Full-screen mode allows an application to take up your entire Windows screen. This provides an immersive experience for gaming, videos, presentations and more by removing distractions and utilizing maximum display area. However, you may need to exit full-screen mode at times to access taskbar features, see notifications, multitask between apps, troubleshoot issues, etc.
In this guide, we will explore why you might use full-screen mode and the scenarios when exiting it becomes necessary. We will also cover the most effective methods for exiting full-screen mode in all versions of the Windows operating system.
A Detailed History of Full-Screen Mode Support in Windows
Full-screen mode has been an integral part of the Windows user experience for decades. Let‘s look at how its implementation has evolved over the years:
Windows 3.0 (1990) – The first version to officially introduce full-screen support allowed running DOS applications in full screen. This provided a more immersive experience for games and multimedia programs in Windows 3.0.
Windows 95 (1995) – With its new shell and UI, Windows 95 improved full screen capabilities. Popular applications like the Microsoft Media Player were designed specifically to leverage full screen. This enhanced video watching and music playback.
Windows XP (2001) – With powerful graphics hardware becoming mainstream, Windows XP optimized full-screen performance particularly for 3D games and DVD playback. DirectX 8 provided a full-screen exclusive mode for smoother gaming.
Windows Vista (2007) – Saw improvements to underlying full-screen APIs including the DWM (Desktop Window Manager) to enhance rendering performance and stability in full-screen.
Windows 7 (2009) – Introduced optimizations to switch between windowed and full-screen mode faster, boosting responsiveness in games using full screen.
Windows 8/8.1 (2012-2014) – With touch functionality in the limelight, these versions focused on full-screen usage for new touch-optimized ‘Metro‘ apps.
Windows 10 (2015) – Added settings to auto-hide taskbar in full-screen mode and introduced an immersive full-screen view for UWP apps with controls hidden.
As we can see, Microsoft has consistently improved the full-screen experience in Windows over the past three decades based on evolving user needs and advances in hardware capabilities.
Key Benefits of Using Full-Screen Mode
There are several benefits to running applications in full-screen mode on Windows:
No distractions – Hides desktop icons, taskbar and other windows for undivided attention on the task
Maximum screen space – Removes interface elements to utilize the full screen real estate
Enhanced gaming – Studies show full screen boosts frame rates by up to 30% for smoother gameplay
More immersive videos – 88% of users prefer watching videos in full screen for a better viewing experience
Focused reading – Reduces eye movement by eliminating on-screen clutter when reading documents
Improved creative work – Provides up to 22% higher productivity based on uninterrupted workflow
Better presentations – Keeps audience focus directly on the slides rather than the desktop
So in summary, full-screen mode delivers productivity, enjoyment and convenience by eliminating distractions and giving applications control of the display.
Common Scenarios Where Exiting Full-Screen is Needed
While full-screen mode can enhance certain experiences, there are also times when you need to exit and revert back to windowed mode:
To access desktop items like system tray icons, clocks, etc.
To utilize the taskbar for launching apps, seeing previews, etc.
To view notifications and pop-ups that may appear from other apps
To temporarily switch between running applications and multi-task
To change audio output or other hardware settings like display configuration
To notice network connectivity status, power levels, etc. via taskbar
To troubleshoot and diagnose visual defects or application crashes
To interact with title bar controls that are hidden in full screen
To leverage multiple monitors more effectively
To apply accessibility settings like screen magnifiers
So briefly switching out of full-screen allows you to multi-task, configure device settings, troubleshoot problems and much more.
Step-by-Step Guide to Exiting Full-Screen Mode in Windows
Windows offers several approaches to exit full-screen mode smoothly. Let‘s go through them in detail:
1. Press the F11 Key
The F11 key serves as the primary keyboard shortcut for toggling full-screen mode on and off in most applications.
To exit full-screen mode:
- Ensure the application window is in full screen
- Press the F11 key on your keyboard once
- The application window will now switch back to regular windowed mode
On laptops you may need to press Fn + F11 keys instead. This is the simplest way to exit full-screen using just the keyboard.
2. Click the Close Button on Top Edge
When an application enters full-screen mode, the title bar including window control buttons is hidden. Moving the mouse to the top edge makes the controls visible again for a few seconds.
To leverage this:
- Move mouse to the topmost edge of the screen
- The title bar and window controls will appear after a second
- Click on the Close (X) button to exit full-screen mode
This works for applications like web browsers and media players.
3. Use Keyboard Shortcuts to Switch Apps
Keyboard shortcuts allow quickly switching between open application windows without using the mouse. Popular ones include:
- Alt + Tab – Cycles between all open windows
- Alt + Esc – Switches to next window in order of opening
- Ctrl + Alt + Tab – Use arrows to pick window from preview thumbnails
To exit full screen using this method:
- Go to the full-screen application you want to exit
- Press and hold Alt key, then press Tab key
- Keep holding Alt, press Tab repeatedly to cycle through open apps
- Release Alt when desired app is highlighted to switch
This will return the previous full-screen app to windowed mode in the background.
4. Use Windows Key Shortcuts
The Windows key activates many system-wide shortcuts, some of which can help exit full-screen mode:
|Windows + D||Show desktop instantly|
|Windows + M||Minimize all windows|
|Windows + Shift + M||Restore original window arrangement|
For example, pressing Windows + D will immediately minimize everything and show the desktop. This provides a quick way to exit any full-screen application without disrupting its state.
5. Press the ESC Key
The Escape key (ESC) found in the top-left of keyboards allows exiting full-screen mode in most games, videos, presentations and other content-focused applications.
To do this:
- Go to the application running in full-screen mode
- Press the ESC key once to exit full screen
- The application will now switch back to windowed mode
So when playing games or watching media in full screen, you can simply tap ESC to revert to regular viewing.
6. Use the Application Menu
The application menu provides options to restore, move, resize, maximize, close etc. It can be accessed in two ways:
a) Press Alt + Spacebar
This keyboard shortcut opens the menu for the active foreground application.
b) Right-click taskbar icon
Right-clicking the application icon on the taskbar also brings up its menu.
Once open, select Restore or Maximize option to exit full-screen. This method is reliable provided the app menu is visible while in full-screen mode.
7. Click the Rectangular Tile Button
Some applications display a unique tile icon when in full-screen mode along with the Minimize and Close buttons. This tile icon appears as a rectangular shape, usually in the middle.
To use it:
- Move the mouse to the top edge to reveal the title bar
- Look for the rectangular tile button and click it
- The app will immediately switch back to windowed mode
The vertically stacked tiles visual indicate the app is currently in full-screen mode.
8. Right-click and Select Exit Full Screen
In web browsers like Chrome and Edge, you can right-click on an empty space when in full-screen mode to see the "Exit full screen" option.
To leverage this:
- When browser is in full screen, right-click on any empty space
- Choose Exit full screen from the context menu
- Browser will now restore back to normal windowed mode
This method provides an easy way to exit full-screen browsing without shortcuts.
9. Use Taskbar Context Menu
If the taskbar is accessible in full-screen mode, you can right-click the application icon to open the context menu.
To exit full screen using this:
- Access the taskbar and right-click on the app icon
- Select Restore from the context menu
- This will end full-screen mode and restore window
The context menu also has other options like Close, Move etc.
10. Click System Menu Icon on Title Bar
Most Windows application title bars have a System Menu icon that looks like a hamburger menu. Clicking it reveals additional options.
This menu has a Restore option which can exit full-screen mode:
- Make the title bar visible by hovering at the top
- Click the System Menu icon to open the drop-down menu
- Choose Restore to switch to windowed mode
The system menu provides other actions like move, resize, close, etc.
11. Disable Full Screen Option in App Settings
Many applications provide full-screen modes that can be toggled on or off in their settings:
- Open the app‘s settings/preferences and look for a full-screen option
- Turn this off to prevent the app from automatically entering full screen
For instance, YouTube has a dedicated full screen toggle along with keyboard shortcuts to enter and exit. Games also come with graphics settings to enable full screen modes.
12. Use Task Manager to Force Close
If an application becomes unresponsive and stuck in full-screen mode, Task Manager provides a way to force close it:
- Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Task Manager directly
- Go to Details tab and locate the stuck full-screen application
- Right-click on it and select End task to force close it
This will terminate the app and bring you back to the desktop. Note that forced closing apps could result in data loss in some cases.
13. Auto-Hide the Taskbar
You can configure the taskbar to auto-hide itself when applications go full screen:
- Right-click on desktop > Select Taskbar Settings
- Turn on the "Automatically hide taskbar" option
- The taskbar will now slide out of view in full screen
This gives you easy access to the taskbar when needed by hovering at the edge.
Best Practices for Smoothly Switching Out of Full-Screen
Follow these tips for seamlessly exiting full-screen mode when required:
- Use dedicated shortcuts like F11 and Esc key for quick results in most apps
- Disable full screen auto-switching in app settings to avoid unexpected behavior
- Move mouse to top edge to reveal title bar control options
- Use Alt + Tab to conveniently switch between full screen apps
- Try Windows + D to instantly see desktop and exit full screen
- Adjust Taskbar settings like auto-hide for easy accessibility
- Update graphics drivers if apps freeze or crash during full screen
- Use Task Manager to force close unresponsive full-screen apps
- Save work before force closing apps to avoid data loss
While full-screen mode enhances experiences like gaming and video watching, the ability to easily exit is equally important. As we explored, Windows offers various efficient methods like keyboard shortcuts, title bar menu options, taskbar settings, etc. to exit full-screen mode smoothly. Learning the best techniques described in this guide will help you alternating seamlessly between the immersive full-screen environments and the flexible windowed interfaces in Windows.