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An active window is the currently focused window in the current window manager or explorer. Different window managers indicate the currently-active window in different ways and allow the user to switch between windows in different ways. For example, in Microsoft Windows, if both Notepad and Microsoft Paint are open, clicking in the Notepad window will cause that window to become active. In Windows, the active window is indicated by having a different coloured title bar. Clicking is not the only way of selecting an active window, however: some window managers (such as FVWM) make the window under the mouse pointer active—simply moving the mouse is sufficient to switch windows; a click is not needed.
Window managers often provide a way to select the active window using the keyboard as an alternative to the mouse. One typical key combination is Alt+Tab, used by Windows and KDE (by default, though this is user-configurable); another is apple-tilde, used by Macintosh. Pressing the appropriate key combination typically cycles through all visible windows in some order, though other actions are possible.
Many, though not all, window managers provide a region of the screen containing some kind of visual control (often a button) for each window on the screen. Each button typically contains the title of the window and may also contain an icon. This area of the screen generally provides some kind of visual indication of which window is active—for example, the active window's button may appear “pushed in”. It is also usually possible to switch the active window by clicking on the appropriate button. In Microsoft Windows, this area of the screen is called the taskbar; in Apple Macintosh systems this area of the screen is called the dock.
The active window may not always lie in front of all other windows on the screen. The active window is simply the window to which keys typed on the keyboard are sent; it may be visually obscured by other windows. This is especially true in window managers which do not require a click to change active windows: FVWM, for example, makes active the window under the mouse cursor but does not change its Z-order (the order in which windows appear, measured from background to foreground). Instead, it is necessary to click on the border of the window to bring it to the foreground. There are also situations in click-to-focus window managers such as Microsoft Windows where the active window may be obscured; however, this is much less common.
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