Tutorial Thursday

The Flip-3D task switching in Windows Vista is probably one of its most notorious features. If you’re not familiar with it then the next time you get your hands on Windows Vista (with Aero enabled) make sure you press the Windows Key + Tab. It brings up a nifty application switcher that is sure to leave people in awe.

As far as productivity goes I would have to say that Flip-3D fails when compared to the Alt-Tab in Windows or the Mac Exposé feature that tiles your open applications. It’s just that in Flip-3D the windows are angled and stacked so close together that it is often hard to find the window you are looking for until it actually becomes the one right in front of your face. In my opinion it is a huge design flaw, but I’m sure there are some people who have mastered it.

For those people who are like me and don’t completely see Flip-3D being a productive solution, you might want to checkout the two (free) pieces of software that I have come across. Setting them up to replace Vista’s Flip-3D is really a piece of cake so I’ll primarily be focusing on the features of the two applications.

Note: Both of these applications require that you are running Vista with Aero enabled.

–My Exposé (Download / Mirror)–

My Expose

As you can tell by the name, this program is designed to bring the Mac Exposé feature to Windows. I wrote about it a few months back when it was first introduced, and the thing that I like about it is that all of your programs are laid out in an easy-to-find fashion.

Since I last wrote about it I am pleased to say that it has received some nice new features, including a more natural thumbnail placement, tray icon with configuration options, and compatibility with Windows Speech Recognition. The screenshot above is still from the old version that used the grid placement so the “natural placement” is definitely a welcomed change.

Now the developer hasn’t updated the code since November 2006, but don’t let that worry you. He just posted a few days ago saying that he was able to install Vista on his laptop so improvements to the program will be coming soon.


–SmartFlip (Download / Mirror)– 


This is definitely the Flip-3D replacement that I was waiting for. Actually, it is really funny because this is the type of window switching application that I talked about in my Windows Fiji/Vienna post in which I showed a mockup of how it might work…and SmartFlip is right on the money.

It has a carousel-like appearance when shuffling through the open windows, and the window that is currently selected is prominently displayed in the front. By default the program is assigned to the F9 key, but it can always be changed in the Options along with several other features:

SmartFlip Options

After downloading it I decided to give it a go because there was no installation required…I just had to extract and run the provided executable. It is important to note that this program, like the previous one, uses the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) which means it will only work on Vista running Aero.

I have created a mirror of the download so that you don’t have to take the time to register at Neowin (in case you’re not already a member of their forum). If you decide to give it a try yourself these are the shortcuts that you’ll want to know:

  • TAB – zoom next window
  • Shift-TAB – zoom previous window
  • Enter – select zoomed window
  • Left click – select window
  • Right click – zoom window
  • ESC – close SmartFlip and select
  • Shift+Right click – show only window created by the same program which created this window

I could try to explain every little detail about the program, but I figured this quick video demonstration by the author would show you just about everything that it can do:



If the Windows Flip-3D doesn’t exactly fit your taste then maybe one of the two applications I listed here will fill the gap. The SmartFlip was brilliantly designed and offers the productivity that I would have expected from Flip-3D. If you’ve got another app that you think is even better please be sure to let us know, or let us know what you would have liked to see in a task switcher.

For the record I should say that Microsoft did enhance the Alt-Tab task switcher in Windows Vista as well. If you have Aero enabled it will show you small thumbnails of all the windows you’re switching between, and I find myself still using Alt-Tab more than anything!