Have you ever found yourself juggling multiple application windows on a single computer monitor, or even multiple monitors? The situation can be overwhelming, especially when you need to switch frequently and you’re not accustomed to multitasking this way. Luckily, you can always switch screens on Windows.
However, switching screens in Windows OS can mean many things, depending on the context. You can either switch between multiple physical monitors, virtual desktops, or app windows.
All of these options are very useful, especially if you’re working in half-a-dozen applications simultaneously. So, without further ado, here’s how to switch screens on Windows.
#1: Switching Between Two Monitors
Let’s start with the most comprehensive way of switching screens. Dual- and triple-monitor setups aren’t as rare as they used to be. In fact, according to a 2018 study by Dell, more than 89% of workers use multiple screens for work. Additionally, a 2020 survey by Jon Peddie Research found that more than 19% of professionals use three or more monitors for productivity.
The truth is that having multiple monitors increases productivity. According to the aforementioned survey, dual monitors have been proven to increase productivity by 42%. That’s everything but a negligible increase. So, in this segment, we’ll discuss how to switch between two monitor screens.
Step 1: Set Up Your Monitors
Physically connect your monitors to your computer using appropriate cable connections — either HDMI or DVI. Most modern computers and monitors come equipped with an HDMI connector. You can either do this yourself or have someone more experienced do it for you if you’re not as confident in your tech skills.
Windows will automatically detect both screens once they’re connected and denote them as “Display 1” and “Display 2.” However, Windows duplicates Display 1 to Display 2, and you basically have the same display output on all your displays. This means that both physical monitors show the exact same thing.
Step 2: Choose a Display Option
What most people need, at least for productivity, is more desktop real estate. This means extending a single virtual desktop over two physical monitors. To change what shows on your display, press the Windows logo key+P. This will display a splash window with available options.
As previously stated, Duplicate is the default option, but we want to extend the display. Keep pressing the WIN+P key combo until you select Extend. Your screens might flick for a second as Windows extends your Display 1 into Display 2.
Step 3: Switch Screen Arrangement
Once Windows OS extends your virtual desktop, your main monitor will be denoted as Display 1. As you add more external monitors, they’ll get the designation of screens 2, 3, and so on. These screens will be arranged in certain ways when you join them. It’s up to you to arrange them per your personal preference.
To do so, right-click anywhere on your Desktop wallpaper, and select Display Settings to open the Settings window. We used Windows 11 in our photographic examples, but the process is identical on Windows 10.
Once the Settings window pops up, you should see your screens displayed in a particular order. You can click on Identify to identify which screen is which.
To rearrange the screens, simply click on a particular screen and drag it to where you want it positioned. Most people feel that the best arrangement mirrors the physical arrangement of your monitors.
Bonus Step: Switch Your Primary Screen
Let’s assume that you connected an external monitor to a laptop simply because you need a bigger screen. Windows OS will automatically assign your laptop’s monitor (Display 1) as your Primary Monitor. This is fine by itself, but some productivity apps, and even games, would still launch on your Primary Monitor.
To make Display 2 (your external monitor) into a Primary Monitor, right-click your Desktop wallpaper and select Display Settings. Then, click on Display 2, and check the Make this my main display box under the Multiple displays dropdown.
For a walkthrough of these steps, check out this video:
#2: Switching Screens Using Virtual Desktops
Microsoft recognized the need of its users for multiple displays, but it also recognized the fact that not everyone has access to an additional monitor. Thus, in 2015, the company introduced Virtual Desktops in Windows 10 as a new feature called Task View.
This feature allows users to create multiple virtual desktops and switch between them to better organize their active apps and improve productivity and workflow. Here’s how to create a virtual desktop.
Step 1: Create Multiple Desktops
To create multiple virtual desktops, you need to open Task View by clicking the Task View icon on your taskbar. This will open Task View, displaying all your currently active tasks.
In the lower section of the screen, you’ll see a list of currently active virtual desktops. Alternatively, you can press WIN+Tab on your keyboard to open Task View.
Once the Task View is open, click on the New desktop to create a new virtual desktop. The newly created virtual desktop, named Desktop 2, will appear as an exact copy of your current Displays but without any active apps.
It’s worth noting that some Widows 11 builds don’t have the Task View icon enabled by default. To enable the Task View icon, right-click on your taskbar to open the context menu, and select Taskbar settings.
Once the Settings window opens, find and activate the Task view toggle under the Taskbar items dropdown.
Step 2: Switch Between Multiple Desktops
Switching between multiple virtual desktops is pretty straightforward. Just press the WIN+Tab to open Task View, and click on the desired desktop using your mouse. Alternatively, you can use WIN+Ctrl+left arrow key and WIN+Ctrl+right arrow key combos to move back and forth between virtual desktops.
Once you’re done with your productivity session and all your virtual desktops, you can close them from the Task View. Just hover your mouse pointer on the edge of the new desktop on the list, and click on the Close icon. Alternatively, you can use WIN+Ctrl+F4 key combo to close your current virtual desktop.
#3: Switching Apps Between Screens
So far, we’ve offered two different solutions on how to switch screens on Windows. So, it only stands to reason to offer two ways to switch apps from one screen to the other. This option is particularly useful, regardless of whether you’re using virtual desktops, dual-monitor setups, or both.
Switching Apps Between Virtual Desktops
Once you create another Virtual Desktop, you can easily open up the necessary apps there. However, if you already started an app, there’s really no need to close it and re-open it somewhere else. You can easily switch your active app from one virtual screen to the other. This option is particularly useful if you have too many apps open on one desktop.
To switch the location of a particular app screen from one desktop to another, open Task View. Select the intended app window you’d like to move by right-clicking it. This will open a context menu; select the Move to dropdown to access the list of available options.
Select the destination desktop from the list to move the app to the said desktop. If you haven’t created a virtual desktop earlier, you can select the New desktop option. This will create a new virtual desktop and send the app there immediately.
Switching Between Two Monitors
By configuring your multi-monitor setup as an Extended display, you get a massive amount of desktop real estate. This means that you can easily drag and drop various app windows from one monitor to the other. A quicker way is to use the keyboard hotkeys (shortcuts).
In fact, you don’t even have to use your mouse for this task. However, we’ll assume that your screen arrangement (as described in Method 1, Step 4) mirrors your physical screen layout. Simply ALT+Tab through the apps until you find the one you want to move. Then press the WIN+Shift+directional arrow key to move the app window to the desired monitor.
For example, if you want to move your app window from your Primary display to the one on the left, simply press the WIN+Shift+left arrow key. This will immediately move the app to the monitor located left relative to the one currently occupied by the app. The use of hotkey combos is relative to the physical/virtual layout of your displays.
Switch Screens on Windows: 5 Must-Know Facts
Here are five must-know facts about switching screens on Windows:
- Windows first implemented multi-monitor support in Windows 98. However, the feature was very limited; it only duplicated the Primary Display to the Secondary.
- The multi-monitor features were significantly improved in Windows XP. Microsoft’s legendary OS was the first Windows to allow users to extend their desktop over multiple displays.
- The most recent Windows OS, Windows 11, supports up to 4 or more displays without relying on third-party software. However, the number of monitors is limited by the computer’s hardware.
- According to Dell’s study, nearly 90% of professionals use multiple screens at work. However, the Jon Peddie Research survey states that only 37% of professionals use dual-monitor setups.
- Virtual desktops were introduced as means to allow users to organize their active applications and windows.
How to Switch Screens on Windows: Final Thoughts
Knowing how to switch screens on Windows, and stay organized, is vital for any professional working on the PC. Hopefully, our guide has provided you with the knowledge necessary to switch screens on Windows.
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The image featured at the top of this post is ©Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com.