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Windows 8: snap multi-tasking explained

Exploring a new feature of Windows 8

New to Windows 8, snap multi-tasking lets you dock one program in a small strip on the side of the screen, while working in another. Here's everything you need to know about snap multi-tasking in Windows 8.

Running more than one application at a time, so called multi-tasking, is not new to Windows. The old Alt-Tab convention has been used to switch between open programs in Windows for a long time, and you'll still find it in both the desktop and Start screen versions of Windows 8.

You can also sweep a finger on to the screen from the left bezel and flick to scroll through everything you've currently got open in either desktop or Start screen views. But there's something new in Windows 8 too, by way of snap multi-tasking. This function allows you to dock one application into a small strip on the left- or right-hand side of the screen, while continuing to work in another program in the main area of the display. (See also: Windows 8: the complete guide.)

Windows 8: In the dock

Windows 8 Snap Multi Tasking

There are plenty of potential uses for this system. You might, for example, want to keep a Twitter feed live in the narrow panel while browsing the web in the larger part of the screen. Strangely, you can use this system to combine Metro and desktop apps, and while the difference in looks can be jarring, there's no doubt it has its uses.

Because you can still use the Alt-Tab system to switch between programs, snap multi-tasking arguably adds a whole new dimension to working with multiple applications. But it does have its limitations. The tab sizes are limited, for example, so you can't have two programs taking up equal screens space, nor can you multi-task three or more applications in this way.

And if you are working with a finger on a touchscreen device you can't pre-select which two programs you want to be using – you need to have one open, then gently slide the next one open. The second application is simply the next one in the queue of opened software, and if it isn't what you were after you need to slide the next one in, then the next one, till you get the program you wanted. Things are easier if you use a mouse (see the box below).

Windows 8: How it works

If you are working with a finger, drag in applications that are already open from the left-hand side of the screen. If you are too quick they'll open up full-screen and that's not what we are looking for here. As you drag, the new program will appear as a thumbnail, slowly sliding in, and the application that's onscreen will move over to make space for it.

As you can see from the main image at the top of the opposite page, a vertical line separates the new application from the one that was onscreen initially. The program you are using will take up a larger chunk of the screen than the other. This could be a web browser, for example, or some other program that needs a lot of screen space. If you decide you want to change the relative amount of desk space shared by the two applications, simply drag the vertical bar that separates them to the left or right. The more visible program will become the smaller one, and vice versa, but you won't be able to have both share the same amount of screen space.  

Windows 8: Snap multi-tasking with a mouse

The convention for starting snap multi-tasking with a mouse is slightly different to working with a finger and it allows you more control over selecting the applications you want to use.

When working full-screen, you'll need to put the cursor in the top left of the screen and then pull down (without pressing any mouse buttons) to reveal thumbnails of all your opened programs. Now left-click and grab the application you want, dragging it away from the other thumbnails. Drop it into the smaller space (if you drop it into the larger space it will simply take up the full screen).

Windows 8 Snap Multi Tasking with mouse

Now you can repeat the process to choose a program for the larger space. You can drag the vertical bar left or right with the mouse to alter the relative size of your two multi-tasked apps.

Using snap multi-tasking in WIndows 8

Windows 8 Snap Multi Tasking

As you drag, the new program will appear as a thumbnail and the application already onscreen will move over to make room.

Windows 8 Snap Multi Tasking

Snap one program to the left-hand side of the screen, leaving the rest of your workspace available for others. You can adjust the space each takes.

Windows 8 Snap Multi Tasking

Thumbnails of other active apps will appear in the desktop pane, should you choose to keep that open, allowing you to quickly multi-task.

Visit Windows 8 Advisor for expert reviews of Windows 8, Windows 8 tips and tricks, as well as expert advice on how to get the most from Windows 8. Buy The Complete Guide To Windows 8.

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