The Windows 8 close gestures, a retrospective

In Windows 8, you can close an app by moving the mouse to the top of the screen until the title bar appears, and then click the X button. But how do you do it if you are on a touch-only device?

The way to close an app using only touch is to drag from the top of the screen to the bottom. If the app is not currently on screen, you can pull in the switcher from the left edge, and then drag the app from the switcher to the bottom of the screen.

There are some variations on this gesture, depending on how you want to close the app.

If you simply drag the app to the bottom of the screen, then the app is closed, which means that the window disappears from the screen, and the app is suspended. The app is not removed from memory immediately, however. Only if there is a need for the memory will the memory for the closed app be reclaimed. The system hangs onto the memory in case you relaunch the app, in which case it doesn't need to fire up the entire app from scratch; it can just resume the suspended version of the app.

If you want to close the app and terminate it, then drag it to the bottom of the screen, and then hold it there. After a few seconds, the picture will flip from a thumbnail of the app to its splash screen. Now let go. This closes the window and terminates it.

A variation on the above gesture is to drag the window to the bottom of the screen, hold it there until it flips to the splash screen, and then move it up to the top half of the screen, and then let go. This is the combo close-terminate-restart gesture: It closes the app, terminates it, and then immediately relaunches it.

These gestures also work with the mouse. You can grab the window from the switcher, or you can move the mouse to the top of the screen and grab its title bar. The rest of the gesture remains the same.

Windows 10 in tablet mode retains the core drag-to-bottom-of-screen gesture, but it dispensed with the variations. Dragging an app to the bottom of the screen closes and terminates it.

Bonus chatter: These gestures are admittedly difficult to discover, but gestures in general are difficult to discover. After all, there's nothing obvious that tells you that a five-finger-pinch closes an app on an iPad. I'm told that Apple advertisements for the iPad actually served two purposes. One was, of course, to sell the iPad. But the other purpose was to serve as 30-second training videos on how to use an iPad. Windows ads¹ included the top-to-bottom-drag close gesture, but I guess people just tune out Windows ads and don't realize that there's a training video hiding inside them.

¹ Okay, maybe not this one.

Comments (29)
  1. Muzer says:

    Gestures are nice things for advanced users to learn, but should be treated in the same manner as keyboard shortcuts – something you definitely want to support, but not something that should be relied upon for a beginner to be able to use the application effectively.

    On my Android phone, with the exception of pinch-to-zoom (which seems to be popular enough now as to need no explanation), I can’t think of any gestures I am required to do to make effective use of its functionality that don’t have obvious visual clues (eg to open the notification area I can touch the top bar showing the notifications and get an obvious grab handle to swipe down).

    1. morlamweb says:

      On a touch-enabled device but no pen, mouse, or keyboard input, gestures are required, but they must be discoverable. Like you, I had no problem discovering the various gestures for my Android phone, and I now use it daily. By contrast, in Windows 8, there were very few UI hints, and every time I managed to invoke one of them, I had to ask “how did I do that?” Things are better in Windows 10, though even today, I manage to call up the Cortana search interface unknowingly. I should figure out how to turn that off.

    2. Lawrence says:

      “Palm swipe to screenshot” is pretty obscure.

      1. Muzer says:

        True. Android could be better in that regard by having a screenshot button in the notification panel (though what if you want to take a screenshot of the swipe-down menu itself? Hmm, I don’t know). I certainly didn’t know about the gesture, but I did know that I had to hold two buttons (I could never remember which two) to take a screenshot – I tended to hold buttons at random until it worked.

      2. morlamweb says:

        I have yet to discover the gesture/button sequence for screenshots on my phone. I have also not yet discovered a need for it. I suppose that those gestures which necessarily lack UI elements should be searchable.

    3. cheong00 says:

      I found that on book like applications like some document readers, the gesture to swipe left-to-right and right-to-left is go to next/previous is obvious too.

  2. Barteks2x says:

    When I first tried windows 8 and accidentally opened some of these fullscreen “new” apps, I clisked and moved my mouse in frustration until it went away. It always worked.

    1. Neil says:

      I just pressed Alt+F4. At least, it seemed to work at the time…

      1. Barteks2x says:

        So obvious solution and I couldn’t find it…

  3. Nick says:

    I did appreciate the mini summary from the blog home page on this article. Very concise and also at least two relevant meanings.

  4. Mark Richards says:

    I still think this is the best Microsoft ad:

  5. GL says:

    I am very sure that Raymond is confused by the ever-changing close gesture of Windows. I just wrote an entry for that:

    1. Lars Viklund says:

      Nice summary but the ergonomics of reading that blog post on a touchless device (e.g. normal honking PC) is utterly abysmal.

      1. GL says:

        Haven’t got a chance to test it with mouse (currently I’m out of mouse!) but I thought it should work fine with the scroll wheel. :-(

        1. Lars Viklund says:

          Unfortunately regular vertical scrolling doesn’t scroll at all. No idea about horizontal scroll, I’ve repurposed wiggling the wheel for other actions.

          1. Rick C says:

            If middle-click is left at the default setting where you can now move the pointer around and cause the window to scroll towards the pointer, you can scroll horizontally that way. But as mentioned, scrolling the wheel vertically does nothing. Nor does click-and-drag, but I expected that to not work.

        2. Max Battcher says:

          As a fellow vertical scrolling blogger, there is a CSS rule to get free scroll wheel support in IE11+/Edge:

          -ms-scroll-translation: vertical-to-horizontal

          I wish that was better standardized and/or there was a better polyfill for it for other browsers that support multicolumn. I feel like it should have been a part of the CSS multicolumn spec.

      2. Muzer says:

        What’s wrong with it in particular? Looks fine to me. Works like a normal webpage. Maybe the font’s a bit big.

        1. Rick C says:

          It’s fine if you use the scrollbar.

          But since every[1] other webpage out there scrolls vertically, and the scroll wheel on modern mice trigger vertical scrolling, you can’t get to the rest of the page in the easiest way.

          [1] don’t make me bring back the nitpicker’s corner.

          1. GL says:

            Will look into that later. Might because I recently added 3-stage responsive that reflows the content (columned, scrolling horizontally) if it’s extra wide.

          2. Sir_Derlin says:

            Very interesting. I have two screens, so the smaller does show vertical orientation, and the larger horizontal.

          3. Scarlet Manuka says:

            It scrolled vertically for me, and I consequently had no problems reading it.

  6. roeland says:

    I’m quite curious as to what happens if you try to do user testing with this stuff. Often I can’t for the life of me imagine any other result than a blank stare from the user. There’s this story about why you click the “start” button to shut down in Windows 95 ⁽¹⁾, are there similar stories about windows 8?


  7. Ian Yates says:

    I still use my Surface RT every day. Primarily as a media consumption device but for half the time I’ve got a video on one side and Metro IE (which nobody, apart from Raymond, liked – I happened to think it was perfect on a tablet) on the other. Works a treat. The close gestures are not hard although I didn’t know (or really need to know) about the force terminate one or the terminate+restart one.

    One thing the RT definitely has going for it is that it’s near indestructible. I’ve had it fly across the room by accident, drop on the floor, fall over, etc and no issues at all. Meanwhile one small 30cm drop of an iPad and its got a huge crack (children in both cases….).

    To each their own but I do like the RT for what it is. I just wish it had a bit more oomph.

    1. Sander Weerdenburg says:

      Unfortunately my RT wasn’t as indestructible as yours. It fell flat on its screen from about 40cm and became Schrödinger’s tablet. Fortunately, Microsofts RMA could replace my Surface RT at reasonable cost.

  8. “These gestures are admittedly difficult to discover”. The whole Windows 8 was difficult to discover. It was a barrel of secrets.

    1. DWalker07 says:

      Ha! Best comment of the week.

  9. xpclient says:

    I must be the only one who wanted the app terminated completely and not get suspended because it clutters my task manager and my third party Alt+Tab app.

    1. Scarlet Manuka says:

      Nah, not the only one. That was one of the very first things I looked up when I got my first Windows 8 machine.

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