Edge Browser Gets Alt Tab Integration in Windows 10 Insider Preview Build

At the beginning of July, Microsoft released Windows 10 Insider Preview build 20161 on the Dev Channel. There are two major changes in the build. The first is theme-aware tiles on the Start menu. The second, and more interesting change, is Edge integration with Alt+Tab.

Most users will be familiar with the Alt+Tab key combo in Windows for switching applications. In currently supported versions of Windows, Alt+Tab lets users switch between running applications only. In the new Insider build, Microsoft has changed the default behavior of Alt+Tab to include Edge browser tabs.

App or task switcher?

If you are a multitasker and have multiple tabs open at any one time, then this update will make it easier to switch back to recent tabs. While it’s possible to scroll through open tabs in Edge using CTRL+TAB, recognizing tabs as ‘apps’ in Windows provides a level of integration that could provide a more natural workflow.

As Microsoft points out in its blog post announcing the new build, “We’re making this change so you can quickly get back to whatever you were doing—wherever you were doing it.”

In the updated Alt-Tab, Edge browser tabs are mixed with apps based on recency. For example, if you have just switched through a set of open tabs, they will appear first in Alt-Tab. This differs from CTRL+TAB in the browser where you scroll forwards through open tabs, regardless of recency. You can also scroll backwards through open tabs with CTRL+SHIFT+TAB.

If you regularly have 30 to 40 tabs open, the new Alt-Tab might get a little overcrowded. So, Microsoft lets you configure the experience. Under System > Multitasking in the Settings app, users can choose to go back to the classic Alt+Tab experience or set it to display three or five of their last tabs.

A better way to switch between open browser tabs

I’ve long been looking for a solution to conveniently manage and browse open tabs. I don’t find that CTRL+TAB, or any of the various tab manager extensions, solve the problem effectively.

In practice, I don’t know how the new Alt-Tab experience will work for users like me that often have many tabs open. Or if reducing the functionality to just the last three or five tabs will impair its usefulness.

Reading through comments on the new Alt-Tab, it certainly looks like the jury is out on whether it will be valuable. But with the choice to switch it off, the new Alt-Tab shouldn’t upset those who prefer the classic way of switching apps in Windows. It’s good to have options.

New Alt-Tab for a subset of Insiders

But whatever the outcome, the new Alt-Tab experience is likely to be a long time coming. Builds in the Dev Channel aren’t connected to any particular Windows release. So, it’s unclear whether the new Alt-Tab will come with Windows 10 20H2 later in 2020 or if we need to wait until a feature update in 2021.

Additionally, the new Alt-Tab requires a Canary or Dev build of Microsoft Edge version 83.0.475.0 or higher. And at the time of writing, the new Alt-Tab is only being rolled out to a subset of Insiders.