The previous Windows key (center) with an orb surrounding the center-anchored Windows logo used for Windows Vista and Windows 7. For Windows XP, the logo had no orb surrounding it and was off-center to the left.
The first Windows key (center) appeared with Windows 95.
Historically, the addition of two Windows keys and a menu key marked the change from the 101/102-key to 104/105-key layout for PC keyboards. Compared to the former layout, a Windows key was placed between the left Ctrl and the left Alt and another Windows key and the menu key were placed between the right Alt (or AltGr) and the right Ctrl key.
The key is predated by the ⌘ Command key on Apple computers in 1980 and the Meta key in LISP/UNIX computers in 1970.
In laptop and other compact keyboards it is common to have just one Windows key (usually on the left). On Microsoft's Entertainment Desktop sets (designed for Windows Vista), the Windows key is in the middle of the keyboard, below all other keys (where the user's thumbs rest).
Some keyboards during the Windows Vista and 7 era feature a circular bump surrounding the logo which distinguishes its feeling from the other buttons.
On Windows 8 tablet computers, hardware certification requirements initially mandated that the Windows key be centered on the bezel below the screen, except on a convertible laptop, where the button is allowed to be off-center in a tablet configuration. This requirement was relaxed in Windows 8.1, allowing the Windows key to be placed on any bezel or edge of the unit, though a centered location along the bottom bezel is still preferred.
Microsoft regulates the appearance of the Windows key logo picture with a specially crafted license for keyboard manufacturers ("Microsoft Windows Logo Key Logo License Agreement for Keyboard Manufacturers"). With the introduction of a new Microsoft Windows logo, first used with Windows XP, the agreement was updated to require that the new design be adopted for all keyboards manufactured after 1 September 2003. However, with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft published guidelines for a new Windows Logo key that incorporates the Windows logo recessed in a chamfered lowered circle with a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 with respect to background that the key is applied to.
In Common Building Block Keyboard Specification, all CBB compliant keyboards were to comply with the Windows Vista Hardware Start Button specification beginning on 1 June 2007.
Pressing the key in combination with other keys allows invoking many common functions through the keyboard. Holding down Ctrl+Esc will not substitute for the Windows key in these combinations. Which Windows key combinations ("shortcuts") are available and active in a given Windows session depends on many factors, such as accessibility options, the type of the session (regular or Terminal Services), the Windows version, the presence of specific software such as IntelliType and Group Policy if applicable.
Below is a list of notable shortcuts which work natively. Unless otherwise noted, they are valid in the next version of Windows. Using aftermarket scripts, users can also make custom shortcuts.
⊞ Win+Ctrl+Tab ↹ is same as above, but Aero Flip 3D remains even when this key combination is released. Arrow keys or mouse may be used to navigate between windows.
⊞ Win+1 through ⊞ Win+9, ⊞ Win+0 starts the corresponding Quick Launch Bar program. ⊞ Win+0 runs the tenth item. Quick Launch is removed in Windows 7 and this key is reassigned.
⊞ Win+L locks the computer.
Windows 7 adds the following shortcuts:
⊞ Win+Space bar activates Aero Peek. Reassigned in Windows 8.
⊞ Win+P toggles between the devices that receive video card's output. The default is computer monitor only. Other options are video projector only, both showing the same image and both showing a portion of a larger desktop.
⊞ Win+↑ maximizes the active window.
⊞ Win+↓ restores the default window size and state of the active window, if maximized. Otherwise, minimizes the active window.
⊞ Win+← or → to align the window to the corresponding side of the screen, tiled vertically.
⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+← or → to move the window to the next or previous monitor, if multiple monitors are used.
⊞ Win+T to iterate through items on the taskbar from left to right.
⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+T to iterate through items on the taskbar from right to left.
⊞ Win++ to zoom into the screen at the mouse cursor position using the Magnifier Utility.
⊞ Win+- to zoom out if the Magnifier Utility is running.
⊞ Win+Esc to exit zoom.
⊞ Win+1 through ⊞ Win+9, ⊞ Win+0 to either start or switch to the corresponding program pinned to taskbar. ⊞ Win+0 runs the tenth item. Press multiple times to cycle through the application's open windows. Press and release quickly to keep the taskbar's preview open (which allows you to cycle using arrow keys).
⊞ Win+Home minimizes all windows other than the active window. Pressing this combination a second time restores them.
⊞ Win+D minimizes all windows. Pressing the combination a second time restores them.
Windows 8 introduces the following:
⊞ Win Opens the Start Screen.
⊞ Win+C opens the charms. Reassigned in Windows 10.
⊞ Win+F opens Search charm in file mode to search for computer files. If the Search charm is already open, switches to file search mode.
⊞ Win+W opens Search charm in settings mode to search for Control Panel applets. If the Search charm is already open, switches to settings search mode.
⊞ Win+Q opens Search charm in app mode to search for app shortcuts and executable files. If the search charm is already open, it has no effects.
⊞ Win+H opens the Share charm.
⊞ Win+K opens the Devices charm for printing, connecting to a second screen/projector, or pushing multimedia content via Play To.
⊞ Win+I opens Settings charm, where app-specific settings, network options and shutdown button is located.
⊞ Win+X opens Quick Links menu and grants access to several frequently used features of Windows, such as accessing desktop or File Explorer. With Windows 8.1 update, it includes a shortcut to shut down or restart the computer.
Additional installed software may introduce other shortcuts using the Windows key. For example, various Microsoft Office applications add shortcuts of their own:
⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+S to take a screenshot for OneNote; conflicts with ⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+S on Windows 8.1.
⊞ Win+E to open a new side note in OneNote.
⊞ Win+⇧ Shift+N to open OneNote.
⊞ Win+Y to open Skype for Business. This shortcut also places the cursor directly on the search bar. (Disabled in Skype for Business 2016)
Use with other operating systems
The Windows key can also be used on other operating systems.
On Unix and Unix-like operating systems, the key is usually given the Xkeysym "Super" (on earlier versions "Meta" was often used), and turns on the shift bit called MOD4. Most desktop environments use it much like Windows, with press+release popping up a primary menu similar to the Windows start menu (GNOME Shell bringing up the Activities Overview, KDE Plasma, Cinnamon and most other desktop environments pop up their main system menus), and with combinations with letters performing actions such as run-command, often with the shortcuts and actions copied from Windows. A common action that is not shared with Windows is for the key to allow dragging a window around from any location without raising it, and in the Compiz window manager it causes the scroll wheel to zoom in or out of any part of the desktop.
If one plugs a Windows keyboard into a macOS computer, the Windows key acts as the ⌘ Command. This swaps the locations of ⌘ Command and Alt from standard Macintosh keyboards. Plugging a Macintosh keyboard into a Windows (or Linux) machine makes ⌘ Command act like ⊞ Win, again with the locations swapped with Alt from standard.
If one plugs a Windows keyboard into a Chrome OS computer, the Windows key acts as the Search key. This key is in the location where the Caps Lock key would be on other keyboards.
If one plugs a Windows keyboard into an Xbox 360, pressing the Windows key performs the same action as the Guide button on Xbox 360 Controller or remote controls, opening the Xbox Guide. Holding down the Windows key and pressing M opens a pop up conversation window over gameplay, if an instant message conversation is in progress. On a PlayStation 3 console, pressing the Windows key performs the same action as the PS Button on the Sixaxis Controller, opening the XrossMediaBar.
If one plugs a Windows keyboard into an Xbox One or Xbox Series S|X, pressing the Windows key performs the same action as pressing the Xbox button on a controller.