What You Should Know About Multitasking In Windows 8

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multitasking in windows 8There I was, enjoying a game of Radiant on my new Windows 8 tablet this morning when it occurred to me that I should be keeping an eye on my incoming email messages.

But how could I? Normally I would use my phone, but the charge had recently run out. All I had to hand was the tablet, and I didn’t really want to stop playing.

The only way around this problem was with multitasking, something that has changed considerably in Windows 8.

If you’ve been keeping track of the various articles we’ve posted about Windows 8, you’ll be aware that it is capable of much, but perhaps hampered in some ways by the duality between the traditional desktop and the new touch-based Modern interface.

Windows 8 features two types of foreground application multitasking. The first is the traditional desktop application switching, while the second is a limited full-screen multitasking found only in the Modern applications launched via the Start screen.

Standard Desktop Multitasking

You probably know how to multitask on a traditional Windows PC; indeed, there is very little for you to actually “know”, as the operating system does all of the work.

multitasking in windows 8

Let’s take the example above. If the space invaders clone Radiant was a desktop app, I would launch it, alter the settings to display it in windowed mode, then launch my email client and view the two things side by side, or perhaps with the game window positioned so that I could see new emails drop into my inbox. I might even minimize the email client in order to see just the notification area alerts.

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Using the Alt-Tab keyboard combination I would then be able to easily switch between the (paused) game and the email client to check and read any important mail. The same keyboard combination can be used across any number of open apps on the desktop,

Where It All Changes: Modern Multitasking in Windows 8

When it comes to the Modern apps (those launched from the tile-based Start screen) in Windows 8, however, things are a little different.

Here, although you can switch between many apps, only two can be displayed at any one time. Contrast this with the desktop, which is capable of displaying as many app windows as the system can handle!


Multitasking with Modern apps requires some finger-based work. In the example above, what I did was first launch the email application. Once open, I dragged my finger down from the top of the screen, then to the side slightly. This has the effect of reducing the size of the window and displaying a separator, the full height of the screen. At this stage, releasing your finger will then shift the app into a narrow segment of the display, 25% of the full width.

multitasking in windows 8

To run a second app in the remaining 75% of the screen, hit the Start button, find the app (in my case the game Radiant) and launch it. You can then control both apps without Alt-Tabbing between them!

Multitasking in Windows 8: Something to Get Used To!

As you can see, multitasking in Windows 8 isn’t that complicated – but it can prove confusing. This is because along with the split screen view, you can Alt-Tab through all open apps, thereby bringing the one you stop at into the main portion of the screen. Even the Desktop can be viewed as either the 25% or the 75% portion of the display, although selecting any apps open with this view will bring an end to the screen split until a Modern app is selected again.

With a little practice and a few minutes to get used to it, however, this aspect of Windows 8 can be quickly understood and appreciated for what it is – effective and simple multitasking that doesn’t rely on you to manually stop what you’re doing in order to switch between Start screen apps and the traditional desktop.

It’s fair to say, however, that the “Modern multitasking” isn’t something that you need to rely on if you choose to use the Windows 8 desktop mode. If you prefer to use Windows 8 as a traditional desktop OS, it is as robust as its predecessor, and just in case you’re missing things like the Start menu, you can easily restore it.

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16 Comments - Write a Comment


Garris Rago

I’m thinking of choosing the Acer Iconia W7 for my sister, she will be using this for university and will only really be surfing web pages, word processing, and itunes. The device would be running windows 8 which it comes with, do you think this would be appropriate for her? She loves the ipad we have at the moment (she won’t have it with her at uni) and said “can I just connect a keyboard to an ipad and use that as my uni laptop or is it a bad idea” and I said it was a bad idea. It’s pretty much between the acer and Lenovo S400
I’m leaned more towards the lenovo but she seems to like the idea of an ipad like system, was wondering if anybody could give some advice?


Daffy pluck

Windows and it’s ‘modern” interface (the word modern is in quotes because it’stardom atly ironic…) has taken us back 30 years before the times of true multitasking… Back to the times of commodore 64 and zx spectrum where you had only one Window and that’s it. What are these moron designers thinking? A operating system called windows that No longer has windows but annoying full screen apps? And we thought windows me, and vista were badly designed and ugly! thank god that start8 from stardock does a good job of hiding as much of this “modern crap” as possible!

Christian Cawley

“Back to the times of commodore 64 and zx spectrum where you had only one Window and that’s it.”

I think that I explained in the article quite clearly that you can have two windows :)


“I think that I explained in the article quite clearly that you can have two windows :)”

WOW! Two entire windows. What progress! Are you sure the users can handle all of that? But I suppose two is better than just one window. Reminds me of the IBM mainframes of the 1960’s, just two partitions to run jobs in – foreground and background. As Daffy said “Real modern”. NOT!

Christian Cawley

You know, Dragonmouth, I’m certain that one day you’ll contribute constructively to the comments on one of my articles.


If by “constructive” you mean agreeing with you, it will happen when you quit writing articles as if you were a Microsoft publicist and when you can accept negative comments about Windows.

Christian Cawley

No, Dragonmouth, I did actually mean constructive as in “contributing something useful to the conversation” as opposed to “trolling”.

Because – and it will, I’m sure, astonish you to know this – I’m more than aware that Windows 8 isn’t perfect. But MakeUseOf isn’t about complaining about things, it’s about making things work as they are. From the number of posts you’ve commented on, you should have noticed this.

It’s optimistic, don’t you think? I love that positivity. Makes the world a much better place. Would be great if you could join in!



“[T]his aspect of Windows 8 can be quickly understood and appreciated for what it is” – crippled! Trying to make Windows 8 more like a “tablet” only makes it less effective. I can leave Outlook (or Thunderbird) open for hours, and it’ll download emails in the background and pop up a notification and a tone when I get that email I wanted; I don’t have to dedicate 25% of my screen to it. Modern (formerly known as “Metro”) apps are destined to die a slow and painful death.

Christian Cawley

Hey Doc. Are you using Windows 8 on a tablet device? If so I’d be interested to know why you think it is “less effective”. I am using W8 on a tablet and find the Metro/Modern interface extremely useful when I’m mobile.

If you’re using it on a desktop/tablet, however, I wonder if you would agree that Microsoft should have added a simple element to the installation of W8 that detects touchscreens and asks the user if they want Metro/Modern or not? Having used it on a non-touchscreen and on a tablet, this is certainly my view.


I’ve tried a friend’s Windows 8 laptop, without a touchscreen, and followed it extensively (as I’m likely going to have to support some Win8 machines in the near future). Disabling Metro/Modern for a non-touchscreen isn’t in Microsoft’s favor, as that would also mean not using the Windows App Store … which they want to be their new cash cow. They’re also expecting touchscreens to be the “new normal,” and eventually shift away from desktop apps altogether…another stupid idea.

Christine St Syr Griffin

wow, I love a good clean fight, argument, whatever, I also enjoy being the devils advocate from time to time, but this, this is just dirty hair pulling and scratching your eyes out just to make everyone aware of your opinion. why the hostility? I would really like some informative viewpoints of windows 8 as it came with my new Asus, just 2 days new to me. can you please explain your points to me so I understand you, I hope I didn’t make the wrong decision as it set me back a pretty penny. thanks ever so much for your time, christine


What’s “dirty fighting” about stating the obvious? Microsoft sees Apple taking a 30% cut from everything and anything (apps, books, music) sold through the iTunes Store, and sees millions of dollars to be made. They also see iOS devices (iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads) as a threat, and get into the “touchscreen” craze with the Surface and touchscreen abilities in Windows 7 and Windows 8, and decide to do away with the Start Menu for no reason whatsoever, and crown their new “Metro/Windows 8 UI” as the future…no more desktop apps as soon as they can wean people off them…use our new “modern” UI and sell all your apps through us so we can take a cut. That’s why Visual Studio Express (Microsoft’s free development tools) initially only came in a version to develop for Windows 8 UI; developers screamed loud enough so Microsoft relented and released Visual Studio Express for Desktop Apps. Not hard to see that Microsoft wanted people to develop solely for Metro there.


I’m sorry Doc, my comments were actually intended firstly to dragon guy maybe just a bit towards you, but not
so much, you seem well versed in all of this so if someone is on a budget needs her car fixed and likes too eat occasionally the pretty little evil in white just won’t fit the budget. what would you suggest someone who knows relatively nothing about PC’s but really wants to learn purchase under $500. including insurance? thanks ever so much christine


Not sure what you’re looking for, but Tiger Direct has some pretty good refurbished laptops at decent prices; and there are some eBay stores (look for one with a great rating, such as 20,000+) and add a SquareTrade warranty to it at checkout. Also ask if the system comes with “Windows 7 downgrade rights” (you can install Windows 7 using the serial number for Windows 8 if you don’t like 8), or pick one with Windows 7 already installed.

There are “mom and pop” stores in many neighborhoods that will refurbish and sell used systems, and provide support and training for a little extra; see if there’s one in your neighborhood, and ask around to get an idea of their reputation before making a purchase.

Christine St Syr Griffin

thank you Doc for the sound advice I surely do appreciate your time. christine

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