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Are there any solutions to prevent applications stealing focus from the active window?

This is especially annoying when I'm starting an application, switch to do something else and the new application starts receiving half a sentence of text.

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Vista or XP? Since Vista has some known issues with workarounds –  Ivo Flipse Aug 5 '09 at 9:14
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@Ivo Windows 7 in my case but I think for SuperUser all windows versions would be relevant –  svandragt Aug 5 '09 at 9:48
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The moderator merged this question: superuser.com/questions/199821/… with the current one. This is wrong, the answer to the current question does not apply to windows 7, so it shouldnt be merged. So far I could not find a solution to this problem in Windows 7 –  Alex Angelico Oct 13 '11 at 13:38
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This is one of my number one pet peeves with every GUI I have ever used. You're typing and blam, some bleeping dialog box steals focus and half your keystrokes go somewhere else. You'd think that the implementors of windowing systems would have figured out this one out decades ago. If there is activity in a window, delay the exposure of the new window. E.g. don't pop anything up on the GUI until three or four seconds since the last button click or keystroke in the currently focused window. Doh! –  Kaz Mar 27 '12 at 22:15
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This is especially annoying when I'm starting an application, switch to do something else and the new application starts receiving half a sentence of text. It’s even more annoying when a dialog pops up and you unintentionally dismiss it without even seeing the message because you happened to press Space or Enter while typing a sentence. –  Synetech Jan 1 at 16:17
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6 Answers 6

up vote 13 down vote accepted

There is an option in TweakUI which does this. It prevents most of the usual tricks dubious software developers employ to force focus on their app.

It's an ongoing arms war though, so I don't know if it works for everything.

Update: According to EndangeredMassa, TweakUI does not work on Windows 7.

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is tweakui compatible with windows 7? –  frankster Jan 13 '10 at 9:18
    
@frankster. No idea, sorry, I suspect it probably isn't. Download it and try it. Report back if you do so everyone knows. –  Simon P Stevens Jan 13 '10 at 15:51
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Even using the registry setting that TweakUI sets doesn't work on Win7. –  EndangeredMassa Oct 15 '10 at 19:19
    
@EndangeredMassa which registry key is that? –  naxa Nov 4 '12 at 21:49
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The registry key is HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\ForegroundLockTimeout (in milliseconds). And yes, it doesn't work in Windows 7 anymore. –  foo Oct 10 '13 at 11:33
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A while ago I've done extensive research on solving this issue once and for all (and failed). The result of my research can be found on the annoyance project page.

The project also includes an application that repeatedly tries to grab focus by calling:

switch( message ) {
  case WM_TIMER:
    if( hWnd != NULL ) {
      // Start off easy
      // SetForegroundWindow will not move the window to the foreground,
      // but it will invoke FlashWindow internally and, thus, show the
      // taskbar.
      SetForegroundWindow( hWnd );

      // Our application is awesome! It must have your focus!
      SetActiveWindow( hWnd );

      // Flash that button!
      FlashWindow( hWnd, TRUE );
    }
    break;

As we can see from this snippet, my research was also focused on other aspects of user interface behavior I don't like.

The way I tried to solve this was to load a DLL into every new process and hook the API calls that cause another windows to be activated.
The last part is the easy one, thanks to awesome API hooking libraries out there. I used the very great mhook library:

#include "stdafx.h"
#include "mhook-2.2/mhook-lib/mhook.h"

typedef NTSTATUS( WINAPI* PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION ) ( 
  __in       SYSTEM_INFORMATION_CLASS SystemInformationClass,     
  __inout    PVOID SystemInformation, 
  __in       ULONG SystemInformationLength, 
  __out_opt  PULONG ReturnLength    
);

// Originals
PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION OriginalFlashWindow   = 
  (PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION)::GetProcAddress( 
  ::GetModuleHandle( L"user32" ), "FlashWindow" );

PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION OriginalFlashWindowEx = 
  (PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION)::GetProcAddress( 
  ::GetModuleHandle( L"user32" ), "FlashWindowEx" );

PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION OriginalSetForegroundWindow = 
  (PNT_QUERY_SYSTEM_INFORMATION)::GetProcAddress( 
  ::GetModuleHandle( L"user32" ), "SetForegroundWindow" );

// Hooks
BOOL WINAPI
HookedFlashWindow(
  __in  HWND hWnd,
  __in  BOOL bInvert
  ) {
  return 0;
}

BOOL WINAPI 
HookedFlashWindowEx(
  __in  PFLASHWINFO pfwi
  ) {
  return 0;
}

BOOL WINAPI 
HookedSetForegroundWindow(
  __in  HWND hWnd
  ) {
  // Pretend window was brought to foreground
  return 1;
}


BOOL APIENTRY 
DllMain( 
  HMODULE hModule,
  DWORD   ul_reason_for_call,
  LPVOID  lpReserved
  ) {
  switch( ul_reason_for_call ) {
    case DLL_PROCESS_ATTACH:
      Mhook_SetHook( (PVOID*)&OriginalFlashWindow,         HookedFlashWindow );
      Mhook_SetHook( (PVOID*)&OriginalFlashWindowEx,       HookedFlashWindowEx );
      Mhook_SetHook( (PVOID*)&OriginalSetForegroundWindow, HookedSetForegroundWindow );
      break;

    case DLL_PROCESS_DETACH:
      Mhook_Unhook( (PVOID*)&OriginalFlashWindow );
      Mhook_Unhook( (PVOID*)&OriginalFlashWindowEx );
      Mhook_Unhook( (PVOID*)&OriginalSetForegroundWindow );
      break;
  }
  return TRUE;
}

From my tests back then, this worked great. Except for the part of loading the DLL into every new process. As one might imagine, that's nothing to take too lightly. I used the AppInit_DLLs approach back then (which is simply not sufficient).

Basically, this works great. But I never found the time to write something that properly injects my DLL into new processes. And the time invested in this largely overshadows the annoyance the focus stealing causes me.

In addition to the DLL injection problem, there is also a focus stealing method which I didn't cover in the implementation on Google Code. A co-worker actually did some additional research and covered that method. The problem was discussed on SO: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7430864/windows-7-prevent-application-from-losing-focus

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In Windows 7, the ForegroundLockTimeout registry entry is no longer checked, you can verify this with Process Monitor. In fact, in Windows 7 they disallow you from changing the foreground window. Go and read about its details, it has even been there since Windows 2000.

However, the documentation sucks and they chase each other and find ways around that.

So, there is something buggy going on with SetForegroundWindow, or similar API functions...

The only way to really do this properly is to make a small application which periodically calls LockSetForegroundWindow, virtually disabling any calls to our buggy API function.

If that's not enough (another buggy API call?) you can go even further and do some API monitoring to see what's going on, and then you simply hook the API calls on every process after which you can get rid of any calls that mess up the foreground. However, ironically, this is discouraged by Microsoft...

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Does anyone have a reproducible use case of this in Windows 7? Given that people rather experience the opposite (for example, I often find demanding Windows to be hidden behind my current window) and that I am yet to see this happen in Windows 7, it would be pretty annoying to write an application but being unable to test it. Furthermore, as Microsoft states this should no longer happen with Windows 7. At best people discovered that it could only switch the keyboard's focus by accident, this API call would fix that but I don't know how to test whether it actually works... –  Tom Wijsman Mar 24 '12 at 10:47
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The installer (based on InnoSetup) launches other processes and possible other (hidden) setups, but I don't know what setup creator they're based on. –  Daniel Beck Mar 26 '12 at 15:00
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@TomWijsman: Open regedit, search for some random text that won't be found. Go into another app and start typing. When the search is finished, regedit will steal focus. –  endolith Jun 6 '12 at 18:06
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@endolith: Not reproducible, using Windows 8 Replase Preview here though. What OS are you using? In my case it just highlights the application at the bottom but doesn't interrupt my browsing at all... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 6 '12 at 19:31
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Yes, Win7 Pro 64-bit. And focus stealing is even worse for elevated processes, since they capture your pressing <Enter> when they shouldn't, and you tell it to hose your system accidentally. Nothing should ever be able to steal focus. –  endolith Jun 6 '12 at 20:59
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I believe that some confusion may exist, as there are two ways of "stealing focus" : (1) a window coming to the foreground, and (2) the window receiving keystrokes.

The problem referred to here is probably the second one, where a windows claims the focus by bringing itself to the foreground - without the user's request or permission.

The discussion must split here between XP and 7.

Windows XP

In XP there is a registry hack that makes XP work the same as Windows 7 in preventing applications from stealing focus :

  1. Use regedit to go to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop.
  2. Double-click on ForegroundLockTimeout and set its value in hexadecimal to 30d40.
  3. Press OK and exit regedit.
  4. Reboot your PC for the changes to take effect.

Windows 7

(The discussion below mostly applies to XP as well.)

Please understand that there is no way in which Windows can totally block applications from stealing the focus and remain functional. For example, if during a file-copy your anti-virus detected a possible threat and would like to pop-up a window asking you for the action to take, if this window is blocked then you would never understand why the copy never terminates.

In Windows 7 there is only one modification possible to the behavior of Windows itself, which is to use the MS-Windows focus-follows-mouse Registry hacks, where the focus and/or activation goes always to the windows under the cursor. A delay can be added to avoid applications popping up all over the desktop.
See this article : Windows 7 - Mouse Hover Makes Window Active - Enable.

Otherwise, one must detect and neutralize the guilty program : If this is always the same application that is getting the focus, then this application is programmed to take the focus and preventing this may be done by either disabling it from starting with the computer, or use some setting supplied by that application to avoid this behavior.

You could use the VBS script included in VB Code which identifies who's stealing focus, which the author used to identify the culprit as a "call home" updater for a printer software.

A desperate measure when all else fails, and if you have identified this badly-programmed application, is to minimize it and hope that will not then bring itself to the front. A stronger form of minimization is to the tray by using one of the free products listed in Best Free Application Minimizer.

Last idea in the order of desperation is to fracture your desktop virtually by using a product such as Desktops or Dexpot, and do your work in another desktop than the default.

[EDIT]

As Microsoft has retired the Archive Gallery, here is the above VB code reproduced :

Declare Auto Function GetForegroundWindow Lib "user32.dll" () As Integer
Declare Auto Function GetWindowThreadProcessId Lib "user32.dll" (ByVal hwnd As Integer, ByRef procid As Integer) As UInteger

    Private Sub Form1_Load(ByVal sender As System.Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles MyBase.Load
        Me.RichTextBox1.AppendText("Starting up at " & Now & vbCrLf)
    End Sub

    Private Sub GoingAway(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles Me.Deactivate, Me.LostFocus

        Dim hwnd As Integer = GetForegroundWindow()
        ' Note that process_id will be used as a ByRef argument
        ' and will be changed by GetWindowThreadProcessId
        Dim process_id As Integer = 1
        GetWindowThreadProcessId(hwnd, process_id)

        If (process_id <> 1) Then
            Dim appExePath As String = Process.GetProcessById(process_id).MainModule.FileName() 
            Me.RichTextBox1.AppendText("Lost focus at " & Now & " due to " & appExePath & vbCrLf)
        Else
            Me.RichTextBox1.AppendText("Lost focus due to unknown cause.")
        End If

    End Sub
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"if this window is blocked then you would never understand why the copy never terminates" That's not true. The correct behavior is to notify the user with a blinking task bar icon (or maybe a balloon pop-up or toaster notification or something). Interrupting the user with a window that intercepts their keystrokes means that they tell the antivirus software to take one action or another at random. Definitely not a good way to do things. –  endolith Jun 9 '12 at 12:10
    
Unfortunately, Windows doesn't do that methodically in all cases. So one has to resort to workarounds or third-party products. –  harrymc Jun 9 '12 at 12:12
    
"if this window is blocked then you would never understand why the copy never terminates" That's not true. The correct behavior is to notify the user with a blinking task bar icon... There have been times when I clicked a button or something in a running program that causes a new modal dialog to be created (e.g., open file), but then I switch to another program before the dialog is created. As a result, the dialog is hidden and the other program can not be switched to and the dialog cannot be dismissed. Neither its taskbar button nor Alt-Tab works; only forcing the dialog to the front. –  Synetech Jun 12 '12 at 4:46
1  
@Synetech: Sometimes the only solution to the non-front dialog is to kill the task. The focus algorithms in Windows are really lousy. –  harrymc Jun 12 '12 at 6:21
    
@harrymc, I never have to resort to killing one of the apps. I just run my window-manipulating program (WinSpy++ does the trick just great) and hide the window in front, then I can dismiss the stuck-back dialog, then re-show the hidden window. It's not convenient, but it's better than killing either of the processes. –  Synetech Jun 12 '12 at 15:06
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Ghacks has a possible solution:

It happens several times a day that some applications steal the focus of the active window by popping up. This can happen for a number of reasons, when I extract files or a transfer finishes for instance. It does not matter most of the time when this happens but sometimes I’m writing an article and it does not only mean that I have to type some words again but also that I lost concentration and have to click to regain focus.

The Pro Reviewer website has a tip on how to prevent this from happening. The easiest way of preventing focus stealing is to use Tweak UI which has a setting that is called “Prevent applications from stealing focus”. Checking this option prevents that other applications pop up suddenly and steal the focus of the window you are currently working in.

This only works when the application has been minimized before. Instead of stealing the focus it will flash a number of times which can be defined in the same menu in Tweak UI. If you do not want to use Tweak UI you can change the setting in the Windows Registry.

Navigate to the Registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Control Panel > Desktop and change the ForegroundLockTimeout value to 30d40 (Hexadecimal) or 200000 (Decimal). The key ForeGroundFlashCount defines the amount of flashes of a window to alert the user where 0 means unlimited.

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This doesn't work on any OS after XP. That registry value is already set to that (by default, I believe) and doesn't work anyway. –  EndangeredMassa Oct 15 '10 at 19:18
    
Just to second that I'm on Windows 7 (64-bit), experiencing focus-stealing (VS 2012 when finally active, f'r example), and the above registry-suggestion is already in-place. Technical confirmation in this answer: superuser.com/a/403554/972 –  Michael Paulukonis Feb 24 at 16:03
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PowerMenu will do waht you want to do in windows 7. I have Windows-7 32 bit so don't know it will work on 64 bit properly or not. But on my version its working like a charm for me. After installing this just right click on the top of window and select the option you want to.

enter image description here

And select the Always on Top option and t will do the rest.

EDIT

OK I got it!

You can use these two more programs which are easy to use. Always on Top will work good just you have to launch it after installing it and then just drag the hand button to the desired app to make it on top always and you can toggle it through the Ctrl+F8 and lose focus from active windows you can use Ctrl+Spacebar.

enter image description here

Second tool is the Deskpin just install it and then click on the pin icon in the taskbar tray icon and then click it on the windows top which you want to keep on top.

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What, you choose "Always on top" for every application? –  endolith Jun 6 '12 at 21:03
    
@endolith updated the answer now you can check it. –  avirk Jun 7 '12 at 1:45
    
@endolith I just use that program rarely but I most use the Deskpin which is very easy for me. –  avirk Jun 7 '12 at 9:25
    
Deskpin is the great tool I got. –  ItsBegin Jun 9 '12 at 7:58
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Even if something is Always On Top, I think its focus can still be stolen and keystrokes can still go to the stealing app in the background, no? –  endolith Jun 9 '12 at 12:13
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protected by slhck Apr 28 '12 at 19:44

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