Thursday, December 30, 2010

Welcome to the Grid

Yes, that title was inspired by my recent TRON post. But it also has another meaning. Read on, reader.

I'm a computer person. I typically use computers that run Windows, but I'm getting comfortable on the Mac OS X, and, let's face it, a computer's a computer, either way. The parts are the same, even the programs (Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Mozilla Firefox) are essentially the same. But there are some differences, and they're important too.

As a web designer, I figured it would be a good idea to install the Safari browser (by Apple) to ensure compatibility. So now I flip through Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari to make sure nothing loads funnily. And, having honestly reviewed and used them all, I can offer the relatively unbiased opinion that Firefox has, by far, the best features (although the current 4 Beta is very buggy; don't try it, yet), and Chrome is the fastest. But anyone could have told you that. So, Microsoft and Apple lose. Interesting.

Sorry; I'm getting off-point. I have some friends with Macbooks (you know who you are), and, although they paid ridiculous prices for inferior machinery to what most PC users run, they have some admittedly clever ideas over at Silicon Valley that haven't reached Richmond just yet.

That said, as we all know (and always knew), the fact that Windows is more widely used, and also distributed  to competing computer manufacturers (HP, Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Acer, etc.), it benefits from good old American capitalism and innovation. Long story short, even though Macs come with some fun built-in toys, you can usually find their equivalents, and even (thanks to how compatible Windows is, and how encouraging of new, third party software, something Apple bottlenecks at their compatibility checkpoints) their superiors.

If you made it this far, I applaud you. Presenting the grid I was talking about from earlier: Switcher 2.0 (download).

It's software for Windows Vista or above (I have Windows 7), and it adds what I consider to be a superior way of switching between windows, akin to the Mac method.

Sure, we all like our ALT+TAB, which gets us back and forth between two windows quickly. But when you have three or more things running, it's a pain to be ALT+TAB+TAB+TABbing through all of them. And when  you miss the one you were aiming for, you have to cycle through all over again.

Vista improved on this with the addition of WIN+TAB, which functions like ALT+TAB, but in 3D. On second thought, this isn't an improvement at all; it's not any easier to select your windows.

So check out Switcher. Download, run, install. If it doesn't load up when it's done installing (mine didn't), go find it in All Programs. By default, it's set up pretty nicely: when you use WIN+TAB, instead of getting the Aero effects, all of your windows will split into an on-screen grid. They won't disappear when you release WIN+TAB, so you don't need to hold anything down. Each window will be assigned a big, visible number. You can either use the keyboard (press a corresponding number) or the mouse (click your window) to select it.

Screenshot of Switcher 2.0. Press a number, click a window, or cycle through with TAB, like old times.
Not everyone here knows what I'm talking about, or cares; that's okay. But for you power-users out there, this is a really cool toy, and an efficient tool. No more tabbing around for your window, or clicking through taskbar items. Just open the grid, and press/click for the thing you're looking for.

Consistent with Windows Vista (and up) technology, videos keep playing in the grid, and all that good stuff.

It comes with another awesome feature: Search. Start typing, and  windows that don't match your text will fly away, leaving only the ones you're looking for. It's pretty freaking awesome.

Check it out. This little gadget definitely wins a well-deserved Must-Have Power Toy award from, erm, this Blog, I suppose. I'll keep you posted on other cool add-ons for your PC. Oh, fine. If I find anything for a Mac, I'll let you know. I'll work on looking up a good substitute for MS Paint and Solitaire.

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