Windows 10 Tip: Scroll Inactive Windows

Windows 10 has a neat new feature that lets you scroll in non-active windows on the desktop, just as with the Mac. Here’s how it works, and how you can use this feature in your own work.

First, thanks to Abhishek K. for the tip. I hadn’t noticed this setting.

If you think about how Windows 8.1 works today, you can scroll in any window on the desktop as long as it is the window with the focus, or what you might think of as the front-most window. So if you’ve got two windows on the screen, say a word processing document in Word and a web page in Internet Explorer, you can only scroll either when it has the focus. If you mouse over the inactive window—the one in the back and visually below the front-most window—you can’t scroll within that window. (Unless you select it first, bringing it to the front.)

Windows 10 behaves differently. Now, there is a new option that lets you scroll inactive windows too, and it’s enabled by default. You can find it in Settings, Devices, Mouse & Trackpad. It’s called “Scroll inactive windows when I hover over them.”

mouse-kb-settings - Copy

To see how this works, you can stack a couple of windows in which content could scroll. Here, you can see the Settings app in the foreground and Chrome in the background. When I mouse over the inactive Chrome window and spin the scroll wheel on my mouse, that window scrolls.

background-scroll - Copy

If you don’t wish to scroll inactive windows, you can obviously turn this feature off. But why might you want to leave this feature enabled?

Honestly, I don’t think this is about scrolling partially hidden windows. Instead, you may have two windows side-by-side, and while you are actively working in one window—say, taking notes—you might need to scroll the other window, which you are reading. This might look like so:


Pretty cool.

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Conversation 5 comments

  • ashwin

    04 April, 2018 - 3:08 am

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  • linhartr22

    01 May, 2019 - 11:24 am

    <p>Here is what I find confusing about this new feature. I have a huge monitor. I sometimes have multiple windows open and have plenty of room to spread them out. This is not simple a case of screen clutter.</p><p><br></p><p>Scenario:</p><p>I'm reading a PDF in Acrobat Reader. I jump over to browser to read an email so now my browser has focus. I go back to scrolling through the PDF with mouse wheel and decide to Control-F expecting Acrobat Reader search, not browser search. Grrrrrrr!</p><p><br></p><p>Unfortunately I like the scroll inactive window behavior but would rather it also grant focus to the window being scrolled. What am I missing here?</p>


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