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TabSwitch.png One thing that has always been a challenge in Windows XP is keeping track of multiple instances of a program or multiple windows. Even though I work on a high resolution screen which offers plenty of space and a wide taskbar, I often reach a limit upon which I (theoretically) need to scroll through the taskbar to find all open windows.

Now there are a few default Windows XP features to handle multiple instances of a program or even dozens of open windows, and of course there are tools that offer even more comfort.

Let’s see what Windows can do on its own. First of all there’s the Alt+Tab keyboard shortcut. Using this key combination you can quickly switch between open applications, simply by clicking the Tab key, while holding down the Alt key.

Then there’s space for tweaking on the taskbar. Right-click an open spot on your taskbar and select Properties. In the Taskbar tab you can check the box for Group Similar Taskbar Buttons. If you now open multiple Word documents, you will first see them being clustered, meaning they will sit next to each other, no matter which other programs you opened in between.

Once space on the taskbar becomes scarce, you will only see one MS Word taskbar button which, when you click on it, will hold all open documents in a small menu.

To prevent or circumvent grouping, you can also increase the height of your taskbar from one to two or more rows. Right-click the taskbar, remove the checkmark in front of Lock the Taskbar.

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Now You can click the upper border of the taskbar and drag it upwards. When you’re done re-lock the taskbar.

As you see, options are rather limited, so let’s have a look at the available tools.

WinTabber
Using this program you can merge several open windows to appear as tabs in a single WinTabber window. You can then browse the tabs much like the tabs in Opera or Firefox. It’s possible to run multiple instances of WinTabber, which enables you to merge different windows for different projects.

The tool is very easy to use. You go through >File >New Tab and select all the tasks you want to see tabbed. The Window selection can be seen in the example above. To complete tabbing, click >OK and the selected applications are all tied together into the WinTabber window. To release a program click its tab and go through >Tab >Release Active Tab, and it will jump back to adopt its original position and dimension. To release all as click >Window >Release all. There are several more handy options, which I’m sure you’re able to discover yourself.

TaskSwitchXP
This one is very basic, yet can be extremely useful. What it does is enhance the Alt+Tab option. They key combination still works the same, but when you click the tab key you will now see a preview of the tasks on your desktop as you scroll through them. You don’t see a simple preview of the task on its own, you see the whole desktop with only the currently selected task on it, which points you straight to its size and position and makes it even more comfortable to distinguish between multiple open windows.

As you see the list becomes quite crowded with so many open windows. The programs in the list appear in the same order they hold in the taskbar. You can scroll through them clicking the Tab key while holding the Alt key. To go into the reverse direction, hold down the Shift key. And TaskSwitchXP can do even more. A complete and thorough description of its functions can be found in the Getting Started guide on the tools’ homepage.

Are you familiar with other tools or do you know of fancy tricks to handle multiple windows? Please share, the comments are open!

  1. Aibek
    June 20, 2008 at 12:37 am

    I also recommend to get one of the virtual desktops.

  2. Lee Mathews
    June 18, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Don't forget MS's own virtual desktop powertoy for XP...adds that Linux-style multiple desktop feature so you can manually run your apps in groups on a specific desktop.

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