ThumbWin and miniMize: two apps that can minimize open windows as desktop thumbnails

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ThumbWin and miniMize are two free memory resident apps that allow you to minimize open windows and programs to the desktop as thumbnails. You are then able to maximize and access these windows/apps again by clicking on the thumbnails on the desktop.

I’ve been looking at these two programs and finding it difficult to determine which one to write about, therefore I decided to post a comparison of both.

Summary of results I will be using miniMize because it is more reliable (ThumbWin fails to maximize some thumbnails, while miniMize always does).

However I generally prefer the way ThumbWin behaves in relation to the desktop and the fact that it will shuffle thumbnails around whenever you maxminize a previously minimized window, and will keep my eye out for future versions.

What both of these programs do is create a thumbnail of your windows/apps on the desktop when you minimize them. These apps have undeniable coolness factor that can enhance the user experience, which is why many will be attracted to them (and which is evident from looking at the screenshots). Users who like to customize Windows will love these; in fact the reason I decided to try these two programs out in the first place was that because I was experimenting with Windows shell replacement programs (e.g. Emergedesktop) and in that context found them to be both pretty and useful.

Having said this I will also say that while it may be more practical or intuitive to be able to see desktop representations of your minimized windows, these thumbnails will in many cases compete with the icons on your desktop for real estate, and if you have a cluttered desktop to begin with may contribute towards busying it further, which is something to bear in mind.

The following is a point-by-point comparison of these two programs:

Interactivity: you can drag and drop the thumbnails freely and place them exactly where you like them on both programs. Thumbnails can be set to maximize on click or double click for both, and you can right click on a thumbnail and close or restore windows from the context menu.

Placement and behavior: both of these programs allow you to set the corner of the screen and direction that they will minimize to. Differences are as follows:

  • miniMize: will not refresh once you close windows out leaving “gaps” on the desktop where thumbnails once were. Further, for some reason miniMize will invariably start minimizing windows in what seems like random placements on the screen, forcing you to drag thumbnails around in order to get things to look tidy. The placement of thumbnails can be a little off.
  • ThumbWin: will “refresh” and actively scroll minimized thumbnails towards the starting corner when others are closed out, as is the better of the two in terms of organization and streamlined behavior.

Thumbnail display: both programs allow you to set the size of the displayed thumbnail as well as the opacity and to specify whether thumbnails should be always on top, pinned to desktop, or normal. Both will create a visual representation of what the minimized window looks like at the moment you minimize it, and both will place the program’s icon on the thumbnail to further identify it; however differences are as follows:

  • miniMize: does a better job at creating thumbnails (ThumbWin might generate a “black” rectangle at times). Offers the option to hide the taskbar buttons, which works for most but not all minimized programs.
  • ThumbWin: although it fails to capture a correct thumbnail on occasion, its thumbnail are visually more elaborate, and can optionally display frames, shadows, and interactively “enlarge” a thumbnail on mouse over. Note: you can switch this off from the “operation” tab. Does not offer the option to hide taskbar buttons.

Reliability: this section considers whether these programs will do what they promise (minimize windows to thumbnail and maximize on click) in all cases.

  • miniMize: worked with every window that I tested it with
  • ThumbWin: will minimize all windows but fail to maximize some (for example ThumbWin seems to mazimize a program such as taskTome and others to the task bar not the desktop). When used with the Emergedesktop replacement shell, ThumbWin simply would minimize to thumbnail but will fail to maximize most windows (which was a huge disappointment).

Memory usage: while I wouldn’t consider any one of these programs to be a memory hog exactly, one of them is a clear winner:

  • miniMize: approx 7 megs in memory
  • ThumbWin: slightly over 1 meg. A true lightweight program.

Hotkeys: both programs offer the option to set user defined hotkeys that will show/hide windows, minimize or restore all windows, etc.

Exclusions: both programs offer the ability to add programs to an “exclusion list” whereby programs or windows will be excluded from being minimized to thumbnails. This is offered in case you encounter programs which produce errors or strange behavior with miniMize or ThumbWin.

Portability: ThumbWin offers a portable version that you can simply unzip and run as well as an installer version.

The verdict: while there are a number of reasons why I might like ThumbWin more than miniMize (the way it arranges thumbnails on the desktop and re-shuffles them after every maximizing action, the fact that it’s a lightweight program that seems to hardly consume any memory), miniMize is the better choice in practice because it is more reliably: it is successful in maximizing all windows and rendering thumbnails correctly, and it works with Emergedesktop.

Versions Tested: miniMize v.1.0.37.0; ThumbWin v. 1.2.8

Compatibility: Windows XP only (ThumbWin and miniMize).

Go to the miniMize home page to download the latest version (approx 849K)
Go to the ThumbWin home page (Google-translated to English) to download the latest version (approx 841K).