How do the Charms work with multiple apps running on Windows 8.1? Here’s how.

Multiple apps on Windows 8.1

While we use this weekend to recover from the whirlwind that is //BUILD/, there is still plenty of news to discuss from the past week. A preview of Windows 8.1 was released to everyone in attendance at Build and to anyone willing to try it out around the globe. Microsoft stressed that Windows 8.1 is just Windows 8, but refined. And in the short few days we’ve been playing we’re going to have to agree with that assessment.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring Windows 8.1 side-by-side with you, finding new features and tricks. One of our new favorites is the ability to have two or more Windows 8 apps opened at once, without having to put one snap. But how do the apps interact with the Charms when you have more than one open? Let’s find out.

Two apps side-by-side

Which app wins?

Right now in Windows 8, you can have two Windows 8 apps opened at once – one full’ish sized and the other snapped a side at 320 pixels. Windows 8.1 will allow up to four apps on a screen for two screens, for a grand total of 8 apps running at the same time. It Windows 8 the larger of the two apps would be the one active when you used any of the Charms in Windows – like the Search or Share Charm.

But in Windows 8.1 you’re going to have apps taking up the same size. Who gets to share or search? It’s a really elegant solution, whichever app you last interacted with is considered the “active” app and will be the one subjugating to sharing or searching. Easy example, you have Xbox Music and Twitter both taking up 50/50 of your screen real estate. If you’re busy scrolling in Twitter and go to share you’ll be sharing from the Twitter app, since you last interacted with it. Tapping anywhere within the Xbox Music windows will make that the active app if you want to use charms. ]

Sharing with two apps open
You're sharing the webpage on the right because you last interacted with it.

Tl;DR Last app used is the boss of the Charms in Windows 8.1

Gutter cues

When you have two apps side-by-side there is a little black bar separating apps – that’s called the gutter in the design and development world (and from now on here too). The gutter is how you can resize apps in Windows 8.1 and also tells you which app was last used. Central in the gutter are three dots, on either side of those dots is a white line. That white line will be “touching” which ever app is active. Again, active meaning it’s going to be the one that gets told what to do by the Charms when you use them.

Gutter and active app

The more you know – random info from //BUILD/

In Windows 8.1 the new minimum size for apps that developers must support is 500 pixels. Why 500 pixels? Because the lowest resolution device that can be certified for Windows 8 have screens with 1024 x 768. So developers need to be able to ensure that every user can have at least two apps taking up the screen 50/50, therefore 500 pixels is the new minimum.

Something else we found interesting, while you can 8 modern apps open at once over two monitors, you cannot have one Windows 8 / modern app span between those monitors. Like what you can do with windows in the desktop. However, developers can have their Windows 8 apps open more than one window with new APIs in Windows 8.1. For example, look below at the screenshot. You’re looking at the Windows 8.1 version of Internet Explorer with two different windows open. Nifty right?

Two Windows 8.1 with multiple windows
Multiple windows support for one Windows 8.1 app

And finally, Microsoft has prepared Windows 8.1 to support apps on a plethora of devices with varying screen sizes/resolutions. Right now on the market you have devices like the Surface RT and Pro, both physically the same size, but one device has a full HD resolution and higher DPI than the other. You also have devices like the Dell XPS 27 All-in-One that has a 27-inch screen that is 2560 pixels wide and 1440 pixels high! But we know devices with small screens and high (as in extremely high) DPIs on are on the horizon – and so does Microsoft. Check out the following screenshot to see what Redmond is prepared to support in Windows 8.1.

High DPI screens in Windows 8.1
Anybody want a Surface tablet in the 7-8 inch range with a 1440 x 1080 display? Hmm yes please. 

The info above came from the session titled Beautiful Apps at Any Size on Any Screen by Sarah McDevitt. It’s worth checking out if you want to know how Windows 8.1 will change how you interact with all these new sized devices. Go to Channel 9 to view the session


Reader comments

How do the Charms work with multiple apps running on Windows 8.1? Here’s how.


Windows logo + volume down at the same time. You can also Windows logo + power to bring up the task manager and more. 

Just a little correction; Its not technically both buttons together. It's actually hold the Windows button and click Volume Down.

Hopefully on the desktop as well. thought about that last week as a good thing to share a screen or active windows with the charms share menue since the desktop doesnt support anything else anyway

Windows 8.1 is looking good, hope they continue to update quickly, especially on windows phone. I really hope blue isn't delayed :(

Its more the little things that frustrate me, things that are simple to implement and have been demanded for years, things like auto rotate disable, an x on multitasking view to close apps, flashing windows button for notifications and custom alert sounds (seriously?) these are the types of things that make me want to smash my phone against a wall but are so easy to fix. WHY MS WHYYYYY???!?

Yeah I agree. So frustrating if you are laying down and trying to use your phone and your damn screen keeps rotating!

You don't realize how much testing goes into each tiny thing for an OS, do you?

Microsoft also has to implement these features in an elegant way.

Does it really take 2 years to implement auto rotate? If so then how many decades would something like a notification centre take? I'm a bit fed up with the pace of updates for wp since wp8

If that makes you mad then just think about how before WP7 was released MS promised frequent and speedy updates. That was part of the original plan to differentiate WP from its competitors... I've expected more.. I got more updates on my old Samsung BlackJack and WinMo was much more fragmented than WP.

so - first you have all screens to understand autorotate - than you have all screens to support a lock on it - than you have to test it. how do you disable it - how do you disable it and running apps understand it. how the other way around when you enable it?

All of those things are not my problem, users want it, ios implemented it easily without any problems and so did android. Please stop defending hopeless omissions from this great os for all of our benefit.

easily - sure they did. especially like 6 years after hitting the market .. easily! ..they even added an app tile in just 1 year development!
you sir, are clearly not a developer

You do realize the only people you are defending are the increasingly lazy microsoft who have shown lately that they care more about ios users than wp users

yes - they maybe care in your head. you clearly dont know how an large enterprise works and you clearly dont know how complicated software development is. but it is alright - just join apple and get the best from MS - since they care so much about you there

Your blatant fanboyism has turned this simple request for features into an argument. Congratulations but i have no interest in continuing this rubbish. I swear some people go through the comments searching for things to argue about.

You still dont get the point do you. Me telling you it is not simple task you still believe it is a "simple request" does it have anything to do with fanboyism that i understand software development and complexitiy of systems

Actually, his comments aren't an example of fanboyism at all. Most consumers dont have an idea of what goes into software development.

You're right.. To many WP users have to put their two cents in when someone wants a new feature.. Why do they try to convince someone that they shouldn't want a feature, and that it would be hard to implement when other platforms have had it for a long time.. I hate those WP users who expect less from WP. They only hurt the platform by encouraging MS to be stagnant.. Its simple.. If you don't like a feature that somebody is requesting then shut your fuckin mouth and just don't use it.. This happens to me all of the time.. People are stupid❕

There is disable auto rotate. It's in settings / brightness. It depends on device to support that. Some also have hardware buttons to disable that.
An X on multi-tasking apps I'd find annoying to see. I don't see why you can't just slide the app away. To close an app there are many ways: you can right click on multitasking apps list to close apps and in Windows 8.1 IIRC it will now show options when you hover over it.
You can disable/enable any notification. There's just no central notification if that's the ask.

You depend too much on old habits. Flow along with the new WP way and you will find your life gets a little less complicated, which is what WP promotes - focus on using, less on admin, your phone is not your life.

You can't tell someone what, or what not, their life consists of.. Maybe some people are power users, and use their phones all of the time.. Maybe some people love basketball and never let go of the ball.. What's wrong if somebody's phone is their life❔.. If the dude wants a new feature than why should anyone have anything negative to say about it.. The more features WP has the better, and if you don't like some of them then just don't use it. Bit, never tell someone that they don't need something... Sounds to me like you got thay old WP7 way of thinking, and this is not MS way of promoting smartphone usage anymore.. You need to get with the times.

Did anyone has the issue that app can only closed with the Task manager, every time I try to close an metro app the normal pull down way the app stays active in the background....

I think I've seen this happen.. Nevertheless, this is beta. Just make sure you give feedback on that.

its not a bug but this is how it works in 8.1
close it like you do it, dragging from top. BUT instead of let it go when you go bottom. hold the app there until it changes icon. then when you let it go and you go to task manager you see it disappear.
and note: it doesnt stay active even if you dont close the app properly, it still gets suspended, like if you switched apps and let it susped, the only difference its it wont be in the apps switcher thing (which can be a positive/negative in some scenarios) but of course app will open faster. But it only consumes ram.. and if you need ram it will close the app just like before. but no no, it doesnt stay active, it will always get suspended if the app is meant to be suspended.
I think it will change in rtm, but for now thats how it works in 8.1
but its also a nice way to restart the app without doing all the steps closing app and then go to start screen and click on the tile again to reopen the app for whatever reason you have to restart it ;D. now you only have to drag down, hold it there until it flips and do the icon thing, and you drag it up and it reopen the app.

even after it changes icon on dragging down, it stays in the Task Manager. But I think, being there is required for the app to open faster? I have noticed apps opening much faster than in Win8.

well it doesnt closes immediately, you have to give it some seconds... in my computer which is a crappy one :P
it takes like 10-12 seconds in my tests in some apps. so you wont see it close right away, just give it a time, as long as you hold it on bottom and it changes to App icon, it must disappear some seconds later.
but yeah, if you used an app, and you "close" it like the old way. it would stay suspended, so it would allow you not to fill your app switcher with apps you wont use, but still allowing you to open apps fast. since it is already loaded.
so like i said it has negative and positive things. becuase it still uses some ram, but it allows faster switch of apps.
but it should work, I must admit, not seeing an app disappear right away, may make you think it doesnt work! but i have tested it in every app and it gets closed, but yeah i think it needs to wait like 10 seconds to do it apparently (at least in my computer) 

Or just close it in task list. Move mouse in upper corner (or swipe from left and back).

hmm nope. that "close" in app switcher just suspends apps, just like if you dragged an app from top and let it go fast in bottom.
but ALT + F4 works nice :P it closes the app, like expected. it disappears from task manager.

The only problem im having with W8 is the track pad not working sometimes.. I'm sure it's a software issue because after a reboot it works fine for a while, but eventually stops working again.. I even installed a recommended driver from Lenovo and that didn't help.. I was hoping the installation of 8.1 would fix my problem but no luck.. What's the deal?.. Lenovo G580

Must be laptop dependant. I've been using my trackpad along with all the W8 gestures fine on my Envy 6 and XPS. Software drivers aren't always well written, especially by Lenovo in my experience.

I've been playing around with Windows 8.1 preview all day and I've got to say that I really enjoy it.
-Moving tiles is as easy as it is in Windows Phone.  
-Bing News seems to have gotten a LOT better versus the Windows 8 version.  
-XBOX Music doesn't completely suck anymore.  
-The ability to set the start screen background to your desktop background and the automatic change to your accent colors that happen are both pretty amazing and highly welcomed.  
-Being able to shut down my computer and get to system settings from the start button makes me very happy!
-IE11 is kind of cool, but it feels like the Metro App is most definitely catering to touch interfaces

I would prefer they cater metro ie for touch as they have. On my PC I always use the desktop ie and on my surface I use metro ie.

the right click menue on the start button was implemented in Win8 already. Shut down can be done with click in the taskbar and pressing alt+f4 - not to complicated, is it :)

This is a very detailed article. What if u have 4 apps sharing and u wanna search on two apps?

"and to anyone willing to try it out around the globe...." yeah right... Unless your in an English speaking country other than than the US. Even more insulting that they call English UK a "variation" of English. #ridiculous

Microsoft is a US company, why would they make UK English first edition?

I know you only want to complain... but seriously, if you don't understand WHY waste time translating a version only because you don't want it to see color and you want it colour, I feel bad for you.
oh wait... now Microsoft has to translate to every language for a PREVIEW version? because not everyone got it and they can complain?
its stupid to think that in my opinion. because really, if you want to use the PREVIEW version, get US English version, if you don't want to, then don't cry and wait until RTM hits. in the end you practically have to reinstall the OS, which in my opinion would be about the same, since you cant update from preview to rtm. so its not like you would die installing everything if YOU want to try this PREVIEW. you only didn't get store version, which can cause a lot of issues anyway.

PS. yeah, preview was in caps so MAYBE you would understand why Microsoft doesn't need to rush translating some languages, because it would be a waste of time, and not everyone has to have access to preview version.

just change your language to US English, install the update, change back... Worked for me :-D

How about not clicking on a title that clearly says windows 8.1 if you don't want to read about windows 8.1. Some of us enjoy windows coverage as microsoft is not only focusing on single products anymore, but how those products work together such as windows and windows phone. That is how windows news is also relevant to windows phone users.

Considering windows phone 8 and windows 8 use the same core OS now, it technically is related. Although naming the site Windows Central and covering both win8 and WP would probably be better

But your 2 sentence article didn't include info about high DPI screens in small devices. Also, this article was more aimed at people who might not get to play with the preview of Windows 8.1, and won't really understand what you mean by being the app in "focus". 

In Windows 8 the larger app is the one that interacts with Charms. In 8.1 you can have four apps be the same size on the same screen. Could be a little confusing for people not getting to play with it. 

In windows 3.1 all the way to 8 you can have hundred of Windows open. Of course your interactions are going to be with the one in focus. Same concept 30 years later.

This needs to be changed to reflect the frustrating truth:
"A preview of Windows 8.1 was released to everyone in attendance at Build and to anyone willing to try it out around the globe" 
Should reflect that it's only available in 13 languages that does not include any non US English!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
a HUGE frustration for a large chunk of that so called globe.

It would not be so bad if they stated that it's a RESTRICTED Preview to a certain set of language configurations. But MS did not and its causing issues. They released it in 13 language configs, but there was no mention that it would be English (United States) only with no easy ability to try it.

Now as for the comments about wine and cheese etc., why is it necessary to be obnoxious to others that have ongoing frustrations with the USA based but Global company.

Lol! Sorry about that wine and cheese comment.. It just sounds funny coming from the moderator.. You're right, it seems like MS would want feedback from a larger audience.. I feel you.

wow those Gutter cues! I saw it and thought it was a random graphical bug xD. i always knew clicking on the app would make it active and then i would be able to use the charms and stuff. i thought it was logical.
and well I thought it was nice when i tested and it opened 2 IE windows side by side.
this update is amazing! :) it will be nice when RTM hits.
for people not knowing about how to close apps, you only have drag it from top, go down and wait until it flips and changes to show the icon of the app, then you can let it go. and couple seconds after you will see it gone from task manager.

right click in a link and "open in new window".
or shift + click in the link
its like it opens 2 tabs in both windows, so you can switch sides if you need to. not bad but not easy to understand at first why same tab in both windows? ;D
also if you are using mouse... you can right click on a tab, and then open it to new window.

Easy peasy. Few ways: CTRL + N, right click and do new window, swipe up and open a new window in the app bar.

OK Sam...slightly different question. I am not using Windows 8.1, but I just noticed something a little odd in Windows 8. I have dual monitors and on one I am watching Battlestar Gallactica in the Netflix app. On the other I am typing this comment in Chrome for desktop. So, I am able to watch something in an "app" and work in a desktop program. But, if I try to switch to Adobe Illustrator for desktop in that second monitor, it closes Netflix (and stops the show) and shows the desktop on the monitor that used to be Netflix. Any thoughts? What I'm getting at is does 8.1 have better support for having an "app" and a desktop program in use simultaneously?

I think the reason it behaves that way is that apps open in your primary monitor. So it looks like you were watching Netflix on your primary monitor and tried to open the Adobe Illustrator. If you had it the other way around, then it wouldn't interupt your Netflix viewing.

Thanks everyone! I tried the "open a new window" yday and nothing happened, but just tried it again and it worked =D Haven't been successful in opening it from the apps though, but that's most likely user error :P

I would really like to have more flexibility in the way tiles of different sizes can be grouped, like on the phone. Like a wide tile and then 4 small tiles in a row and another wide tile underneath. Love the huge tile for the weather.

You can do that, the tile sizes are small, medium, wide and large. The wide & large tiles are the width of 4 small tiles.

No you can't, because the icon grid is based on the medium tile. Four small ones will always reflow to fill a square.

I wish there was a better option to charms... I find them to be so unintuitive and difficult to use on a desktop. I mostly use the keyboard shortcut as it's frustrating to open quickly with a mouse, especially when you have 2 monitors and need to be more precise. Most of the time I hunt around in apps for the options / settings and then eventually remember to check in the hidden charms settings. There should be an option to lock the charms bar and not have it auto-hide. At least then users would know it's there and can interact with it quickly.

I don't like how the charms search doesn't default to the search facility in the app you are using. That's what I loved about windows 8. Now it just searches everywhere all the time unless you tell it otherwise. Not very efficient :/

For me, win 8 is non-functional (desktop version, waiting to try mobile at Sprint's mercy) article mentions can now have 4 programs open at once like it's an upgrade... Win 7 can have as many open as I choose subject to limits of processing power. Next pc I buy will still be a 7 box.

Coming from a near Apple-esq fanboy, u take that as a compliment. Win 8 in my opinion is another mistake similar to Windows Me or Vista. Evidence? Microsoft's need to release 8.1 instead of a service pack. While it's clear you disagree, what's clueless is your lack of reasoning for disagreement.

You do realize Win7 is really Vista.1, right? If Vista hadn't gotten such a bad rap due to hardware requirements, Win 7 branding probably would have had Vista all over it. Win 7 got much of its glowing reception because by the time it hit the streets, most people had new hardware.

I don't understand why people keep whining win7 better from win8 as long as you can use your classic desktop normally like what I do. For Me although I using old style 99% but I like win8 much more smooth compare to win7.

I'm not a developer, and I don't want to reinstall windows... Is it possible to Update to Windows 8.1? I'm really excited to explore New features :) :) Plz let me know.. :)

If you are using Windows 8, you can upgrade to Windows 8.1 RTM, when it becomes available. However, if you wanna try Windows 8.1 Preview, you may have to reinstall all the apps when you upgrade it to RTM.

You may, choose to install 8.1 Preview on a new partition and leave your current Windows 8 as it is. Then when Windows 8.1 is released, just upgrade your Win 8 and delete 8.1 Preview. :)

Just installed the preview, downloaded the WP App... and its not recognizing my phone. Says 'Plug in your phone to see what's on it', its not showing up in file manager either. What the hell?

Anyone having an issue where IE 11 flashes especially when one goes to twit.tv & expands the player full size?. Do any of the Lumia owners have sound control issues,where at moment the song is full on & cannot decrease the volume & vice-versa?

Am I the only one trying to open the charm bar or switch between apps by swiping when switching from a Windows 8.x device to a Windows Phone one? I'm not dumb, but it happens all the time, especially when using IE on both devices. Frustrating.

A sincere thanks to WP Central, Sam and all the curious amongst you who've downloaded the early release version and have provided tips, tricks and insights on how 8.1 looks, feels and works.

If it were up to me, you all would get Halo Spartan Assault as a free gift for your efforts! ;-)

Thanks again,

I never saw 4 apps running on one screen. I didn't even know MS was working on that.
I guess i would love an option (which you can toggle on and off) for apps to dynamically resize based on activity. Whenever you toch a running apps which is small it snapps bigger and the inactive ones get shrunk. That way you could ensure that the app you are focused on always has the maximum space available without having to manually resize everything.

Great article nice to see some new material.
I am trying to find out more about the Win 8.1 share charm as I notice that I can't seem to invoke a search within an app from the search charm anymore.  I also notice that apps like finance, and numerous others now have an on-screen search box which is contrary to the Windows 8 dev guidelines.
Have they abandoned search-charm cross-app searches in Windows 8.1?  I hope not, I used them quite a lot.  For example, if I am in the finance app and bring up the search charm "MSFT" now I get a bing search, not a search of the finance app.  I hope that's not the way it will be!
Otherwise really loving Windows 8.1 on my Surface Pro!

Yeah, It frustration that the search charm doesn't work like windows 8 anymore. I hope it gets fixed in windows 8.1 RTM