What I have to say here is a reprisal of a blog entry I did about 8 years ago. Sadly, the site on which I posted it (tipicalcharlie.com) is no more, and I'd been meaning for the longest time to resurrect some of the posts there, as they can be as valuable now as then. Thanks to the great internet wayback machine, I found a copy of the entry, as I've had more and more people say they had never heard of these capabilities, which still work today (from XP through Windows 2012, whether as host or remote).
Here is the entry, originally posted April 25 2005 (with some slight tweaks adding section headings and a couple other updates as noted):
If you're a keyboard shortcut fan, you may be annoyed when using Remote Desktop (when in windowed mode) that the Alt+tab flips among windows within your local desktop interface, when you may wish to instead for it to work on the remote desktop. Or, on the other hand, you may be working in a full-screen remote desktop and wish to use alt-tab against your local desktop. If in that case you would always minimize the remote desktop, there's a better solution by making the remote desktop a window and using a couple of great keyboard shortcuts--specific to working with Remote Desktop in a window--that I discuss here.
Toggling the remote desktop between windows and full-screen mode
First, note that ctrl+alt+break switches Remote Desktop between full-screen and windowed mode. When in full-screen mode, all the keyboard shortcuts work within that remote desktop as you'd expect. Just knowing you can do that, alone, is powerful enough for some.
Now, once the remote desktop is back in windowed mode, using alt+tab will work as normal on your desktop (and the remote session is also just another window, so easily selectable without using your mouse, to get back to it).
But that's not all. Of course, if you wanted to switch among programs in the remote desktop, you could just select that window, and use ctrl+alt+break to go back into full-screen mode on the remote, where alt-tab would now work in the remote (and you could revert the process to get back to your desktop).
Doing equivalent of alt-tab within a windowed remote desktop
But sometimes you may need (or want, when you know this next trick) to keep the remote desktop windowed, but move among windows WITHIN the remote desktop (when it's windowed). Must you resort to the mouse? NO! Use Alt+PageUp (when the focus is on the remote desktop window). It then acts like alt-tab, but only on the remote. Check it out!
And to reverse the order of switching apps, as you would Shift-alt-tab, use Alt+PageDown.
Update: If this doesn't work for you, consider a couple of things. First, you do have to be sure to have put the focus on the windowed remote desktop session. Second, you may find that you have more than one set of pgup/pddn buttons on your keyboard. Be sure to try both. I found on one laptop that those in the numeric keypad did not work, even when numlock was off, but there was another set of home/pgup/pgdn/end keys on the top right of the keyboard with which these keystrokes DID work.)
Opening the Windows Start menu in a windowed remote desktop
And when you keep the remote desktop windowed (since it's so easy to switch then among both local and remote apps), here's one more very helpful shortcut: you may wonder how to bring up the remote desktop's Start menu via the keyboard.
Of course, if you just hit the Windows key (or ctrl+escape, another great shortcut) while looking at a windowed remote desktop, that shortcut will instead brings up your OWN desktop's Start menu. Not what you wanted.
You may think you have to finally resort to the mouse to bring up the remote Start menu. I see people do it all the time, fighting to slide their remote window scroller down so they can see the remote desktop status bar and start menu at the bottom of the screen, but NO, that's not the only way! :-)
Use alt+home to bring up the remote desktop's start menu. Sweet!
Sending ctrl+alt+delete to the windowed remote desktop
Finally, ctrl+alt+end will send the equivalent of Ctrl+Alt+Delete to the remote desktop.
Hope these help.
Some updates since my original 2005 post above:
First, there are still more shortcuts that can be used against a windowed remote desktop than I'd listed originally, including:
- alt+del (the delete key) to do the equivalent of alt-space in the windows remote desktop, which will open the "window" menu in the top left of the selected window. This can be useful on the command prompt window at remote dektop, to do an edit>paste command to the command prompt.
- alt+ins to cycle through your remote desktop windows one at a time
- ctrl+alt+plus (the + key) is the equivalent of PrtSc (the Print Screen button) which takes a screenshot of the remote desktop session, saving it to the the clipboard. (Well, it's supposed to. I have found it to work on some machines and then not on others. Interesting.) Related to that is ctrl+alt+minus (the '-' key), which should be the equivalent of Alt+PrtSc, taking a screenshot of the currently selected window (only) on the remote desktop
- If you know any others, let me know.
Third, I'd like to point out that I find some references to other remote desktop keyboard shortcuts (from others and from Microsoft) which refer sometimes to keystrokes that I find just don't work against a windows remote desktop session (while others listed, like those above, do).
Fourth, I want to be clear that I'm talking here mostly about keystrokes to use when working with a remote desktop in windows mode. I sometimes see people taking about shortcuts that they "use with remote desktop", but they really mean when the remote desktop is full-screen, in which case they really are just talking about keystrokes which are otherwise normally available on any Windows desktop, whether remote or local. They just may not be well known, such as ctrl+shift+escape to call up Task Manager, or ctrl-alt-esc which will minimize the currently selected windows, and so on. I will try to find and resurrect some old blog entries I have on these and other things that may have been lost on other places I blogged in the past.
Finally, just in case someone is searching for info on this stuff in the future, and they don't use a + sign to separate the shortcut keys, here they are listed with a minus instead: alt-tab, ctrl-alt-break, Windows-up/down arrow, alt-pgup, alt-pgdn, alt-home, ctrl-alt-end, alt-del, alt-ins, ctrl-alt-end, ctrl-alt-delete, ctrl-alt-plus, ctrl-alt-minus, .
Let me know if these are helpful. The comments on the old entry back in 2005 (available via the wayback machine view of the page) show that certainly back then, many people were really happy to learn of these! I know I use most of them every day.