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Last post Author Topic: Actual Window Manager mini review  (Read 28139 times)

tranglos

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Actual Window Manager mini review
« on: May 03, 2009, 09:11:04 AM »
Basic Info

App NameActual Window Manager
App URLhttp://actualtools.com/windowmanager/
App Version Reviewed5.3
Test System SpecsWindows XP SP2 with 2 monitors
Supported OSesWindows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/2008/x64
Support MethodsDetailed help file; online manual; online support forum. The program is actively developed with new features and improvements.
Upgrade PolicyPaid upgrades between major versions (discount applies).
Trial Version Available?Yes; time-limited trial
Pricing Scheme$49.95 for a single user license, but see below for less expensive variants; license is good for 2 computers, as long as only one is being used at a time
Features and screenshotshttp://actualtools.c...dowmanager/features/
Feature Comparison Charthttp://actualtools.c...wmanager/comparison/
Online demoshttp://actualtools.c...wmanager/onlinedemo/
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and Product REVIEWER: registered user since Oct 2008; no other relation.


Intro:

Okay, so I know how this is going to end: DonationCoder resident AutoHotkey wizards are going to demonstrate how instead of paying $49.95 for a piece of shareware, you can have all its features for free in under an hour. Tip of my hat to them! AHK saves me a lot of time every day, so this remark is not meant to be flippant. However, if - like me - you happen to be a sucker for beautiful interfaces and convenient configuration screens, check out Actual Window Manager.

AWM seems to have received only a handful of mentions at DC so far, yet it falls in one of the most discussed categories: programs that arrange, move, resize and do all sort of neat tricks with windows. Actual Window Manager may well be the most feature-packed of all, and its capabilities extend beyond managing windows: it also supports virtual desktops and multiple monitors with replicated taskbars, Start menus and a dual Alt+Tab app switcher.

My first contact with Actual Window Manager was when I spotted the neatly arranged title-bar buttons in an unrelated post by tslim:

01-awm-buttons.png

In my everyday usage, this is what AWM adds to every window - the title-bar buttons and the right-click menu with lots of handy functionality:

02-awm-titlebar-menu.png

I admit I am a configuration junkie. The more options I can tweak, the happier (and more in-control) I am. Actual Window Manager gives me my config fix and then some. Here is the configuration overview screen:

05-awm-default-settings.pngActual Window Manager mini review

Two more screenshots of the configuration possibilities. There are global settings for all windows, and you can also create configurations for individual windows/programs. Here is the set of options to control what happens when a new window opens:

06-awm-settings-startup.pngActual Window Manager mini review

...and here are settings to control window size:

07-awm-settings-size.pngActual Window Manager mini review

Instead of pre-configuring all these behaviors, you can also press a key at any time to quickly adjust the current window. All changes in the Quick Settings dialog are applied immediately to the active window:

03-awm-quicksettings.pngActual Window Manager mini review

Most of the time though you will simply control windows with configurable global shortcuts:

08-awm-shortcuts.pngActual Window Manager mini review

The buttons AWM places on the titlebar of every window are also configurable. What's nice is that you can specify the offset, to leave a small gap between AWM's buttons and the standard minimize/maximize/close buttons). AWM lets you select and reorder the custom buttons, or use a different set for each window if you like. There are plenty to choose from:

09-awm-tilebuttons.pngActual Window Manager mini review

(This is AWM's default set, which can be replaced with other graphic designs)

Who is this app designed for:


I recommend that you try Actual Window Manager if:

- If you ever find yourself switching between multiple windows, especially if you keep moving and resizing them to bring some order to your desktop;

- If you use multiple monitors and would like to add support that's missing from the operating system;

- If you hate the inconsistent way certain program windows open, and you'd like to force them to always open the way you want and stay that way; or if you'd like a global ability to remember the last position and size of every window (not all programs do that).

- If you use AutoHotkey or another scripting tool for moving and sizing windows, but would like a few more features and/or an easier way to configure your favorite behaviors;

- If you've ever tried UltraMonTaskSwitchXP, or Dexpot and found them lacking; or if you use all these apps (plus AutoHotkey), and you'd rather replace them with a single tool...

- ...in other words, if a single utility that manages windows, multiple monitors, taskbar and virtual desktops, *and* gives you control over application switching and process priorities sounds good to you;

- If you're a power user but don't mind the convenience of dialog boxes;

- If you enjoy well-designed UIs with sprawling configuration interfaces :)

And if the price is somewhat steep (which it is), Actual Tools offer a set of smaller, cheaper utilities, each of which provides a subset of AWM's full functionality. They are: Actual Title Buttons, Actual Window Menu, Actual Transparent Window, Actual Window Rollup, Actual Window Minimizer, Actual Virtual Desktops and Actual Window Guard. See the feature comparison matrix for details.

The Good

Let me just list briefly some of my favorite features. Note that absolutely everything here is optional, you can disable any feature you don't want.

- Regular window management functions you would expect, such as moving (as in GridMove), resizing, minimizing, minimizing to tray, moving between monitors, rolling up, and forcing a window to stay on top - as well as a few more advanced additions, such as the ability to make a window transparent, "ghosting" a window (it remains visible, but mouse clicks go to the programs beneath it), setting CPU affinity and process priority.

- You can define a separate configuration for a particular application or window. There are lots of behaviors you can configure, such as initial position and size, or the monitor to show the window on. I use it to always display Acrobat Reader maximized on my second monitor, and to force a specific position and size for all HTML Help files, which are notorious for opening every which way, sometimes in very small windows, other times way too large. AWM can tame such inconsistencies. There is much more you can have AWM do when a window opens, e.g. minimize the window, run a keyboard macro, execute another program or set process priority.

- To every single function AWM makes available you can assign a global keyboard shortcut. There is a good set of factory defaults, such as Win+Down arrow to minimize, Win+Up arrow to maximize/restore, Win+Period to minimize to tray, and Win+Comma to roll up a window. Each such shortcut can be changed and disabled.

- In version 5.0 AWM introduced support for multiple monitors. This doesn't just mean the ability to move windows between monitors. AWM can display the taskbar on each monitor, either in "replicate" mode (all taskbars are identical), or - better - on each taskbar show buttons only for the applications displayed on the specific monitor. Each taskbar can have its replicated Start button with the menu.

- (added on edit) The latest version of AWM supports reordering taskbar buttons by dragging (on the main taskbar as well as on the replicas).

- Special mention: multi-monitor support includes the ability to display the Alt+Tab application switcher on all monitors at the same time. This was perhaps what ultimately convinced me to buy AWM. (Some similar apps display the switcher on the currently active monitor. I could never get used to that, since in practice I was never sure which way to look when pressing Alt+Tab :) Showing the switcher on ALL monitors seems to be the ideal solution.)

- All the AWM windows management features apply also to command prompt (shell) windows. There is a checkbox to enable this, since at one point it was an experimental feature, and it had a side-effect of a delay when closing command prompt windows. (This has been fixed.)

- When AWM moves a window to another monitor, it provides options for keeping the window size or adjusting it to the dimensions of the current screen.

- Apart from all the specific configuration settings, AWM can remember and restore the size and position of every application's window. Many programs do that on their own, but for those that do not, AWM can provide that behavior.

- The help file is comprehensive, and each configuration screen in AWM shows a clickable link to the relevant Help topic.

(I do not use the virtual desktops feature, but you can expect a typical, configurable  implementation).


The needs improvement section

AWM applies the default set of title-bar buttons to all windows, unless a program is excluded or has its own configuration set. In practice, the default settings are not suitable for small windows, because the buttons end up obscuring the title, as in this ftp transfer window from Total Commander:

04-awm-smallwindow.png

I could alleviate this by making a special configuration for TC, but it would apply to TC's main window as well. Instead, it might be useful to have a setting that would prevent AWM from adding the title-bar buttons to windows below certain minimum width. (You can always right-click the title-bar to access these functions).

When I leave the computer running overnight, by morning AWM seems to have leaked memory and has trouble keeping track of resources. Application buttons in the replicated taskbar on my second monitor no longer display icons, and AWM is using much more memory (about 50 MB) than it normally does (about 10 MB). This only happens after the computer has been running for 20 hours or more, and does not affect the stability; I have never seen AWM crash. Closing and restarting AWM rectifies the leak, but there it is.

AWM has a particularly nice feature that lets you automatically minimize a window when it loses focus. This could be useful for apps that you frequently bring up, but only for a short moment - such as a thesaurus or a dictionary. However, the implementation of this feature is faulty: when a program configured to "minimize on deactivate" opens a dialog box, AWM interprets this as the window losing focus, and minimizes the window. As a result, you can use your thesaurus, but as soon as it opens a dialog box or shows a message, it's gone - minimized. (The author has acknowledged this issue and I hope to see it fixed in a future build).

Finally, there is a limitation that is not the programmer's fault, but one you will stumble upon sooner or later. Since AWM modifies application windows via standard Windows API functions, it will not work (or not work well) with applications that replace those standard Windows behaviors with their own. This affects most skinned apps, such as Winamp or FARR. AWM either doesn't work at all with such programs (cannot display its buttons on the application's title bar), or needs to be disabled for the specific program, if the display is ugly or incorrect. The painful point here is that disabling AWM for a program also turns off all the AWM-specific keyboard shortcuts for that window. There really isn't anything AWM can do here - it's the fault of the various skinning mechanisms that they do not support normal window behaviors.

(Similarly, until recently AWM didn't sit well with applications that replicate the "ribbon" interface of Office 2007, but this has been fixed in version 5.3.)


Why I think you should use this product

If the screenshots and feature listings haven't convinced you, you probably have no need for Actual Window Manager :) But if you were ever looking for a way to bring consistency and automation to window behaviors, and if you're not entirely satisfied with UltraMon or AutoHotkey, give it a try.


How does it compare to similar apps

It's been quite some time since I tested anything similar. I don't want to give short shrift to the capabilities of apps I'm not very familiar with, so I'm going to leave this section blank. Please post about your experiences with UltraMon or related tools.

Conclusions

I first installed the 5.0 beta version, the first release of AWM that supported multiple monitors. It's a cliché to say I couldn't live without it anymore. Perhaps less of a cliché: it's one of the rare programs that make me smile when I discover what they can do. It's my favorite new software of 2008. A really neat toy, attractively designed, and awfully useful. A unique combination of features you'd find only partly implemented in other apps.

Let me put it like this: Actual Window Manager has joined the short list of indispensable applications that aren't merely lesser evils, but that keep me genuinely happy: Total Commander, FARR, AutoHotkey and very few others. Were that not the case, I'd have gone biking on this beautiful Spring Sunday instead of writing the review :)

« Last Edit: May 03, 2009, 01:58:43 PM by tranglos »

lanux128

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2009, 10:37:23 AM »
a fine review, tranglos and i will not say a word about AHK.. ;)

mouser

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2009, 12:34:00 PM »
Wow.. Tranglos is on fire lately!

AWM looks pretty cool.. Great review.
The price is pretty steep.. Maybe if we could got a dc discount...

tomos

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2009, 03:41:27 PM »
Yes, a great review Tranglos!
tempting too all right :)

Tom

tranglos

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2009, 05:27:30 PM »
Wow.. Tranglos is on fire lately!

AWM looks pretty cool.. Great review.
The price is pretty steep.. Maybe if we could got a dc discount...

A discount would be great - or a few copies for the monthly draw.

On the one hand, AWM is only $10 more than UltraMon, while it does so much more. On the other, many tools with overlapping functionality are free: Dexpot for virtual desktops, TaskSwitchXP for the improved Alt+Tab window, etc. And of course AutoHotkey can provide most (maybe not all) of the AWM features.

The price is pretty high for this kind of utility, but the same author also offers the smaller, one-purpose tools that I mentioned.

I like how problems get fixed and features added with every minor release. The latest version for example fixes the display issues with ribbon-based apps, and adds the ability to reorder taskbar buttons with the mouse. Since the author has already stepped beyond just window management, it'll be interesting to see what new tricks he'll introduce in the versions to come.

I kind-of bought AWM in lieu of forking over $25 for TheBat! upgrade - yet another paid one, from 4.0 to 4.1, where nothing of value to me changed or improved. Another $30 saved by refusing to upgrade Tune-Up Utilities, which also didn't add anything groundbreaking, and AWM was almost as good as free :)

(To be fair to Tune-Up, I've just noticed their license now covers 3 computers, so it may be worth updating eventually.)


cthorpe

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2009, 11:59:07 PM »
Request for discount sent to developer.

Darwin

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2009, 12:45:40 AM »
Request for discount sent to developer.

Great! Thanks for working on this  :)
"Some people have a way with words, other people,... oh... have not way" - Steve Martin

urlwolf

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2009, 07:28:59 AM »
I'm using WinSplit Revolution. Althoug a lot more basic, it does all I need and it's free.

Ampa

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2009, 10:08:29 AM »
Thank you and congratulations on a very thorough review.

Software seems nice enough, but… you know what is coming!

I am very happy using WindowPad (an AHK script), which allows me to control all my windows on dual monitors via logical keypresses, with no (intrusive) interface.

Innuendo

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #9 on: June 27, 2009, 10:47:14 AM »
I've been aware of Actual Window Manager for years, but I have always thought his prices were way too high. Yes, I know he's got programs with subsets of features for less money, but I have been of the opinion his whole product line-up should be cut 50% in price. That seems more in line with what I'd be getting for the money.

And that memory leak. Like I said, I've been aware of this program for years. Every new version released I evaluate and the memory leak is still there. Want a premium price for your software? Then give me premium software for the price...which means no memory leaks that have been in the code since the year dot.

I leave my PC on 24/7 and I use it quite a bit when I'm home. I don't have the time or inclination to 'babysit' programs by restarting them when my other programs start acting wonky due to memory leaks.

Oh, and great review, tranglos! My personal opinions regarding this software are no reflection on your thorough dissection of this program. Good job!

Darwin

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #10 on: June 27, 2009, 05:05:57 PM »
Crap! The memory leak is what has kept ME from using Actual Windows Manager for years as well... I was hoping it had been fixed by now. At one point, I was offered a 50% discount to buy AWM after uninstalling a demo of it, but I didn't jump at the time (because of the memory leak!).
"Some people have a way with words, other people,... oh... have not way" - Steve Martin

Alex Belyakov

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2009, 01:01:06 AM »
Very nice review Tranglos! :up:

It's really sad to hear about a memory leak in our products :(
I'd surely fixed it, but I'm afraid we at Actual Tools could not reproduce it.
Is it ActualWindowManagerCenter process which is leaking? Could you please tell me (either via PM, or via email) what steps can lead to that leak?

Or perhaps the leak occurs every time you run AWM for long enough. Is it the case? How long should AWM be running for this?

mouser

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2009, 05:43:52 AM »
Welcome to the site Alex  :Thmbsup:

tranglos

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2009, 11:05:33 AM »
Hi Alex,

Thanks so much for joining DC and for creating AWM! I apologize for the late reply; I wanted forst to catch the memory leak and make some screenshots to show what's happening.

I'd surely fixed it, but I'm afraid we at Actual Tools could not reproduce it.
Is it ActualWindowManagerCenter process which is leaking? Could you please tell me (either via PM, or via email) what steps can lead to that leak?

Or perhaps the leak occurs every time you run AWM for long enough. Is it the case? How long should AWM be running for this?

It should be running well over 12 hours; more like over twenty - that's why I don't see it happen very often unless I work all day on the computer and then leave it running overnight. My setup is XP SP2, with two monitors. I confiugured AWM to display the taskbar on the secondary monitor, without the Start button. (I am not using the virtual desktop feature, and I am not using any other apps that modify windows, the taskbar or the alt+tab switcher.)

When the memory leak occurs, there is a visual cue in that the icons on the secondary taskbar disappear:
awm_secondary-taskbar-no-icons.png

At that point both the Windows Task Manager and Process Explorer show that AWM is using a significant amount of memory:

awm_taskman-memory.png

awm_processexplorer-memory.png

By contrast, AWM typically consumes under 10 MB on my system.

I think the disappearance of icons may be a clue. Perhaps what's leaking is not memory on the heap, but window handles or some icon-related resource (handles, brushes, etc.)?

I would like to be able to correlate the leak with opening and closing a large number of windows on the secondary monitor (i.e., buttons on the secondary taskbar created and destroyed many times over), but this doesn't seem to be the case. When the machine is running unattended overnight, no new windows appear on either monitor.

Other than that, I have no steps to reproduce the problem. The leak happens without me interacting with AWM in any way; it just needs to be running long enough.

« Last Edit: July 11, 2009, 04:27:25 PM by tranglos »

Innuendo

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2009, 04:10:11 PM »
I haven't run Actual Windows Manager in quite some time, but what tranglos says rings true in my mind. I rarely turn off my PC and I seem to recall that the AWM weirdness always showed up after letting it run for a couple/few days straight with no reboots.

Alex Belyakov

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #15 on: July 13, 2009, 06:38:06 AM »
tranglos, Innuendo,

Thank you very much for your reports!
To be frank, we've made several tests leaving AWM running for more than 20 hours on PCs with 2 and 3 monitors with Multimonitor Taskbar feature enabled, and still we haven't observed this excessive memory consumption.
But we'll try to repeat those long-term tests again.

BTW, we've just released version 5.4, and icon processing there is slightly optimized.
Would it be possible for you to check if that nasty leak appear in this release too?

Innuendo

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #16 on: July 13, 2009, 12:08:02 PM »
Alex, thank you for your attention to this matter. I cannot speak for Tranglos, but I bet if you were to offer to privately send him a debugging version to test he'd probably be more than happy to do so. Then you'd be able to analyze the data it logs and come up with a solution.

tranglos

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #17 on: July 13, 2009, 03:49:57 PM »
Alex, thank you for your attention to this matter. I cannot speak for Tranglos, but I bet if you were to offer to privately send him a debugging version to test he'd probably be more than happy to do so. Then you'd be able to analyze the data it logs and come up with a solution.

I'd certainly try a version that logs debug information. AWM has general public betas, but I didn't try the last one.

@Alex: I installed version 5.4, but immediately after rebooting I started noticing a number of strange behaviors - not only from AWM, but also from completely unrelated software (e.g. the system volume control, which practically stoped functioning). It was weird that AWM would affect the system in such a way, but I had to uninstall that version right away just to use the computer normally. I reinstalled version 5.3 and things went back to normal.

I haven't had enough time off from work to post a meaningful bug report, but I will if you wish (perhaps you've had similar reports from other users and don't need another one). For now it doesn't seem I can use version 5.4 at all.

Alex Belyakov

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #18 on: July 14, 2009, 11:03:53 PM »
tranglos,

We haven't got enough feedback from our users yet (most likely because we haven't published a press-release about version 5.4), but our beta-testers have not reported such strange behavior of this version.

I'd recommend to turn off AWM's "Window Thumbnails" feature. This is the only new part of version 5.4 which can possibly cause hang-ups of other applications.

I think I'll contact you later, when we've collected users' feedbacks and possibly made some kind of service release for 5.4, if it would be necessary.

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #19 on: July 25, 2009, 06:30:30 PM »
DonationCoder.com will have a members only discount of 50% off beginning in August, and we will be giving away 5 copies in our August Shareware Giveaway.

Darwin

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #20 on: August 22, 2009, 03:54:33 PM »
Thanks for organizing the discount, Carl (and thanks to Alex as well!) - I'm evaluating AWM 5.4 now against UltraMon on a Vista x64 system. Very nice! It's more feature rich and yet has a smaller footprint.
"Some people have a way with words, other people,... oh... have not way" - Steve Martin

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #21 on: August 23, 2009, 07:17:25 AM »
Yes, thanks for sorting out the discount.

Another one to add to the list of windows managers (Works very well on my system for last 6 months). I already use Ultramon but the regular expression matching of window titles works well for me ...

Window Layout Manager - Wilma.
Post a comment at the end of the above web page page for a link to the download location. Not sure I should disclose it directly without the authors permission

Home Page for Wilma

Thanks again for sorting the discount !!!!

Curt

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qwibbles

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #23 on: August 25, 2009, 03:05:50 PM »
Thanks Curt ... missed that :-)

I need to try sleeping more.

markfoley

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Re: Actual Window Manager mini review
« Reply #24 on: September 01, 2009, 12:13:48 AM »
Just gave this a try.  What a program!  And the default shortcuts are intuitive, what's more.  Hitting Win+; to put the prog on just the left half of one monitor- the control! 

Now I just play the waiting game for a couple of days to see if that memory leak appears.  If not, I'm a lifelong fan... :)