Friday, July 22, 2005

Windows tip # 1

Alt-tab toggles between applications. I never realised this, I used to use alt-tab back when you'd only have a couple of programs open at a time, but more or less gave up when Windows 95 implemented the taskbar and computers were capable of running a dozen apps or more. I thought that you just used it to tick along the list of applications until you come to the one you need: and, more or less, that's what it does, except it does a very clever thing after that.

I don't know what criteria Windows uses to order the list it offers, but it doesn't really matter: after you have navigated to the new app, it puts where you came from next in the list. That means that no matter how many alt-tab-tab-tab-tabs it took you to get you where you are, it only takes one alt-tab to get back where you were, and so suddenly you're toggling between applications as it does the clever thing again, so now you can alt-tab between the two apps. The same applies to command-tab on Mac OS, unsurprisingly.

From a usability point of view this is a neat feature - at least, once you know it's there it's very useful. But there's no discoverability except accident, so that makes it effectively a useless feature. There's no guarantee I will remember it next week, though obviously writing it down helps :-). Try it: when it's what you need, it's exactly what you want, or is it the other way round..

I found it out from trawling through the Joel on software archives. Always something for a developer there, even if it's just something to disagree with. But he used to work for Microsoft, so finding out about a feature from someone who used to work at the company who produces the product doesn't count as real discoverability in my ibook.

1 comment:

Jimble said...

Indeed, but the command tab toggle on OSX is such a pretty thing!!