There are a lot of subtle functions and effects built into Windows 7 that may seem either rudimentary or pointless at first glance but end up being very useful when you realize what they can do. Of these the new window control tool called Aero Snap is a much needed and hugely effective addition.
Snap your windows to any location
We’ve all run into this problem: When working with multiple documents, multiple file folders or using a web browser to research content while writing a document, doing image editing or programming a web site we keep having to switch between different windows. And if there’s a lot of switching back and forth or you have a lot of windows open at the same time this can get quite tedious. To aleviate this issue many end up trying to resize the windows so that each fit half the screen. In extreme cases (like myself), they buy a second monitor so they can place one folder or application on each screen. But even so you are still left with the annoying task of resizing your windows and drag them around.
That’s now a thing of the past. Windows 7 has an intelligent “window snapping” feature built in that does the brunt of this work for you.There are five main positions for this snapping feature:
- Grabbing the top bar of any window (even when it is maximized) you can drag it in “hovering window” size to any place on your desktop. This pretty much eliminates the need for the Restore Down button in the upper right-hand corner.
- Grabbing the top bar and moving the window to the extreme left of the screen automatically snaps the window to the left so it covers exactly half of the screen widthwise.
- Likewise moving the window to the right makes it snap to the right and cover the right half of the screen.
- Dragging the top bar to the extreme top of the desktop automatically maximizes the window to full screen mode.
- Grabbing the top bar of any window and shaking the mouse pointer back and forth a couple of times automatically minimizes all the other windows on the desktop leaving only the shaken one.
Control your windows with the arrow keys
The above snapping actions are all cool, but the mouse movements are just the beginning. A far more important innovation is that you can also control the same window snapping functions using the Windows key in combination with the arrow keys:
- Windows key + Up maximizes the current window.
- Windows key + Down sets the window to “float” or Restore Down mode. Hitting Windows key + Down while in a window that is already floating minimizes it to the taskbar.
- Windows key + Left snaps the window to the left half of the screen
- Windows key + Right snaps the window to the right half of the screen
I’m sure you, like me when I first heard about this, are thinking “Ok, so what’s the big deal? It’s not like I’m ever going to use this feature!” Trust me, you will. The power of this feature (and especially the key combinations) became obvious to me when I was doing the rewrite for my upcoming book Sams Teach Yourself Expression Web 3 in 24 Hours. A huge part of the rewrite consisted of opening two Word documents and cross-referencing them and opening two file folders and moving files back and forth between them. Since I do all my writing on my laptop I didn’t have the benefit of two monitors so I ended up having to fit two instances of Word or two opens folder on the same screen. This process now takes about 1 second and requires no fine motor skills or mouse work. Simply use the Alt+Tab combination to pick the appropriate window and hit Windows key + Left or Right depending on what location you want the window to be in. So when I was working with two Word documents side by side switching between single full-screen document view and dual document view became a matter of 3 or 4 keystrokes rather than Restore Down, resize with mouse, move around, switch back and forth etc etc.
It seems like a small thing but holy crap does it ever make my life (and yours) easier!
Bonus: Desktop Peek!
One of the things that really annoyed me about Windows Vista was all the Sidebar Gadgets. That is to say the gadgets themselves didn’t annoy me but the sidebar did. The whole point of having these gadgets available was, in my mind, to be able to access them and see them when I needed to without having to do a lot of moving around and closing windows etc. But the sidebar was a total pain and always got in the way so I ended up just turning the damned thing off completely. In Windows 7 the Gadgets are released from the sidebar and can be placed wherever you want them. But that still leaves the problem of how to see them quickly (not to mention all the other crap I store on your desktop). Well, there’s a really clever solution to this too: At the extreme right hand side of the taskbar there is a small rectangular box. If you hover your mouse over it all your open windows automatically become transparent and you can peek at your desktop. Clicking the rectangle minimizes all your windows so you have access to the desktop. Likewise clicking it again restores all the windows to where they were in the order they were stacked. Couldn’t be any easier.
You can read a very long and detailed explanation of how this all came about in the article Designing Aero Snap in the Engineering Windows 7 blog.