Skip to content

How to Exit Full-Screen Mode in Windows

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.

Pressing F11 key to exit full screen mode

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.

Clicking the X close button on top edge to exit full screen

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.

Using Alt + Tab to exit full screen by switching apps

4. Use Windows Key Shortcuts

The Windows key activates many system-wide shortcuts, some of which can help exit full-screen mode:

Shortcut Function
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.

Using Windows key shortcuts to exit full screen mode

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.

Pressing ESC key to exit full screen mode

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.

Using application menu to exit 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.

Clicking rectangular tile button to exit full screen

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.

Right-click context menu with Exit full screen option

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.

Using taskbar context menu to exit full screen

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.

Clicking system menu icon on title bar to exit full screen

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.

Applications provide full screen setting options

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.

Using Task Manager to force close full screen apps

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.

Auto-hiding taskbar for access in full screen

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.