DExpose: a stylish, Mac-like application switcher

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DExpose is a replacement for the Alt+Tab application switching funcitonality that emulates the Mac Expose window-stacking style.

A colleague of mine recently asked me about a good alternative to the Alt+Tab application-switching function in Windows XP, and I pointed him to the two Vista-style 3D-layering apps that I previously reviewed on this blog (Shock Aero and Winflip), as well as the uber-simple SmartTab, which is almost the opposite of those two in its complete lack of eye candy, but is still one of my personal favorites.

None of these were quite what my friend was looking for; he did not care about the Vista style app switching but wanted more bells and whistles than the minimalistic SmartTab provides.

This made me think that it probably is a good idea to post DExpose on this blog, an application that displays open apps and windows Mac-style in a stacked “thumbnail” display, and varies the size of its presentation according to the number of windows displayed and the overall available screen area (see screenshot above).

Here are more notes on this program:

  • The look and feel: once invoked by a hotkey, both minimized and maximized windows become animated and fly into position on a preview screen (see screenshot). It really looks very cool, and can be performed in slow motion by pressing the appropriate hotkeys.
  • Two modes of operation: you can DExpose all windows, or you can focus attention to one of the DExpose windows (using the arrow keys or mouse) and “maximize” that window while still in the DExpose “suspended animation”. You can also use a hotkey to simply “DExpose” the currently active window, though I’m not quite sure what practical purpose that would serve.
  • Other functions: pressing F11 can minimize all windows, while pressing it again afterwards will maximize them again. Unfortunately, this seems to conflict with the F11 function in Internet Explorer, and I had to switch it off (there was no way to re-define the hotkey in the version I tested).
  • Invoking DExpose: F9 or F10 to DExpose all windows or a single window respectively (also Win+W and Win+Shift+W). Or you have the option to define your own shortcut keys, including using Alt+Tab, which I am guessing is probably what would make sense for most people.
  • Hotcorners activation: in theory you could activate DExpose by moving your mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen. This did not work for me, however.
  • Other options: you can tweak most everything, such as the placement of the screenshot and the distances between them, the display speed, the image used as a background (otherwise the default wallpaper is used), as well as the color “overlay” used when DExpose is activated. Also, the method which DExpose uses to grab the screen previews, the quality of thumbnails, whether a window’s title is displayed on mouse-over and the font style used for that (you simply have to change that awful Times New Roman).
  • Customizing for individual programs: if problems exist in terms of DExpose accurately representing a program window’s contents you can list it in an exception list and customize the manner in which DExpose will attempt to grab/represent its image or thumbnail.
  • Multimonitor: the DExpose help file states that it is fully compatible with multi monitor settings. However my friend mentioned above noted that there appeared to be conflicts when DExpose is run alongside a number of multimonitor utilities, such that DExpose would crash or fail to capture the contents of windows.
  • Memory consumption: installs two processes in memory, with a combined memory footprint of approx. 28 megs, which is a tad on the large side for this type of app in my estimation.

The verdict: a nice free program that does exactly what it sets out to do. If you are interested in a cool program switching app that is both pretty and functional (or if you are attracted to the Mac Expose app) definitely give this one a try. The only potential downside is that in a multi-monitor setup with other multi-monitor apps installed it may exhibit some buggy behavior and/or not render the program windows properly. On my machine, however, it worked without hitch.

Version Tested: build : 08.05.2008

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista. (Do not worry about the installer named “DExposE2__Expose_for_Vista” – it works flawlessly on XP).

Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 629K).