thanks for the suggestions but they don't quite solve the problem - not perfectly anyway.
switcher is okay but it's more of an alt+tab replacement.
thunbwin and nubs have their own problems (on my system, at least). nubs would have been good but it's inconsistent - windows tend to disappear off the screen, others are rolled up, just weird behaviour. thumbwin remains in the way too much, and the normal taskbar button are still visible for thumbed programs.
so, i'm still hoping and looking there could be something else.