How to Be a Task Manager Wizard, According to the Guy Who Wrote It

If you’ve used Windows for longer than an hour or two, chances are that you’ve interacted with Task Manager. The utility has been present in every version of Windows going back to Windows 95, though the version that shipped with that OS was far more primitive and it didn’t open when you hit Ctrl-Alt-Del (that key command opened the “Close Program” dialog instead). Now, the author of the application, Dave Plummer, has published his own guide to using it, including some tips we’ve never seen before.

If Task Manager crashes, you can restart it by hitting Ctrl-Shift-Esc. Windows will first attempt to revive the hung version — if it can’t, it’ll open a new window for you after a maximum of 10 seconds. Task manager also will not fail to load, even on a resource-constrained system. It will load one tab at a time before it fails altogether.

Ctrl-Shift-Esc also launches Task Manager if you can’t get access to either the “Run” command or can’t get Ctrl-Alt-Del to work.

If Task Manager crashes, restarting it with Ctrl-Alt-Shift (Taskmgr.exe) will restart it with all settings reset to factory original defaults. This actually works for every app Plummer has written, though he didn’t include a list.


You can right-click on any process in the “Process” tab and click “Open File Location” if you need to find the physical location of a file.

You can also add columns to the Task Manager if you want to change what it shows you.

Dave Plummer is also the author of Space Cadet Pinball and worked on a number of other aspects of Windows and MS-DOS before that. It’s not often we get to hear from the actual author of a core software application most of use on a regular, if not daily basis — so hopefully you picked up a few new tips.

One general Windows tip that I’ll throw in of my own, because I’ve never had a great place to put this, and it *is* Task Manager-centric. Assume that you have a video game that’s locked and refusing to show you the desktop. Ctrl-Alt-Delete works — it turns the screen blue and gives you the option to launch Task Manager — but you can’t actually see the Task Manager window. It’s buried underneath a frozen game screen.

There’s a solution to this.

When this happens, press Win + Tab. Right-click on the game or screen-grabbing application and choose “Move to.” Shove the app in question on to a different desktop, as shown below:

If this was a desktop-stealing game, sending it to a different desktop would clear my own display and let me use TM to close the app.

This will clear your primary desktop and give you full access to Task Manager. You can now use TM to kill the locked-up game. This can be incredibly useful with grabby 3D titles that won’t show you the desktop, even if they’re technically supposed to support alt-tab behavior.

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