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What does ALT + TAB do?

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  • 4 min read

If you have been using a computer for years or are new to this technology (some of you might be), you might not be aware of many shortcuts that you can use on your keyboard. These shortcuts help you save time and help you maintain your speed whenever you are working on your PC. For example, you may or may not know what ctrl+shift+N achieves. Similarly, what does alt+tab do?

In this article, we will be covering the basic functions of Alt+Tab and how these functions differ in each operating system.

Also read: What does Ctrl + Shift + N do?

What does Alt + Tab do?

Alt+Tab has been nicknamed ‘Task Switcher’ as it helps the user to switch between different open application windows. This shortcut has been a part of the Windows family since 1987. You can easily switch between two tasks and work optimally. Now, this function remains more or so the same in other operating systems like Linux, macOS, and iOS, among systems. There are also other modifications that you can try by alternatively pressing Alt and Tab keys. The action of a task switcher and its modifications according to every operating system are:

In Windows

  • You can switch between multiple open windows by first pressing any one of the alt keys and then repeatedly clicking on the tab key.
  • You can also press the Windows icon, next to the alt key and then the tab key to move between open applications or to open an entirely new desktop.
  • First press the alt key, then press the tab key and when you move any of the side arrow keys, you can move between the open tasks windows effortlessly and settle on the application that you want to work upon.
  • If you press the alt+tab keys simultaneously, or if you first press the alt key and then the Esc key, the second-most opened window application will open.
  • Pressing alt+shift+tab will take you to the last task in the task manager or the least opened window. That is, you can go from left to right to choose any open task window. Whereas, clicking on alt+tab was taking you from right to left.
Windows icon + tab key

In macOS

  • To invoke the task switcher, you can press the command button (Cmd) alongwith the tab button to switch between two or more open applications.
  • You can also close or hide the selected open application by additionally pressing the Q or H keys.
  • You can press the cmd+’ keys to efficiently emulate the function of alt+shit+tab to start from the back of the task list.

In iOS

It has the same features as macOS and you can switch between recently used apps using the cmd+tab key. You can switch between nine recently used apps in landscape mode and six apps in portrait mode.

In Linux

Similar to how alt+tab works on Windows, even on Linux, the keys simulate the functions. Making it easier for Windows users when they switch to Linux.

In Unix

While Linux is an open-source OS that has been derived from Unix, which is a proprietary-based OS. Unix has multiple desktop systems and the use of alt+tab differs in most of them. For example, pressing alt+tab in CDE or fvwm switches between two open window applications only, or in Windowlab, each task is brought to the front one at a time as you press alt+tab.

Also read: What does CTRL+W do?

Sania Usmani

Sania Usmani

Always curious, calm, and a little crazy, you can find me daydreaming or studying. An avid reader, traveler, and graduate of Aviation Science, I love gaining new experiences in life and star gazing. You can contact her here: