Alt-Tab application switcher

June 8

Window switching has to be as simple as possible. I think alt-tab switching can be more useful and become more approachable to a wider audience - not just so called power users. Users seem to be getting more sophisticated and more frequently are looking for tricks to make their interaction with a computer faster. In conjunction with the new shell, we may be able to steer them to this handy keyboard trick and make it part of more users' personal habits.

Summary of Improvements to the existing Alt-tab switcher

  • Align this switcher with the layout norms and visual style of the shell - Ex: bigger icons
  • Fast switching to any running application regardless of workspace.
  • Show one icon per application, but provide a way to switch to any specific window.
  • Add a way to preview or improve the usefulness of selected window highlighting

Basic layout and control of the switcher


  • The Alt-Tab keystroke calls up the switcher
  • All Active apps in all workspaces shown
  • Apps are ordered by recency of use.
  • Single icon per app, regardless of number of windows. Users can optionally select specific windows for multi-window apps (see more below)
  • One application is always selected
  • Per current behavior, releasing Alt key is how the user selects the application to switch to. Clicking is not required.

Using the mouse to set focus


Using the mouse is a second, more direct way to set the focus in addition to repeated pressing the Tab key. Users are frequently annoyed with tabbing when they tab too far. Employing the mouse, which is likely to already be in their hand, lets the user quickly select arbitrarily from the application list.

Expose windows on demand


  • Click and hold to reveal the window(s) for the selected application (note: need a keyboard equivalent like space or down arrow)
  • If a window to reveal is in a different workspace than the current one, quickly switch to that workspace first
  • If an application has windows in multiple workspaces, switch to the multiple workspaces view as needed. Same effect as in the shell.


  • Application with multiple windwos being revealed by click and hold

Other thoughts

  • Menu alternative: Instead of exposing windows we could use the same window list as in the shell design. This would be consistent with the shell, but is not as intuitive as the design above, which gives a nice preview behavior for both single and multiple-window applications.


  • The current behavior is to show a crude outline for any highlighted application. This could be improved visually by bringing the window to the top of the stack but ghosted. This raises issues about what to do for applications that are not in the current workspace. This could be added to the design here but is not neccessary and may be overloading the user with unnecessary visual effects.

Projects/GnomeShell/Design/Iterations/AppSwitcher (last edited 2015-01-10 10:40:41 by OliverPropst)