WindowShade X 3.1, by Unsanity LLC
Posted: 29-Mar-2004

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Unsanity LLC Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: GAMES
     
$10   Download

Overview
WindowShade X is a utility that provides a useful way of organizing your work on Mac OS X. With WindowShade X, you can change the settings of the minimize button on windows, define an action for double-clicking the title bar, and more. The actions you can define include:

  • Minimize the window to the Dock
  • "Windowshade" the window (only the title bar is displayed) to quickly peek below or get it out of the way
  • Minimize the window in place or to the edge of the screen
  • Make the window transparent so you can continue working in it while seeing things under it
  • Hide the application
  • Do nothing (aka, ignore the action)

These actions can be set on per-application basis.


Setup
WindowShade X can be downloaded from Unsanity's web site, and installation is a breeze.WindowShade X, like most Unsanity products, requires the Application Enhancer to work, and this is installed automatically when installing WindowShade X (unless it's already installed). WindowShade X is shareware, so if you find the tool useful, you should pay the $10 shareware fee and register.

In Use
One of many features I miss from Mac OS 9 is the ability to double click a window's title bar and have the window "flip up" (thereby revealing the screen behind it). My use of this tool was for purely functional behavior when working on my Mac. It allows you to quickly and easily see behind a window, and it's just as easy to restore the window. The WindowShade function is a brilliant utility that was left out of OS X. In OS X, we have minimizing to the dock, and Exposé. Minimizing a window to the Dock does not satisfy my needs because when you want to restore the window, you have to go look for it in the dock, and that requires extra time and mouse movement. Exposé allows you to see the desktop, but you don't have access to it; plus, it hides all windows, and sometimes you want to see another window.

Thankfully, Unsanity LLC stepped in to fill this gap. With WindowShade X, all the functionality of WindowShade as we knew it in Mac OS 9 has been restored, and then some! Windowshade X runs native in OS X, and it not only supports WindowShading, but Minimize-in-Place and customization of window shadows. It also includes the option to play sounds (either direct through WindowShade X, or as assigned in Unsanity's Xounds utility). There are a lot of customizations provided in WindowShade X, far exceeding the features of WindowShade for OS 9, but still as simple and easy to use.

With WindowShade X, you don't have to move the mouse or hunt down a window as you do when minimizing to the Dock. Further, unlike Exposé, you can perform functions on the desktop items that are behind the window. To use WindowShade X, just double-click the title bar, see what you need to see, then double-click again to restore the window. Even if you move the mouse to grab an item that was behind the window, you still know exactly where the window is. You never have to go searching for it.

WindowShade X sports a five tab preference panel, with the following options: WindowShade, Settings, Shadows, Minimize-In-Place, and Exclude List.


WindowShade X preference panel

In the main WindowShade tab, you can enable or disable WindowShade, and also bring back the familiar windowshading sound (just like with the old classic version). Here you can also specify an email address to subscribe to Unsanity's mailing list.


WindowShade X - Settings

In the Settings tab, you can customize the default settings for all applications (aka, "Global Settings"), and you can further refine settings to make WindowShade X behave differently for specific applications. As was provided in WindowShade X 1.0, WindowShade X 3.1 allows you to assign actions to the minimize button, double-clicking the window's title bar, control-double-clicking the title bar, and command-M. Some new options added since version 1.0 include defining a the Command key or the Control key twice in a row. This is a nice idea, but you have to be carefully, because I found that if you hold down the command key too long (or perhaps my hand twitched), it activates the WindowShade defined action.

The different behaviors that can be assigned to the actions above are: standard "WindowShade" (hides the window leaving only the title bar showing), window transparency (window does not move, but you can see through it), minimize to the OS X Dock (bleh!), hide the application, Minimize-in-Place (a new feature), or do nothing. The Settings tab also provides a slider to set the opacity of the window when using the "Make Window Transparent" option.



WindowShade X - Shadows

In the Shadows tab, you can enable or disable custom window shadows, both for the active (front-most) window, and for inactive windows. For both types, you can specify shadow spread, density, and horizontal and vertical offset of the shadow. This is a nice add-on to further customize your Macs visual appearance. There's also a "Draw Window Border" checkbox. When I first saw this option in version 1.0, I had hoped that it meant that I could use my window borders to drag the window (another nice Mac OS 9 feature that did not come over to OS X). That's not what it did, and unfortunately, that's still not what it does in version 3.1. This feature only causes a thin border to be drawn around windows.


WindowShade X - Minimize-In-Place


A very cool new feature in WindowShade X 3.1 is the Minimize-In-Place function. When minimizing a window in place, it shrinks the window and leaves the top left corner in the same location as the original window. You can set the minimize function to display the application name and/or the window name when mousing over the minimized window. Other options include having the minimized windows float, single click to restore, display the application's icon, and have them actually relocated along the edge of your screen if you prefer. For my setup, I chose to have the minimize button in my windows perform a minimize-in-place along the bottom of my screen, show the application name on mouse-over, and single click to restore.


Minimize-In-Place in action


The Minimize-In-Place is a nicety, and compliments the WindowShade function. It does not replace it, as it does not provide the true utility that the WindowShade function provides, but it's a nice way to organize open applications that are running in the background such that they are not taking up your screen real estate.

The last tab of WindowShade X is the Exclude tab. This allows you to prevent WindowShade settings from loading for specific applications. With the Settings tab, you can already specify an application for WindowShade to behave differently, and then set all the functions to perform no action. The exclude list is basically a cleaner and easier way to perform that task.

For previous users of WindowShade X, version 3.1 is far more stable, and runs on Panther. The 1.0 version had a slight lag in sound which appears to be resolved in this version as well. However, there are some behavioral problems with this version. With a window hidden with just the title bar showing and with the window in the foreground, try creating a new folder. This flashes the name of the new folder on the desktop (where the folder would be created if the window were showing). While this is no more than odd behavior, another problem I discovered with the Minimize-in-Place function is a bit more troublesome. If you don't have the minimized windows floating all the time, and cover the windows with another window, bringing the application that owns that window to the foreground does not cause the minimized window to come to the foreground (i.e., even though the application is front-most, the window is still hidden by a different application's window). The only way to locate the minimized window is to hide or WindowShade all the open windows.

Summary
Sadly, Apple appears to be losing their focus on functional design, as demonstrated by utilities and functions they have abandoned moving from OS 9 to OS X. It is very fortunate that companies like Unsanity value function over form by providing and improving upon superb utilities for OS X. WindowShade X is one such utility. WindowShade X is an indispensable utility for hiding windows without moving the windows to some other location or into a dock. It comes packed with several options for customizing behaviors for different users, and even across different applications, including the new feature of minimizing windows in place. I experienced a couple of odd behaviors, and I'm still a little disappointed that window borders are not draggable. However, on a daily basis, WindowShade X increases my productivity and decreases my frustrations, thereby improving my overall satisfaction with running on Mac OS X. I highly recommend it to all users of OS X.

Pros

  • Indispensable WindowShade utility for OS X
  • Highly customizable and very stable
  • Supports Dock-free environments
  • Wonderful new Minimize-in-place feature


Cons

  • Odd behavior creating new folders in a WindowShaded folder
  • Minimized applications do not float when application is in foreground
  • Draw border function still does not provide draggable borders option

Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice