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IE windows don't come to the front even when I Alt-Tab to give them focus.  Why?

Posted on 2006-03-22
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Last Modified: 2008-02-01
Windows XP SP2, IE 6.0..., Office 2003.  I frequently find that with multiple Internet Explorer windows open, I can't bring *any* of them to the front, so that they're visible.  What I must do - short of closing other applications - is to minimise those other apps.  Most frequently, I do this by hitting Windows-D to display the desktop, and then choose my IE window from the list in the taskbar.
What is happening?  Is it a function of the other program(s) I'm runnning?  If so, it's likely to be Outlook, the only other app that is probably always running at the times this occurs.
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Question by:wistful
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by:strickdd
ID: 16260710
What are you doing in the window in the foreground when this occurs?
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by:wistful
ID: 16265867
StrikckDD, I haven't yet determined if there's one other program that causes this.  My habit is to alt-TAB to switch application windows.  Since XP, I often also use the taskbar which provides a 'drop-up' menu of the open windows for each application.  When this problem occurs, it does so for either method of task switching.  So I'm doing one of those activities when it occurs - i.e., that action apparently lands me at the window, but I can't see it.
As to the contents of the window(s) that must be minimised to reveal that which I want:
they *appear* to be anything I have running apart from Internet Explorer - i.e, typically Windows Explorer, Outlook, MSN Messenger (which I've never bothered disabling at startup).
A potential cause may be the "New Item Alerts" that I've set up to inform me when Outlook has identified certain classes of incoming mail.  That uses the standard message dialog box that Microsoft supply under the mail rules wizardry.
It seems to behave like a 'send to front' animal, whilst not being modal - it can hang around.
Having said that, I have such a box open now, along with several Outlook message items, and I am *not* presently suffering any problems - I can Alt-TAB to this window in IE for entry of my EE post, and to another browser window, and back again.  So if it's contributing, it's not the full story.
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by:Marc Z
ID: 16269200
How much memory in machine?
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by:wistful
ID: 16275424

From Control Panel|System|General:
"1.00 GB RAM Physical Address Extension"

From Control Panel|System|Advanced|Performance:
Memory Usage: "Adjust for best performance of Programs"
Virtual Memory: Total paging file size for all drives: 1536 MB

It may be memory-related: when I last posted (reporting no ill effects at that time) it was early in my session.
That's the case now, also.

I wonder whether I should monitor with Task Manager (and if so, what).
Currently, Task Manager|Performance tells me 69 Processes, and for Physical Memory:
Total= 1048044, Available = 402160, System Cache: 528 260.
On the status bar: CPU Usage: 1% Commit Charge: 538M / 2460 M

Thanks.
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Marc Z earned 300 total points
ID: 16276949
69 processes? OK.  I'm down to only 40

The task manager is decent but sysinternals get a process explorer which is more robust.  But at any point,  I would try disabling any systray applications you don't need running all the time.

When you say Multiple IE windows, how many are we talking?  When you find you can't bringb any of them to the front, Ctrl-Alt-Del to bring up the Task Manager and see how many are showing up in that and how many processes are being used.

If you want multiple IE windows, you could try out the Beta IE7, (but I'm not recommending that)
but I would just use Firefox http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/ or even Opera.  They both support Tabbed browsing out of the box, which means you could have 20 tabs open to 20 different pages if you wanted.
But, that's after we figure out why you can't bring a window to the front.  
By the way, if you can't bring a certain IE window to the front, by any chance, have you copied or cut something from the IE page that you can't get to a different one maybe?
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by:wistful
ID: 16277598
Thanks mtz1of4 - sorry I missed seeing your post earlier.

You know, I actually often choose a new browser window rather than a new tab because it launches from the current window, which is sometimes helpful, and preserves history in the current context, whilst still having the previously visited page accessible for reference.

I just now have got my error again.
Actually, only one web page of 8 Internet Explorer windows is affected.
It's a private SmartGroups page (www.smartgroups.com is the home page).
I have 73 procs, CPU 2%, 739/2460M Commit Chg.  
Note that, as before, I *can* bring that window up:
the quickest way is to minimise all windows with a Start-D, *then* to select the window from the taskbar showing IE windows.
I just succesfully edited a form there, then returned here via Alt-Tab to continue this post.

Maybe I should mention that I have loaded Microsoft Desktop Seach or whatever it's called, to get the Windows tabbing facility in IE.  Maybe that's a culprit?

I've played with Firefox.  If there's a dynamic shared bookmarker/favourites organiser that comes well-recommended, I'd be happy to work with two browsers for a while.



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by:Marc Z
ID: 16279305
I believe there are some bookmark/favorite synchronizer, but I haven't worked with them so I can't recommend one this AM. Firefox will automatically import your current favorites and I'll look around at extensions for a sybchronizer, but as far as this issue, Desktop Search could be a culprit.  
I don't use it.  Can you specify times for indexing, rather then just when it's not in use, like 4AM?

Another nice thing about Firefox is the fact that it will open new tabs and you can even force it to Clone a tab with all the history of the cloned tab with the right extensions.
http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?p=1252725#1252725 GREAT page about bookmarks and synching them.

PlainOldFavorites might do what you want, Bookmark Conversion Tool looks good, Maybe even Bookmark bridge.  He has links to all of them on that page.
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by:strickdd
ID: 16279326
Sometimes if you have an alert open it will prevent windows from comming to the front. Another notorious cause is windows update. If neither of these are on the screen, try not grouping similar items in the taskbar.
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by:Marc Z
ID: 16279352
How interesting, I just had Firefox open, one extra window in it - the extension window, itunes open also.  Alt-Tab will only go through the Firefox window and the extension window, not the itunes window.  Very interesting.  As soon as I close the extension window, it will go through to the firefox and itunes.  Sorry, I didn't know how to use the Alt-Tab combo, I guess you actually have to hit the Tab the number of times you want to move to hit the correct window. My bad.
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by:strickdd
ID: 16279432
A nice little utility for the Alt-Tab combo is the XP Powertoy here: http://download.microsoft.com/download/whistler/Install/2/WXP/EN-US/TaskswitchPowertoySetup.exe 

This will actually show a preview of the window you are switching to.
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by:wistful
ID: 16286549
strickdd: These comments are appreciated - I have downloaded the powertoy, which is cute.  But I also rather like the Windows XP benefit of being able to choose a window grouped by application (from the taskbar).  So I'm hopeful that *that* is not the culprit, as has been suggested.
mtz1of4: Thanks for relaying this too.  Maybe the 'extension window' is seeking to have front priority?
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by:Marc Z
ID: 16289489
wistful, no, the extension window is not doing it, BUT maybe a popup or something that needs attention is doing it.

My last posting was just my ignorance on how the Alt+Tab works.  I just plain didn't know how to use it.
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by:wistful
ID: 16502614
Sorry - at the last post, I intended to respond and failed to do so after trying to follow through some of the suggestions.  This problem is nagging but never a showstopper, so is hard to find time to address to properly.  In the final analysis, I didn't receive a direct solution to my problem.  I didn't really want to switch browsers in order to solve it (one of the sites I visit turns on its dynamic menus on an IE test.)  However, mtz1of4's comments were very potentially very useful for managing a multi-browser environment and would be worth an award of some sort.  They may yet assist me to a final resolution of the problem.  So rather than discard the points altogether, I'm happy for mtz1of4 to receive credit for the fulness of input offered.
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by:Marc Z
ID: 16506839
Thanks wistful.

One more thought since being here in a while,  with Firefox, there is an extension you can get called IETab.  Which allows you to view any page you desire in an actual IE window within a tab in Firefox.  You can even switch quickly by hitting an icon in the Status bar if you accidently find a page you meant to open in IE.  
To get extension visit here.
https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1419/
Home page for it. With good info on it.
http://ietab.mozdev.org/

Forum posting with many questions and answers about it.
http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?t=335814
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by:wistful
ID: 16522500
That's amazing - no more than 3 hours ago, I was in a bookshop and came across a Firefox tips book - saw mention of IETab there.  Expected I'd be adding it as a comment to this item, but mtz1of4's done it already!
Of course, I was only looking at Firefox tips because of mtz1of4's suggestions in the first place.
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