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Bye bye TopDesk

After 4 days use I’ve uninstalled TopDesk. Its a nice idea, but its not fast enough. By that I mean compared to how Windows manages task switching. I’m so used to seeing the program icons and being able to really quickly tab through them, that the slight delay that TopDesk has, really hurts my productivity. I tried out the various layout options and thought that Flip was the best, followed by Grid and then Spatial.

Flip (which is apparently how Windows Vista will work) shows your windows as a 3D stack. Kind of like looking at a deck of cards from a corner at a 45 degree angle. Its nice in that is in that there is a consistent point on the screen to look at but it does tend to hide windows, so you’re not really sure what order they’re in. So you end up tabbing through them a few times to work out what you’re after.

TopDeskFlip TopDeskSpatial

(Flip and Spatial Layouts)

Grid shows all the windows in 2D but resizes them to a similar size / scale and shows them in a grid, obviously. Quite nice in that its organised in a obvious, neat way, but it doesn’t feel right. Spatial is similar to grid, but keeps the original scale and ratios of the windows. This is my least favourite because the windows layout seems to be random, which I guess is a side effect of it.

The latter two also suffer from what I mentioned previously, they make it hard to focus on what you’re after. On a multi-monitor set up its made worse because the windows are spread over the monitors. I know this seems like a good idea, but I can’t see how. I think this is more down to my conditioning of expecting to look at a set point on the screen and work from there.

As I commented on previously, there is also its memory usage. Lets see, I have mIRC, Firefox, BlogJet, MindManager Pro X5, FeedDemon, Windows Media Player, Process Explorer and a couple of Explorer windows open and TopDesk is using…

TopDeskMemory 

…35MB! I’ve had it creep up to 100MB+ on a couple of occasions. Thats a bit worrying for a glorified picture viewer!

I also noticed some odd behaviour where windows think they’re minimised when they’re not. I didn’t look further into this to work how it occurs, but I’m fairly confident its TopDesk related. Its never happened before or after using it.

So all in all, its a little too quirky for me. I just hope that Vista has the current / old style method available!

Gom Jabbar said,

February 12, 2006 @ 12:59 am

Honestly, I’d worry more about the 150MB Firefox is sucking up…

Pauk said,

February 12, 2006 @ 10:47 am

Firefox always uses up that much. Having so many plugins / extensions doesn’t help, but it a memory hog just on its own.

Actually a quick search shows that I’m getting off pretty lightly.

Gom Jabbar said,

February 12, 2006 @ 11:02 am

I do know why I’m not using that browser… when it’s not crashing all over it’s sucking up precious memory.

Each his own I guess.

Pauk said,

February 12, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

1.5 isn’t crashy anymore, but it does still suffer from memory leaks. I really like Opera but lots of options are set up on odd shortcut keys which makes it difficult for me to use.

I know I can change them, Opera is very configurable, but why should I? Firefox uses pretty much indentical shortcut keys to IE so switching browsers is much easier.

James Stewart said,

February 17, 2006 @ 5:17 am

Hi Pauk,

My names James Stewart, I’m from Otaku Software, the developers of TopDesk. Can you explain what you mean by “slight delay”? Do you mean there’s a delay after you activate TopDesk, or are you talking about the delay in finding the window you want?

Regarding the layout modes and switching between windows, the purpose of TopDesk isn’t to let you instantly switch to any window of your choice, it’s to help you switch to that window faster than Alt+Tab. Alt-Tab wins out when you have 1-2 windows, but it’s faster to switch using TopDesk from then on out. With around 15 windows open, switching from a window to another window takes, on average, 2-3 seconds using TopDesk (activate, find the window, click it), compared with around 6-7 seconds for Alt-Tab (cycle through until you get to an icon that looks like it belongs to the window you want), and 9-10 by just moving windows around. When switching to windows right behind or right infront of the current window, however, case Alt-Tab wins out, followed closely by the Flip mode of TopDesk.

As for the memory usage, you can reduce it by tweaking the options. If you’d like, drop me a line via email and I’ll point out the best settings for your system.

Paul said,

February 18, 2006 @ 12:49 am

Hi James,

Nice to hear from you. By “slight delay” I mean the time it takes to find the window I’m after, which will no doubt get better with more use. However on one particular machine TopDesk does have a delay in appearing and occasionally when I’ve selected a window to focus on.

I’ll admit that I’m not much of an option tweaker, I tend to prefer to leave settings alone because I like to think the defaults in most situations should be good enough (not just with your program, others as well).

However I’ve reinstalled it and tweaked some of the options. I did try it so that the tiling animation was off, but I found that too abrupt. So it still animates, but on its quickest setting.

I’ve been testing it on two machines. A Dell Inspiron 9100 laptop which is a p4 3.4ghz with 1GB ram and 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700. This machine seems to suffer from delays and pauses in use, I’m guessing it’s more down to video card though?

The other machine is a normal tower with a Althon XP 3200+, again with a 1GB ram but with a 128MB Geforce 6600GT. I have to say actually, with the options tweaked as above, there are no delays and it is very fast. But I do spend most of my time on the Dell.

I can see what you’re getting at in regards of faster switching times, but is that in relation to the grid and spatial options? In flip mode I would say it’s going to be similar to Alt+Tab.

As I said, I’m not keen on grid and spatial because of that lack of something to focus on or to be more precise, having a lot to focus on. The one thing I really like about Alt+Tab is that it gives you a small region to focus on and quickly switch tasks.

I’m also in two minds as to which is a better method of visualisation. In Alt+Tab mode I know all the icons for the programs I use inside out so finding the right one isn’t really an issue, its just getting at it. But I do like the idea of displaying the program windows.

As a side issue, I think the window title on flip would be most visible if positioned in the centre of the screen, instead of at the bottom, it’s slighter out of the line of sight. Could that be made switch-able?

I’ve also tried the various performance options. I had about 10 windows open and on the top performance setting it was using 72MB and on the lowest 28MB. Personally I’d still consider that high and I am very curious as to why? Or is that a trade secret? :).

I’m just not completely sold on it yet but I suppose in retrospect I should have tested it for longer before posting.

James Stewart said,

February 18, 2006 @ 7:40 am

Hi Paul,

I agree with you about the options, but the range of machines out there is so large that there’s no way that the TopDesk default options will be optimum on every setup.

The delay you’re seeing on the Dell is probably due to having the “Update foreground window before tiling” option enabled. Change this to “Update windows once after tiling” and the delay should go away. Having all these options isn’t the most elegant way to do things, but given the range of hardware TopDesk runs on it’s the only way to ensure that everyone can get the best results out of there system.

Yes, I was talking about the spatial and grid modes. Flipping is around the same as Alt-Tab, although the next version of TopDesk will let you click on any window in the stack, so Flip mode should hopefully edge out Alt-Tab then.

The Spatial and Grid modes take some getting used to, but with practice I’ve found that they’re actually better than the Flip mode. It’s just a matter of “unlearning” normal taskswitching behaviour :).

I think Flip mode is better than Alt-Tab in situations where you have more than one window of the same application (MS Word, for instance). Using Alt-Tab, all you have to go on is the name of the window, but with Flip mode you can see the difference.

I’ll take your advice about the window title on board, and probably add in an option to change the position in a future version.

The memory usage you’re seeing is because TopDesk has to store a copy of each window image as a DirectX texture. Even though it’s the taskmanager reports that TopDesk is using the memory, in reality it’s actually DirectX and your video card drivers, so some of the memory used may actually be on the video card (depending on your driver).

Paul said,

February 19, 2006 @ 10:31 pm

Hi James,

Thanks for the suggestions, I shall try them out. I’m going to give the spatial / grid modes a proper trial, see how I get on.

I have a further suggestion, would it be possible on the spatial / grid layout modes to disable the multi-monitor support and for it to show all the windows on the primary monitor? I can see the potential problems of a ton of windows on the one monitor, but I think it could be of use. My current snag with those layout modes is having to look at both monitors to decide what to focus on.

Cheers.

Pauked.com » TopDesk Continued said,

February 19, 2006 @ 11:04 pm

[…] There’s been a very interesting and productive exchange of comments on my previous TopDesk post. James Stewart of Otaku Software, the developers of TopDesk, pulled me up on some of my comments (given I was a bit unfair), so I explained myself. See the post comments for full details. […]

Otaku Software Weblog » How Not To Use A Blog said,

March 8, 2006 @ 7:00 am

[…] Paul posted about TopDesk a couple of times, pointing out an incompatibility with one of his favourite applications. The conversation was a bit strained at times as we each tried to get our individual points across, but at least it was a conversation. […]

Pauked.com » TopDesk Concluded said,

March 8, 2006 @ 8:05 am

[…] Bye bye TopDesk […]

djin said,

August 14, 2006 @ 6:05 am

Madotate is awesome. Not like this TopDesk, but for me, helps a lot to organize stuff all across my desktop. Just a hotkey and it all goes 3D and I can see the contents of every window. Then I choose what I want. OR a hotkey and instead of minimizing windows it’s there, occupying significantly less space and still in order :)

Paul said,

August 22, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

Would this be Madotate? http://www.neowin.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=165513&st=0

I had a quick look, I’m not terribly impressed. Like every other fancy task switcher it’s too slow to be of any use.

Aaron Delwiche said,

November 20, 2006 @ 12:07 am

Hey there — Just stumbled across this exchange a few months later. (I’m enjoying TopDesk so far, but installed it on a very new machine with a robust card.)

Just wanted to say that it’s totally cool to see such a reasonable, respectful conversation unfold in the comments section of a blog. Kudos to you both for taking the high road and for modeling productive online dialogue.

Paul said,

November 20, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

Aaron, I think James deserves a lot more of the credit for taking my initial ranty comments with a pinch of salt and dealing with them politely. It could have been a real mess otherwise!

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