ALT + TAB : 1990 vs 2013

July 15, 2013
ALT+TAB, the very popular app switcher keyboard shortcut, was first introduced by Microsoft in Windows 3.0 in May 1990. It gave the users, a powerful and easy technique to switch between applications. 21 years later, Microsoft released windows 8 with the new and refreshed metro UI. It targeted the next generation of computing devices such as tablets and smartphones that unleashes the power of touch.
Microsoft re-invented ALT+TAB for touch screen based devices with a simpler swipe gesture in Windows 8 to switch between apps. Of course, why not, it made perfect sense.
In the last several years, other smartphone & tablet operating systems such as iOS and Android have become widely popular mainly due to the millions of apps available for purchase and download from app stores.
One simple, yet powerful enterprise application is to access the traditional Windows XP/Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC from the tablets and smartphones. Today, there are several thin client applications in app stores of iOS and Android.
This presents a classic problem to the user i.e accessing old technology via new technology interface. To elaborate, Windows XP and Windows 7 are of the older generation operation system where typically the input interface is a mouse and a keyboard. Whereas iOS and Android based tablets have touch as the primary input interface. There are secondary input interfaces such as cameras, accelerometers and gyro sensors and there are several applications that leverage these modern input techniques in more than one innovative ways.
Mixing old technology with new creates weird & crazy situations. For example, try to use a thin client application on Android or iOS tablet or smartphone to login to a desktop and switch applications! Phew! It requires lot of focus and a really thin finger to accurately click on the small application icon in task bar! And if you pinch and zoom to zoom in, you end up scrolling left and right to find your application.
Some of the smart apps tried to solve this problem by using the same swipe gesture (as in Windows 8) to send ALT+TAB key events to remote desktop to switch between the applications. But that has a limitation too! It can only switch applications between the last and current one. If you have 10 applications running, you need a smarter technique.
ppinng!Top is a RemoteFX based thin client application designed for Android & iOS tablets and smartphones. Apart from a high performing RemoteFX decoder which is its main USP, it has several small, innovative and powerful tools and features to blend the new technology with old seamlessly.
One of such small yet powerful feature of this application is the easy app switcher. In the app, a small touch button is provided on the top action bar that sends ALT key down, TAB key down & TAB key up events, but does not send the ALT key up event. This makes Windows XP or Windows 7 desktop to show the bigger icons of the application in the center of the desktop (as shown below)
alt
The user can now just select the application it wants to switch to! That’s easy isn’t it!
If the RDP session resolution is larger than the screen resolution, no matter which area of the desktop is visible on the screen, the application automatically brings the center of the desktop to visible view area, thus making the application switching an easy task.
So, what are you waiting for! Watch out for ppinng!Top app coming soon.
Pathpartner author Srikantha
Srikanth Peddibhotla
Sr.Architect