Why don’t hotkeys for items on my Start menu work when I am in a fullscreen application?


You can set a hotkey on the shortcuts in your Start menu, and Explorer will launch that shortcut when you press the hotkey, but not if you are in a fullscreen application, like when you set Paint into fullscreen mode, or when you are displaying a PowerPoint presentation. Why are shortcut hotkeys ignored when a fullscreen application is running?

This feature was added by customer request.

The issue is that you're playing a game like World of Warcraft or Unreal Tournament, and you're mashing your keys like crazy, and whoops you slip and hit Ctrl+Alt+C instead of Ctrl+Shift+C, and now you inadvertently launched Calc or something. Whack, you get taken out of your game into Calc, and by the time you get back into the game, your character has been mortally wounded, and you've lost the game.

To prevent this from happening, Explorer temporarily ignores custom hotkeys for Start menu shortcuts when a fullscreen application is running.

Note, however, that there is a bug in older versions of Windows: If you press a hotkey for a Start menu shortcut when there is a fullscreen application running, the hotkey is blocked. (So far so good.) But even if you clear the fullscreen application, the hotkey is still blocked because the hotkey got "stuck" in the blocked state. To unstick the hotkey, press a system hotkey involving the Windows key, then try the original hotkey again. (I use Win+B since it is relatively harmless.)

Comments (38)
  1. Entegy says:

    When I was a kid, I remember once making a hotkey to launch a game Ctrl+Alt+2. Later, I hear mother screaming as to why my game was launching every time she tried to type an email address. Ctrl+Alt+2 is the keyboard shortcut for @ on Canadian French keyboards. Whoops.

  2. "and you've lost the game."

    Thanks.

  3. mgsxx says:

    It seems it's easier not to use Start menu shortcuts at all…

  4. Anon says:

    @mgsxx

    It is "easier not to use Start menu shortcuts at all" because they don't work in one very specific scenario?

  5. Joshua Ganes says:

    I thought that the reasons were pretty obvious. Not to mention what a mess it would cause if the game reused some of those key combinations for its own control purposes.

    I'm curious how the concept of a full-screen application meshes with the idea of the double-secret super topmost window problem. What if a bunch of applications fight over who should be the active full-screen application?

  6. Mc says:

    Can you be a full-screen application but have a transparent window?  

  7. Joshua says:

    @Joshua Ganes: Full screen applications are normal applications and Alt-Tab switches between them (unless one of them disables it by handling the keystroke).

  8. kinokijuf says:

    @Entegy Slightly off-topic, but what bugs me is why every country must invent their own keyboard layout. Poland went in the right direction, just adding the diacrictics under AltGr on the standard QWERTY keyboard.

  9. me says:

    This has been annoying me for weeks. So its a feature, not a bug.

  10. Kevin says:

    Haven't you repeatedly told us that Ctrl+Alt+Foo = AltGr+Foo? I'm guessing Ctrl+Alt+C is not a good idea for a Calc shortcut…

    [Hey, you're the one who chose Ctrl+Alt+C as your Calc hotkey, not me. -Raymond]
  11. xpclient says:

    Thank God this feature is still intact in Windows 8 and some telemetry data didn't cause MS to yank it because "no one used it". Btw which versions exactly come under 'older versions of Windows' affected by the bug? :)

  12. Mason Wheeler says:

    [Says so in the article title. Alt+Tab, Win+D and Ctrl+Alt+Del are not hotkeys for items on your Start menu, so the fullscreen rule does not apply. -Raymond]

    Umm… that doesn't really address the question I asked, which is, why is it that these things that I know are not Start menu shortcuts, but instead are system commands that are supposed to get me out of the current program, frequently behave as if they've been suppressed as well, (which they shouldn't be, because they're not Start menu shortcuts,) particularly when I need them most because I'm stuck in a runaway process?

    [Sorry, I misunderstood the question. If those hotkeys aren't working, then something else is going on. It's not the Start menu shortcut hotkey suppressor that's doing it. Maybe the app installed a keyboard hook to disable even those hotkeys? If Ctrl+Alt+Del doesn't work, then something is seriously wrong. -Raymond]
  13. Mason Wheeler says:

    [If Ctrl+Alt+Del doesn't work, then something is seriously wrong. -Raymond]

    Yeah, I've run into a few times when it doesn't work, and the only thing that I could do was kill power and restart.  But a lot of times it will work… 30-45 seconds later.  And I just sort of wonder about that.

    If the user does something that they would only do if they want to get out of the current process, and that is highly likely to be done in response to a runaway process that is being highly problematic, why does Windows not respond by immediately locking down the process for at least enough time for the emergency request to be processed properly?

    [Catch-22. If the process cranked itself to Real-Time priority, then Windows never even gets a chance to receive the emergency request. -Raymond]
  14. Mason Wheeler says:

    @MDenham: Well, unless the game wrote up its own keyboard driver, the OS has to get the first look at input.  It's not like it can't get a word in edgewise when it's the one originating everything…

  15. Nicholas says:

    @Lockwood:

    the game

    Dang it!

    [If Ctrl+Alt+Del doesn't work, then something is seriously wrong. -Raymond]

    I had that happen to me a week or so ago when I had something go nuts and ended up with many thousands of dllhost.exe processes.  Ctrl+Alt+Del did nothing, but after 10 seconds or so a box appeared telling me the secure attention sequence couldn't be handled!  I found that somewhat odd and humorous.  I had assumed it couldn't handle it due to some resource exhaustion, but wasn't able to find out (since nothing else would run either).

    However, I did find out that Process Explorer does not handle an insane process tree very well at all :)

  16. Windslows says:

    Please fix the core problem instead, apps should be able to switch instantly, even when changing resolution. Yeah, it might require MS to put some pressure on hardware manufacturers, completely possible, add it as a Win8/9/X requirement.

  17. Ian Boyd says:

    apps should be able to switch instantly, even when changing resolution

    Feature request: Make monitors and video cards able to instantly change resolution

    Yeah, we'll get right on that.

  18. Joker_vD says:

    @Ian Boyd: Amiga could switch screen resolution in the middle of vsync in 1982.

  19. Anonymous Coward says:

    Catch-22 &c.: Keystrokes generate interrupts and these must be handled otherwise you'll lose keystrokes any time a realtime thread runs for just that split second. It's possibly to have Ctrl+Alt+Del detection at that point and then do whatever magic is required to make it possible to launch the task manager.

    But even if you don't do that, runaway threads are usually in games and such and even game designers usually aren't insane enough to use realtime threads.

    [Yes, the keystroke interrupts are handled in the top half. But the bottom half interprets them, and it is the bottom half that is starved. (Messing with thread priority in the top half is asking for trouble.) -Raymond]
  20. Joshua says:

    [Yes, the keystroke interrupts are handled in the top half. But the bottom half interprets them, and it is the bottom half that is starved. (Messing with thread priority in the top half is asking for trouble.) -Raymond]

    And Linux has alt-sysrq-n to do exactly that.

    [If Ctrl+Alt+Del doesn't work, then something is seriously wrong. -Raymond]

    Can be done, but at that point the game developer is doing it intentionally as it requires injecting winlogon.exe (usually done via AppInit DLLs for the obvious reason).

  21. Mason Wheeler says:

    Unfortunately, I think this one went a bit too far in suppressing shortcuts.

    Specifically, if I'm in a fullscreen game and I hit ALT-TAB, WIN-D, or CTRL-ALT-DEL, *it's because I want out.*  Especially with the last two, you would only ever use those from inside a fullscreen game if something is wrong.  If I hit one of those, I would expect a well-designed OS to get me out of the game and back to the desktop as soon as possible.  Because this is almost certainly the result of a runaway process, the correct reaction almost certainly involves suspending/drastically lowering the priority of the current game so that it does not starve the OS for resources as it tries to get me back to the desktop.

    But for some reason, this does not happen.  Any idea why not?

    [Says so in the article title. Alt+Tab, Win+D and Ctrl+Alt+Del are not hotkeys for items on your Start menu, so the fullscreen rule does not apply. -Raymond]
  22. Mason: Because it's entirely possible that Windows itself isn't getting very much in the way of processor time, and if the current process is written in such a way that it assumes it's going to handle *every* keystroke (and then passes on anything it decides it's not going to handle)…  well, that's where your "nearly a minute later, FINALLY" comes from.

  23. cheong00 says:

    The "Start" key was a main source of death (just behind network "lag" and TP PK) in Diablo 2 HC games back when I was in school. There was even a stickly post on how to disable the key on the forum.

  24. Falcon says:

    @Joker_vD: Different situation – the Amiga OCS lores and hires modes had the same scan rates; the hires mode just put twice as many pixels onto each scanline.

  25. I recently wondered about this and (surprisingly) managed to figured out the workaround:

       superuser.com/…/shortcut-hotkeys-occasionally-not-working

    You can't imagine how nice it is to have this problem verified and the solution confirmed.

  26. Didn't really think this comment out says:

    Could you imagine the consternation of a company trying to write a soft real-time "system" on a dedicated Windows machine having to implement workarounds in their code because a bunch of gamers too cheap to buy an Xbox or PlayStation or too lazy to reset their computer and let Windows recover inverted the kernel's priorities?

  27. @cheong00: Any decent gaming keyboard will have a switch for disabling the Win keys (my Logitech has such a switch).

  28. Entegy says:

    @RaceProUK Besides, any good developer would have read this, right? Right!?!? msdn.microsoft.com/…/ee416808(v=vs.85).aspx

  29. Payne747 says:

    Seems the bug exists in Windows 7, is that considered old now? ;)

  30. Brian_EE says:

    When I used to play games, there was no "Start" button. Think Nukem, Wolfenstein, and the original Doom… oh, and Prince of Persia too.

    If you hit Ctrl-Alt-Del on those games you got an instant reboot!

    So what exactly are you all complaining about again?

  31. Mason Wheeler says:

    @Brian: The fact that computers have moved on, and ought to keep up with the times, and are failing to in some cases.

    To give just one example that I'm familiar with from personal experience, it's quite possible that you might be playing Skyrim, and then suddenly you hear your IM program make its IM sound at you because a friend just sent you something.  You don't want to shut down the game and then spend 2 minutes loading it back up again; you just want to get out of the game quickly, type your response, and then get back to the dragon-killing.

    Or, occasionally it might lock up on you.  (It tends to do this more often when you keep alt-tabbing in and out of a game too many times.  No one ever accused Bethesda of writing exceptionally stable software.)  In this case, you don't want to reboot the system, because you've got unsaved files open in another program.  What you want is to get Task Manager open as quickly as possible and kill the process.  When I hit CTRL-ALT-DEL, I expect the screen it brings up to come up instantly.  Having to wait for a minute or two while nothing is happening and you don't know whether it worked or not (and therefore whether you'll have to kill power and lose all your unsaved work or not) is a bit like calling 911 and having the operator put you on hold.

  32. Someone says:

    "If Ctrl+Alt+Del doesn't work, then something is seriously wrong. -Raymond]

    Yeah, I've run into a few times when it doesn't work, and the only thing that I could do was kill power and restart.  But a lot of times it will work… 30-45 seconds later.  And I just sort of wonder about that."

    I experienced something like this also. When this happened, new processes like the Task Manager (started by Ctrl+Shift+ESC) never show a window and already running programs stopped responding sooner or later. Sometimes, I could force this error by resizing a window like crazy, for ~20 seconds or so.

    (No real-time processes or games are involved at all…)

    After a while, I observed that I can heal this without power-off: When the Task Manager was already running and visible, I could kill dwm.exe, and then everything went back to normal.

    After several month, an update for the video driver (embedded graphics) become available, and this update stopped this strange behavior.

    Yes, there was a faulty video driver. But on the other hand, there should be some means to kill processes (and to logoff or shutdown properly) even in cases like this. Even a text-mode task list would help.

  33. AndyCadley says:

    @Mason Wheeler: Use a Window Store style IM app and snap it next to the desktop where your game is playing. Win-win. ;-)

  34. cheong00 says:

    You don't expect average secondary school student 10+ years ago able to write Windows hook, right?

    And most students at that time just use standard 104-key keyboards.

  35. MikeBMcL says:

    @Mason Wheeler: Have you tried Ctrl+Shift+Esc ? I thought Raymond had written a post about how that bypasses something or other (the Shell?) and is thus a much faster way to launch Task Manager, but the only post I found was about something else entirely so maybe it was just an incredibly useful comment (or response to a comment) for some other post.

  36. ender says:

    If you hit Ctrl-Alt-Del on those games you got an instant reboot!

    No, no you didn't. The games installed a polling keyboard handler (to be able to see multiple simultaneous keypresses), and that would process Ctrl+Alt+Del like any other key combination – it was up to the game to do something when that was pressed.

  37. Brian_EE says:

    @Mason Wheeler: Did you know that they are considering a <sarcasm> tag in HTML6? "it's quite possible that you might be playing Skyrim" <fact>I'm pretty sure it's quite impossible that I'd ever be playing that game.</fact>

    @Ender: "No, no you didn't. …" I'd go out to my garage and get my old 486 computer with DOS 6.0 out to try to prove you wrong, but… I'm just too lazy for that anymore. But I'm pretty sure I've used Ctrl-Alt-Del to get out of a locked up game back in the day.

  38. Brian G. says:

    @Brian EE:

    Some games did, some didn't. I've had games lock up in such a way that Ctrl+Alt+Del wouldn't do anything. I've also had games where Ctrl+Alt+Del worked fine, even when the game was locked up.

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