as if it were just one running app, which, in a sense, it is.

7Slowly drag the vertical bar between the snapped apps to the right.

You can also snap the apps so the small piece appears on the right, which can be helpful. Solitaire has the built-in intelligence to turn the deck of cards sideways, so you can play it while another app is snapped.

8Press the Windows button on your tablet (or press the Windows key on your attached keyboard).

You’re back to home base.

In some cases, you can replicate a right-click by tapping and holding your finger on the touchscreen. That is, if you ever encounter a situation where a right-click might’ve worked in Windows 7 and you don’t have a mouse handy, try putting your finger on whatever you would’ve clicked and just leave your finger there for a while. Sometimes this brings up an option menu that’s identical to the old right-click.