Scott Hanselman

Expose and Vista-specific Alt-Tab Task Switchers

April 17, 2007 Comment on this post [11] Posted in Reviews | Tools
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I love the Exposé feature of Mac OSX. On Windows XP I ran TopDesk, an Exposé clone for a few years. Now that I'm on Vista and I find Flip3D to be a virtually useless way to switch tasks, I'm looking for a better task switcher again. I hope TopDesk jumps back into the party with new DWM support for Vista.

I still like TaskSwitchXP, but it's needed less with Vista's default ALT-TAB behavior.

When Vista runs Aero, the new Desktop Composition Engine, the possibilities for new Task Switchers becomes virtually unlimited. Early entries into the fray include:

  • My Exposé (Source Available!)- Released a CTP last November, and he's meaning to get a new one out, but has been busy. It's a LOT like Mac Exposé but it's got a LOT of screen-flickering and doesn't work well when your secondary monitor is taller (has coordinates ABOVE) than the primary monitor. Still, it's working good considering it was written BEFORE Vista RTM'ed
  • Switcher (Switcher Blog)- I was initially disappointed by this Task Switcher because its default mode is a strange "dock all running thumbnails to the top of the screen" place. And, there's no initial animation or transition. Then, I RTFM'ed, and noticed that you can switch between "dock" mode and "Exposé" mode using Page Down. Doh! After that, the choice is ssticky and you have the best Exposé in Vista I've seen. Brilliant and recommended. I hope he keeps developing it. I'm definitely using this one all day long.

With these two apps to choose from, and more, no doubt, on the way, the micro-market of Task Switching Software for Vista is looking pretty sweet.

If you're not sure if your TaskSwitcher is really using the Vista Aero DesktopComposition Engine, do a little test. Find a web page with a video or animated graphic or flash. Do a task switch and while in that "task switching mode" see if the animation is running inside the thumbnail. If it is, and running smoothly, that TaskSwitcher is using the DWM rather than static screenshots.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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April 17, 2007 20:58
Flip3D really, truly does suck balls. It's totally useless. Can we fire the Microsoft person(s) responsible for that non-feature?
April 17, 2007 21:05
I respectfully disagree..

Flip3D... does two things.

1. It provides some WOW factor, which Vista needs since the MS Marketing guys are doing a pretty poor job of well marketing Vista.

2. It does give the user an "interesting" view of the applications running using a 3d perspective. The user can also jump directly to any application while flipping if they click on it (in the 3d view)... Not sure how many people realize this and in actual practice it is a little challenging to do.
I do agree that MS could have made the feature more usable, but it’s not useless.

April 17, 2007 21:31
Ya, Jeff, I said it was useless for task switching. I can't speak to marketing, I just know that it's not a effective visualization. I'd have to disagree with your "suck" statement.

I agree with Bob that it's interesting, I just don't think it's useful.
April 17, 2007 21:38
have u seen the task switcher you get when clicking the scroll wheel on a microsoft mouse - not all you mention but similar to topdesk and no additional software required.
April 17, 2007 22:58
I'm with Jeff. Marketing is nice, but it was a totally wasted opportunity to do something actually useful. Like, for example, any of these free Expose' clones. At the very least, provide a couple of options for the win-tab task switcher (with Flip3D being the nifty looking but useless option).
April 18, 2007 5:59

Finally I thought I was the only one who thought Flip3D was worthless, they could have done Expose easily but they opted for the "stay different" mantra. Thats why I explored the Thumbnail API only to find out it fell pretty short of what I really wanted. For example, OSX doesnt create thumbnail images of the windows it actually shrinks the actual windows itself. This is 100% entirely possible in Vista but they didnt expose (no pun) the API to us which is very irritating. Also according to inside information they have plans to expose that functionality through the API to outside developers, so instead we are left with manipulating the composition manager externally. Stardock appears to be doing this with their next release which is going to take advantage of the DWM. Apparently in the fast they had to create their own DirectX surfaces and render onto those, now they are able to utilize the pre-existing directx surface with desktop compositioning. But I would like to know how they are accessing it, its no exposed publicly. They must be manipulating it somehow...

In any case its a shame that they arent opening that functionality, alot of neat stuff would come out of that. Take Beryl for example, if those API's were exposed an entire plugin system would no doubt surface for Vista based around composition effects.

PS: Thanks for the plug! :)

Eric Malamisura
April 18, 2007 9:34
Microsoft does have something similar with Instant Viewer. The catch is that it only comes with the Intellipoint software.

April 18, 2007 10:23
Vista support in TopDesk is coming, but only in the form of using the Vista thumbnail API to capture window images. Unfortunately the thumbnail API isn't much better than PrintWindow: it's less buggy, but still very slow, since, like PrintWindow, it's just re-drawing the windows.

It's hard to believe that Microsoft would spend all this time building a new graphics core and not provide developers with access to it, but i guess some things had to be cut in the rush to get Vista out the door.
May 12, 2007 1:44
It's better than nothing, isn't it?
May 25, 2007 9:23

Sure, but there's so much untapped potential that we can't access. Using the thumbnail API feels like driving a sports car in 1st gear.
May 25, 2007 15:40
There is also SmartFlip and I think it's the best implementation yet.

Here is a video:
Here can it be downloaded:

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.