Nik's Picks: Witch

I’ve heard a number of complaints from “switchers” and Windows users about the Mac’s command+tab application switching behavior. The complaint is always the same: It only shows applications, how can I get to the exact window that I want?

Now, I’m a cross-platform-dresser, myself, and am equally (or nearly so) expert in both Windows and the Mac. In fact, I use Windows every day, probably for more time than I use my Mac. But the thing is, the alt+tab application switcher does show all the windows and documents, but I find it more frustrating than useful.

I suspect the reason why I find it so frustrating, is that I tend to open a large number of documents in the same program. To the alt+tab switching window, one Excel file looks like another, so if I have five or six spreadsheets open, I have to scrub through each one to see what the filename is.

What I tend to do is just switch to Excel and then select the document I want from the list of open windows. Pretty much the same as I do on the Mac.

But there are time, I’ll admit, when picking exactly the right window would be a time saver, so I went looking for the solution. I found it in Witch by Peter Maurer (creator of Butler and many other fine Macintosh utilities).

Witch is an application switcher that can be activated with a keyboard command of your choosing. (Excepting command+tab, which is reserved for the Dock – shame on you, Apple!) It pops up a nice bezel which lists your applications and their open windows in a pleasant vertical array. Best of all, it lists the full name of every single window and application, thus making switching to them a breeze!

You can also use it to quit, hide, or minimize windows and applications, and can ever create a shortcut to switch between your current application’s open windows, without getting bogged down in the whole application list.

It is immensely configurable, permitting careful control of what the bezel looks like, font size (although the fonts shrink dynamically if you have a large number of windows/applications open), and keyboard shortcuts.

It’s price is simply whatever you think is fair, as it’s donation-ware (along with most of Peter Maurer’s excellent software). The combination of the extremely fair pricing, excellent feature set, and solid reliability would normally earn such a utility a cool 7 out of 7 stars, and a hallowed place among Nik’s Picks, except for two things:

  1. It’s a bit slow. There’s a brief stutter when I bring it up, especially if there’s a large number of windows open. I suspect it relies on Apple Events to enumerate windows, and that is a bit slow. (Keep in mind, however, that I have a rather pokey Macintosh – a mere 1 ghz G4.)
  2. I cannot map cmd+tab to Witch. I recognize that this is not Mr. Maurer’s fault, but it does mean that I have to take up another universal keyboard command for a tool that should really replace and supersede Apple’s application switcher.

Regardless, it’s a fantastic utility and is free to try. I highly recommend that you give it a go and see what you think.

Twitter, Facebook

Written on August 19, 2006