I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a heavy user of the ALT+TAB shortcut on any operating system. Windows has it, Mac OS has it, and Chrome OS has it, but I’ve never really formed any habits around the feature. For me, virtual desks and overview mode are the tools I use to jump around all my open windows all day long. Though, I must admit, as I’ve been testing out this new feature set on my Chromebook, the ALT+TAB life is beginning to beckon me.
If you are one who likes to use the ALT+TAB carousel method of navigation, there’s really good news on the horizon as Chrome OS’ iteration of this multitasking feature is set to get some very helpful upgrades. As it stands right now, you can hold ALT+TAB and see all your open windows minimized and selectable in a carousel via holding the ALT button down and continually clicking the TAB button to cycle through them. It works, but I’ve never considered this the easiest way to move through my open windows.
ALT+TAB is getting an upgrade
With a new flag that has shown up – spotted by Chrome Story – the ALT+TAB feature is getting a bunch of new features that will make it much more useful for quick navigation. The flag is called Enable Alt-Tab interactivity improvements and is found at chrome://flags/#ash-enable-interactive-window-cycle-list in the Canary channel for now, and comes with the following description:
Adds mouse behavior, three-finger touchpad swipe, left/right arrow navigation, and space/enter confirmation to Alt-Tab.
As stated, this adds quite a bit more functionality to the ALT+TAB feature and makes it far more beneficial in my opinion. Up front, you need to know that all these interactions still happen while holding down the ALT key. Whatever is highlighted when you let go of that key will be selected and brought into focus. As a non-ALT+TAB user, I’ve had to get used to this and figure I’d point that out to anyone considering giving this a go.
Now, up first is the addition of mouse behavior. This simply means you can bring up the ALT+TAB navigation and hover windows with the mouse pointer. Sounds simple, but currently it isn’t supported. Second, a 3-finger swipe on the trackpad will move you through open windows much like Chrome swipes through tabs.
Additionally, you can also cycle through open windows with a simple, intuitive left or right arrow press. I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t realize this wasn’t part of the existing ALT+TAB experience. It seems so simple and logical that I have a hard time understanding why it wasn’t already included. This will likely be my most-used addition in this list.
Finally, you also will have the ability to hit space or enter to select the window you’ve highlighted. The fact that releasing the ALT key already does this makes me think they might change that behavior when all this officially launches. Perhaps the ALT+TAB navigation will stay put once called up and a space or enter key will be the selector. Or perhaps during testing the Chrome OS team found that some users just like to click a button to select their option even when holding on to that ALT key. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
Either way, these additions make the ALT+TAB navigation far more usable, interactive, and intuitive. Again, as a user who’s never really been on the ALT+TAB bandwagon, I’ve always found the simple one-way carousel navigation to be inferior to the overview method of moving around. Sure, you can add SHIFT into the mix and move backwards through the open window list, but it really starts to feel like finger gymnastics at that point. These new navigations will go a long way towards making ALT+TAB a much more user-friendly experience that I think will benefit far more users than it currently does.