Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Better Alt-Tab Replacements Showdown Part 1 of 2: Taskswitch Pro

A month ago I featured the Windows XP powertoy Alt-Tab Replacement, which replaced the Alt-Tab display of just the row of icons and window names with icons, window names, PLUS thumbnail previews of the windows themselves.

A few days ago a commenter turned me on to Taskswitch XP, which he claimed did the same things Alt-Tab Replacement did, but much more. I wasn't in huge need of augmenting my Alt-Tab function even more, so I didn't jump at the chance of installing yet another program.




But now here we are. Taskswitch XP's own official site describes the program's features better than I can:

TaskSwitchXP is an advanced task management utility that picks up where the standard Windows Alt+Tab switcher leaves off. It provides the same functionality, and adds visual styles to the dialog and also enhances it by displaying thumbnail preview of the application that will be switched to.

TaskSwitchXP also has a powerful process and window management capability that allows you quickly to close/minimize applications and their groups. The unique capabilities of TaskSwitchXP make it useful for tracking down multitudinous windows, and provide insight into the way Windows and applications work.

TaskSwitchXP supports a few built-in interface schemes. It dynamically adapts to the selected Windows XP theme, provides customizable font and color settings for each user in the system. You can also choose preview and list styles, appearance effects, opacity of the switcher window and more. You can make your everyday environment to look whichever you want!
So how does it compare with Alt-Tab Replacement?

Pros: Taskswitch does exactly the same thing that Alt-Tab Replacement does, but much more. It has options for multiple themes, including matching whatever theme you currently use (as such, it worked as well as Alt-Tab Replacement at matching my Zune desktop theme).

You can even set it to be transparent, and can even smoothly fade in and fade out. I currently have it set to be slightly transparent and fade in and out in 100 ms (from the default 250, which took too long).

It also has options for customizing hotkeys, language, font and color, and size of the previewed window. In fact, it's basically overflowing with customizable features for a program whose function is so simple.

Finally, Taskswitch takes only 800 kilobytes of RAM in passive mode, and only takes 2 megabytes while actually holding ALT-Tab (I had to keep the Task Manager open first, and then hold ALT-Tab to see the RAM usage spike). This is better than Alt-Tab Replacement's 1.8 MB of RAM passively (I hadn't checked it while invoking the ALT-Tab feature, but it was certainly never enough to slow my computer down).

Cons: I definitely do not like Taskswitch running an icon in my system tray, where I only keep at most 6 icons running at all times. However, I understand that there wouldn't be an elegant way of accessing all the multitudes of features Taskswitch offers without this.

And so, I immediately set windows to always hide the Taskswitch system tray icon. Suddenly, Taskswitch stopped working! When I unhid the icon, it resumed functioning. But to make it perfectly clear, in my instance, Taskswitch will only work when the system tray icon is visible.

And honestly, Taskswitch's multitude of features is pretty overwhelming. Alt-Tab Replacement installed and just immediately worked. I use Alt-Tab for just a few seconds at most several times a week, it's not very much worth it to spend time customizing a program for longer than you'll use it.

Overall: Despite that last point, Taskswitch does work right out of the box, at least in a way that looked exactly like Alt-Tab Replacement. The extra features are available for those who care to tweak their settings (which you must be in a way, if you're reading this blog), but you don't need to bother if you don't want to. It's just icing on the cake that it uses less RAM than Alt-Tab Replacement.

However, the need for a persistent system tray icon is really annoying. An overcrowded system tray is one of my biggest pet peeves, so this is something I'll need to get a better feel for before I decide one way or another.

Now, come back tomorrow for a review of yet another Alt-Tab tool, and I'll compare it with Taskswitch, and we'll see what I end up using in the end.

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2 comments:

Stanley said...

Great Review! Thanks for pointing me towards TaskSwitchXP - being unimpressed with the XP powertoy replacement its exactly what I was after! I'm the same as you when it comes to cluttered systrays so I thought you should know; the tray icon isn't mandatory - just make sure the top two boxes in the 'Tray icons' segment on the General settings tab aren't checked. The only downside to this is that you no longer have an instant systray shortcut to the Settings but you can easily add a shortcut to your preferred place in the Start Menu - just make sure the 'Autostart TaskSwitchXP on system startup' is also checked or you'll never know why it's not working!

Anonymous said...

The best way to access configuration options is through keyboard shortcut which can be defined inside "Hotkeys" option, and is called "Configure TaskSwitch XP". I have defined mine as CTRL+ALT+C (as for "Configuration") and it works perfectly! :)