Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC

Reviewed by: Lianne Reitter, October 2005
Published by: Actual Tools
Requires: Microsoft Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP & Vista
MSRP: US$39.95

I gave myself a really cool birthday present this year, and what a brilliant purchase it was: a brand new Toshiba Satellite Tablet PC. I can't begin to describe to you what a wonderful piece of technology this thing represents. Portability has never been made easier and the native software that recognizes your handwriting is frighteningly good. However, the very nature of a Tablet PC, if you think about it, has its drawbacks. Using it in the conventional way as a laptop computer is one thing, but fold it into its tablet configuration, enabling you to write directly on the screen, and one thing becomes abundantly apparent. While no physical change has taken place, the very fact that you are now putting your writing hand, and a good portion or your forearm, on the computer screen, that real-estate has been dramatically reduced.

The Actual Window Manager is designed to combat the problem. When I first started using the tablet I did a lot of minimizing to the task bar. That wears thin after a while as I found myself going back and forth, minimizing and maximizing one program after the other in a vain attempt to conserve screen space. Thankfully, the good people of Actual Tools have blazed a trail before me and they offer a suite of software tools meant to ease my woes and those of all tablet PC users.

Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC changes how you use program windows in your tablet’s desktop. There are two key features that allow the desktop to act as though space were infinite. The first is the ability to make the Input Panel transparent. The Input Panel is a Window’s feature that allows you to handwrite (or use a virtual keyboard) to input text. The problem is that it takes up a good quarter to one-third of your screen’s real-estate (depending on whether you are in portrait or landscape mode). Being able to make it transparent, and transparent in any percentage that suits you, allows you to float that panel over the window you are entering text in all the while being able to see the input field underneath and what is being entered in real time. So, not only have you saved yourself that screen real-estate, but you have also eliminated the necessity to bring up the input panel when you need it. Instead, you can just keep it undocked and allow it to appear as a floating object on demand without having to worry about covering up the working window.


The second most important feature of Actual Window Manager is the ability to install alongside window gadgets (minimize, maximize and close) another series of title bar buttons enabling you to perform a variety of very handy time and space saving window manipulations. You can create a system wide default set of title buttons so every window will have the same rules, or treat each piece of software on your computer differently by setting up different rules for individual program windows. The choice is yours, and there are lots of options and combinations. Minimize the window to the system tray if you like or pin it to the desktop so it always stays on top—great for dragging & dropping information between programs—a feature you can turn on and off whenever you like. Maybe you need a title bar button to make the window transparent on demand, or my favorite, a button enabling you to roll the window up so that only the title bar shows. You could have a dozen windows open if you wanted to using this feature, all aligned one under the other and by rolling them up or down as necessary, no window would ever be in the way of the other. Other title bar buttons include ones to send the window to the bottom of the window pile, align a window to one of nine different parts of the screen, or automatically resize a window to your predetermined preference. Actual Tools has even included the ability to reposition your new title bar buttons so that users of desktop skinning programs should have no trouble getting the Actual Window Manager buttons to sit comfortably beside the sometimes strange buttons supplied with new skins. Now just to further your organization of this new windows environment and to save you as much time and trouble as possible Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC includes access to all of these window functions with additional choices found under the program icon on the title bar. Just drop down the icon menu and perform any of the above mentioned tasks, including the ability to access the Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC software and make changes to your window’s actions on the fly.

Window tweaks can be used even further by creating default rules for your windows. Maybe you want your inactive windows to roll up automatically or become transparent? Maybe you want your window to open up at a particular part of the screen, in a particular size or go so far as to limit the minimum and maximum window size? Let's say that you like to have your programs minimized and you don't mind having to go back to the system tray every time you want to re-open a window. Even those who prefer this method will appreciate Actual Window Manager because it includes the ability to minimize any window to the edge of the screen. We all know how Microsoft treats minimized programs when there are too many for the task bar to show; they get tiled in such a way that getting to the one you want becomes an exercise of hide & seek. You could have all your windows minimized along the side of the screen and each one would be ready at hand and retrieved with little effort and no frustration.

Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC has something even for the uber-tweakers (you know who you are). Some of you, and I don't count myself among you (but I do understand you), want a particular window to always stay on top, or you want to prevent it from accidentally closing by activating a feature that will demand a confirmation or your right click of the mouse to close. Well those features, as well as the ability to rename your title bar, or even change the order in which the programs load on boot-up are all included in this fine program suite. I should warn you though, that the latter option should be used by only those of you who really know what you are doing. There's no telling what a change in the boot order could do to your system.

I had very little trouble using this program and what problems I did encounter—OneNote, part of Microsoft Office 2003 initially did not want to accept the window changes—were easily solved with a reboot. The program’s layout is intuitive and adding its functions to newly installed software is quick and easy by simply dragging & dropping a target icon onto the window in need of the tweaks. After using for a short while, Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC is one of those funny software suites that makes you wonder how you ever got by without it. Its functionality should be made an integral part of Windows. If there is a way to make your windows act in a way that will best suit your screen real estate needs, I'm pretty sure Actual Window Manager for Tablet PC has it. The software gets my highest recommendation.





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