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Revert to XP-Style Alt-Tab ('Coolswitch') behavior in Windows 7 and Windows Vista

If you are a longtime Windows user (as I am, I've been using Windows since version 1.03 in 1987), you've probably developed some deeply-ingrained habits.

On of my most oft-used techniques from the old days: Switching between desktop windows using the Alt+Tab key combination, A.K.A. 'Coolswitch'. Windows 7 and Windows Vista have altered this feature, and not for the better, in my opinion.

The behavior of this feature has remained consistent all the way through Windows XP: Press and hold the Alt key, then press and release the Tab repeatedly, and you can cycle through an iconic array of windows, arranged by Z-order (most recently used windows are first in the list). The window title appears in a text field at the bottom of the grid. While holding down the Alt key, keep pressing Tab. Select the window icon you want then release the keys, and the desired window is activated. Pressing and releasing the Alt+Tab combination once will activate the last window you were working with. So you can cycle between two application windows very quickly by pressing and releasing Alt+Tab repeatedly. Simple, powerful, and very helpful for the Windows power user.
Picture of Windows XP-style Alt+Tab ('coolswitch') display
Starting with Windows Vista, and continuing in Windows 7, the behavior has changed: the windows are no longer presented using a simple icon array, nor are they presented in Z-order, making it much more difficult to switch between two most recently-used application windows.

I've struggled for a while, trying to get used to the 'new and improved' way of doing things, but I just can't. So I found out how to restore the Windows XP (and earlier) Alt+Tab behavior:


Modifying your registry incorrectly can destabilize your system or render it unusable. Please back up your registry before applying any registry changes. You've been warned.

I opened RegEdit, navigated to


And added the following REG_DWORD value:


As soon as I set that value in the registry, I had my familiar, useful Alt+Tab behavior back. No more struggling to find the last window I was looking at.

If you don't want to fire up RegEdit, you can import this registry file. (Right-click, select "Save As" or similar, and save to your desktop. You can double-click the file and add it to your registry. Be sure to back up your registry first.

You can revert to the default (standard) behavior by setting AltTabSettings = 0 (or just delete the entry from the registry).

hkcu-software-microsoft-windows-currentversion-explorer-AltTabSettings.reg292 bytes

I'm a Windows user for a long

I'm a Windows user for a long time. Just like it. Thanks for the tip)

Cool tips! I guess we are

Cool tips! I guess we are just too used to the XP style navigations. lol!

It Wasn't Just Me!

Thank you ever so kindly for helping restore some order to newer Windows chaos that I have been forced to endure for almost a week since upgrading to Windows 7. I don't see how anyone can like the "updated" Alt+Tab functionality; it's a complete train wreck and actually slowed me down instead of helping. Like you, I, too, tried to adjust to the new version thinking that eventually I would just be able to roll with it and move along with my life. Alas, 'twas not to be, so I had been resorting to the WindowsKey+Tab approach which was a little saner but also fell short.

Fortunately, I was not the only one to feel that way...

Thanks again!

Windows - If it's not broken then don't fix it

I am struggling with Windows 7 still dreaming of the days when I was happy with the very robust XP OS. Still thank you for the tip I too want the recognizable, and very useful Alt+Tab behavior back.

Alt-tab behavior: best of both worlds?

It would be nice if there was an option to keep the whizzy new alt-tab presentation, but keep the old order behavior. I like the window preview presentation, but not the loss of the ability to switch back and forth between the two most-recently-used apps.

Re: Alt-tab behavior: best of both worlds?

Well, I found out somewhere else how to do it:

Press left Alt button(and don't release) and then press-release right Alt button and then Tab through.

Thanks a Tera

thanks, my life is back
I also use:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop
CoolSwitchColumns REG_SZ =12 (defines the number of columns)
CoolSwitchRows REG_SZ =8 (defines the number of rows for the Alt-Tab View)

So you can see all your windows if you have more than the default maximum.
[This wasn't working before your hack. Now it is. Thanks, a googleplex]

thanks much.

Thanks for the tip. XP style was much better than Vista style.

Brilliant! Thanks !

Brilliant! Thanks !

Many thanks! it work like a

Many thanks! it work like a charm. Windows 7 is full of useless feature that incredibly slowing down people!

Confirmed to still work

It's not as pretty as the Vista/7 tab switcher but it gets the job done. Thanks