Those who know the value of common Windows shortcuts, like alt+tab, ctrl+escape, alt+home, etc., will know those work against your local machine, unless you open a maximized remote desktop in which case they then work against the remote machine. And that's great, of course.
But what if you have a remote desktop opened as a window (one of many apps visible on your local desktop)? You may find it frustrating, if you mean to be doing the equivalent of an alt+tab WITHIN the remote desktop, while viewing it as a windowed app. The keys will again work against your local machine, like with any app.
Is there a way to do such common keyboard shortcut actions against the "windowed" remote desktop? Yes there is. I find that relatively few people know about these, and most are delighted to learn of them! :-)
See below for more discussion on these, but briefly...
Note first that you can use ctrl+alt+break to toggle a Remote Desktop between full-screen and windowed mode. That helps make these shortcuts all the more valuable, once you are viewing the "windowed" remote desktop, where you can use:
- alt+pageUp: to switch application windows on the remote (equivalent of alt+tab)
- alt+pageDown: to switch "backward" through applications (equivalent of alt+shift+tab)
- alt+home: to show Windows "start" menu on the remote (equivalent of ctrl+escape)
- alt+shift+home: to show Windows Task Manager on the remote (equivalent of ctrl+shift+escape)
- alt+del: to show Window menu (top left menu) in current app (equivalent of alt+space)
- ctrl+alt+end: to do the equivalent of ctrl+alt+delete on the remote
- ctrl+alt+plus (the + key): to save screenshot of current remote screen to clipboard (equivalent of PrtSc, the "print screen" button)
- ctrl+alt+minus (the - key): to save screenshot of current remote window to clipboard (equivalent of alt+prtSc)
- alt+ins: to cycle through your remote desktop applications, one app at a time (equivalent of alt+escape)
Again, these shortcuts are for using when you are in a *windowed* remote desktop. Beware also that if any don't seem to "work" for you:
- note that on some keyboards (especially more modern laptops), you may need to press a "function" (or "fn") key to execute the equivalent of one of the keys listed here. For instance, the "break" key may require fn+end, which means that first shortcut above can be a cumbersome four-fingered salute: ctrl+alt+fn+break
- similarly, you may find that you have more than one set of the needed keys, such as pgup/pgdn, on your keyboard. One pair may appear on the top right, and another on the lower right, and/or within the numeric keypad. Be sure to try both, before giving up.
- it could be that you don't have the the keyboard "focus" on the windowed remote desktop session. Click within the remote desktop to be sure
- It may be that your keyboard (especially some modern laptops) may have the pageup, pagedn, home, and other keys used here mapped to some other keycode that Remote Desktop doesn't recognize (even though the keys may "work fine" for you for their normal use on your laptop). I have found a solution to that in 2018 and I intend to do a blog post with more on the solution.
For still more detail and discussion on these keyboard shortcuts, read on.
As for more on these shortcuts, below 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 traditional keyboard shortcuts like alt+tab flip 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 your "solution" would be to minimize the remote desktop, there's a better solution by making the remote desktop a window (rather than full-screen) 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
You may know that you can use your mouse to click the Windows icon in the top right of any Window to "restore" that window, from being maximized to being "windowed". That's a little more challenge when a remote desktop if maximized, because then Windows presents a blue bar at the top which can be set to hide when maximized.
Well, did you know that ctrl+alt+break can switch a Remote Desktop between full-screen and windowed mode?
And as you may know, when in full-screen mode, all normal keyboard shortcuts (like alt+tab, to switch windows) work within that remote desktop, as you'd likely expect. (And just knowing that a maximized remote desktop works that way can alone be useful enough for some.)
And once the remote desktop is back in windowed mode, using "normal" shortcuts like alt+tab will work on your local desktop (and the remote session will be just another "window", if you want to get back to it, and again if you maximize it, the "normal" shortcuts again now work against the remote machine).
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 that remote desktop (while it remains windowed). Must you resort then to using 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.
(Again, as I noted above: if they keys don't work for you, it may be that you have more than one pageDown key on your keyboard, you may need to press a function key to enable it.)
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 applications, one app at a time (equivalent to alt+escape)
- 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 windowed 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 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, arrow, alt-pgup, alt-pgdn, alt-home, alt-del, alt-ins, ctrl-alt-end, ctrl-alt-delete, ctrl-alt-plus, ctrl-alt-minus, alt-esc.
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.