When you run more than six applications on Windows 7 and you press Alt + Tab, icons representing the first six applications and the desktop appear on the first row of the grid and you can cycle with Alt + Tab + Tab... through the six most-recently used windows the usual way, but the seventh and other less recently used windows don't follow the same rules.

Instead they get grouped together according to their application, but disregarding whether they were recently used or not. This new behavior is mentioned here.

I am very used to the old way of cycling and the new system is driving me crazy. I tend to have 20 or so windows open at one time and I frequently need to alt-tab to the seventh or eighth window on the stack, but it doesn't work the same any more.

How do I put back the old behavior, so that Alt + Tab + Tab + Tab ... goes through the whole list in most-recent to least-recent order?

  • Question is quite old now. But let me know if 1. Holding alt (any) and pressing tab - tab -tab ... and 2. alt + shift + [tab tab tab] (for backwards) work today with your machine. I am curious.
    – Anubhav
    Aug 18 '14 at 7:49
  • Under System properties > Advanced > Performance options > Visual effects, I had adjusted for best performance I was getting grid of icons which is classic ALT+TAB behavior. So, I was curious.
    – Anubhav
    Aug 18 '14 at 8:12
  • 1
    Let me know if that is not the classic grid. I think it is. Another thing, even then, 'Always on Top' applications get a special treatment.
    – Anubhav
    Aug 18 '14 at 8:14
  • I think the broken link in the OP is moved to: devblogs.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20080701-00/?p=21793
    – Ron Burk
    Mar 22 '20 at 20:19

To restore the Windows XP Alt-Tab functionality simply launch regedit, add a DWORD named AltTabSettings to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer and set its value to 1.

And here's a one-line PowerShell script which does the above:

Set-ItemProperty HKCU:\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer AltTabSettings ([int]1)
  • 9
    It worked! Thanks, accepted. Is there a way to turn off the weird W7 ordering without turning off the nice W7 large alt-Tab preview icons etc? That is, can I keep the W7 alt-tab interface but with the XP ordering? Mar 4 '10 at 19:16
  • 1
    Thanks. But why this happens? Why explorer forget to switch windows with Alt+Tab?
    – Isaac
    Oct 12 '11 at 15:11
  • 1
    @Isaac it happens due to change they wanted it to work, blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2008/07/01/8673981.aspx
    – eis
    Dec 18 '12 at 12:53
  • 12
    Paste reg add HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer /v AltTabSettings /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f into the "Run" dialog if you're too lazy to use PowerShell like me. Jan 10 '13 at 16:43
  • 3
    Not working. Do I need to do a restart? Jan 12 '15 at 8:00

Not sure about tab order but you can access the old Windows XP looking Alt-Tab like this:

  1. Hold down the left alt key

  2. Press and release the right alt key, keeping the left alt key held down

  3. Then, still keeping the left alt key held down, tab-tab-tab away to you heart's content...

alt text

Thanks to BlogSofts via The Road To Know Where

  • 6
    Nice! I didn't know it could do that! But it's a PITA that you have to hit the right Alt then the left Alt for this to work.
    – Hondalex
    Feb 26 '10 at 22:55
  • You do get used to it after a while :)
    – Shevek
    Feb 27 '10 at 7:57
  • 5
    Does anyone know how to make this the default behavior? I like that sooooo much better.
    – jimbo
    Sep 30 '11 at 13:11
  • 6
    Add the "AltTabSettings" DWORD = 1 in "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer" then it'll become the default behavior.
    – deddebme
    Apr 13 '12 at 12:56
  • AMAZING! @Hondalex : also it makes it so you can't map this (in addition to the newer alt+tab) using the Steam Controller (without AHK magic at least) Apr 9 '16 at 16:39

While I tried, liked and upvoted the accepted answer I found this setting by googling a bit more: Windows 7: bring back old Alt+Tab behavior, turn off Aero Peek

  1. Go to System Properties (right click Computer in an explorer window and choose properties)
  2. Click Advanced System Settings in the left panel
  3. You should be on the Advanced Tab, in the performance section, click Settings
  4. Uncheck Enable Aero Peek

It turns out you can keep the Windows 7 look, but avoid the odd flashing behaviour (lack of better words) that is Aero Peek.

  • 2
    Great tip! but I can't up-vote you because your answer doesn't seem to answer the original posters question.
    – jpierson
    May 13 '11 at 14:07
  • 2
    I'm upvoting yours b/c you have added another piece to the puzzle of "making alt-tab work like it used to." Thanks - great nugget! Jul 12 '11 at 22:00
  • This answer works best if you can't edit your registry directly (perhaps on a locked down machine)
    – Gary Rowe
    Aug 20 '12 at 11:22
  • link doesn't work any more => always post the important piece from the remote site
    – sjngm
    Oct 13 '15 at 8:47
  • 1
    @sjngm Thank you for notifying me. I copied the steps from the link and edited my answer.
    – johnny
    Oct 13 '15 at 9:30

Try the combination Win + Tab. It uses the Aero interface, but give you a full cycle of your applications.

  • 1
    Interesting, I always hated the Win + Tab switcher but it does seem to keep stack ordering so maybe I'll have to start giving it a try once again.
    – jpierson
    May 13 '11 at 14:10
  • @jpierson wow I never used it long enough to notice that. That's actually useful. Apr 9 '16 at 16:40

In have just installed Windows 10 version 20H2. In addition to the registry key, you need to go to the settings (Windows + i) > System > Multitasking and set "Alt + tab" to the only setting not containing any "Edge" (in German Windows: "Nur Fenster öffnen", in English should be something like: "Open windows only"). Wrong German translation, BTW! Should be "Nur offene Fenster". ;-)

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