As with Aero Peek, Aero Snaps is one of the new Aero Desktop Enhancements in Windows 7. This feature is also aimed at window management, but this time with an eye towards deemphasizing the use of standard window controls, which are getting smaller and harder to use as we move to extremely high resolution displays. What Aero Snaps does, essentially, is provide a way to maximize, minimize, and stack windows side-by-side. And it works using natural and easy-to-remember mouse movements that don't require precise mouse clicks.

Backgrounder

With Windows's emphasis on multitasking and multiple open windows, it's often useful and necessary to control the size or position of the current, or focused, window. Historically, Windows has provided a number of common UI controls for these needs. For example, most windows include standard Minimize, Maximize/Restore, and Close window buttons in the upper right corner. They can often be resized by dragging any edge of the window. And there are non-discoverable methods for resizing windows as well. For example, you can double-click anywhere in a window's title bar area to maximize it (or, if it's already maximized, restore it).

In Windows 7, Microsoft is augmenting these legacy window management methods with a new set of functionality called Aero Snaps. It's worth noting, however, that all of the older methods mentioned above will still work fine in Windows 7. So if you're used to doing things a particular way, you aren't losing any functionality. Aero Snaps is all additive.

Aero Snaps

Aero Snaps provides a number of new ways to position and resize windows. And none of them actually require new onscreen controls, so they work fine with both the mouse and with Windows 7's new touch controls. These methods include:

Maximize

Keyboard shortcut: WINKEY + UP ARROW

To maximize the currently focused and floating window, click and hold the title bar area and drag the window up toward the top of the screen. When the cursor hits the top edge of the screen, the window will maximize.

Maximize vertically

Keyboard shortcut: WINKEY + SHIFT + UP ARROW

If you just wish for the current window to expand vertically, both up and down (but not horizontally, or left and right), you can grab the top or bottom edge of the currently focused and floating window, and drag it towards the closest (top or bottom) edge of the screen. When the cursor hits the edge of the screen, the window will maximize vertically.

Snap to the left side of screen

Keyboard shortcut: WINKEY + LEFT ARROW

Multi-monitor support: As you repeatedly tap the keyboard shortcut, the windows moves left across the displays, snapping to screen edges as it goes

To snap the currently focused and floating window to the left side of the screen, drag it to the left. When the cursor hits the left side of the screen, the window will snap to that edge and occupy the leftmost 50 percent of the screen.

Snap to the right side of screen

Keyboard shortcut: WINKEY + RIGHT ARROW

Multi-monitor support: As you repeatedly tap the keyboard shortcut, the windows moves right across the displays, snapping to screen edges as it goes

To snap the currently focused and floating window to the right side of the screen, drag it to the right. When the cursor hits the right side of the screen, the window will snap to that edge and occupy the rightmost 50 percent of the screen.

The previous two methods are often used together. So you may snap one window to the left side of the screen, one to the right, and then drag and drop files between them or perform other similar tasks.

Secret: Windows Vista and previous Windows versions support snapping windows to the edges of the screen, but it's a lot more ponderous to use. To do so, CTRL-click the taskbar buttons for the windows you'd like to snap, right-click the Taskbar, and then choose Show windows side-by-side. This method no longer works with the new Windows 7 taskbar.

Restore

Keyboard shortcut: WINKEY + DOWN ARROW or WINKEY + SHIFT + DOWN ARROW

To restore a maximized or snapped window, simply drag it down from the top or other edge of the screen by clicking and holding in the title bar area. If you maximized or snapped the window using Aero Snaps, it will return to its previous size and position.

Final thoughts

Aero Snaps is a neat addition to Windows 7 because it mostly augments rather than replaces earlier methods for resizing and positioning windows. This works well for both mouse users and those who will access Windows 7 via its new touch controls. Again, nothing major, but Aero Snaps is one of very many small but useful new Windows 7 features that makes Microsoft's next operating system simpler than its predecessors.