Get IT Done: Save clicks with Tweak UI's X-Mouse feature

Minimize mouse clicking with this article

If you've experimented with Windows XP's Tweak UI, you know that it is packed with features and settings that you can use to customize the way that Windows XP works. However, there are so many features in Tweak UI that chances are good you've only investigated a few of them. As such, you may not be getting the full benefit of all that Tweak UI has to offer.

One of the Tweak UI features that few people actively investigate is a tool called X-Mouse, which is designed to facilitate moving between several open windows. Once enabled, X-Mouse allows you to switch between open windows simply by hovering the mouse pointer over the title bar of an inactive window—with no clicking involved.

Downloading Windows XP's Tweak UI
If you haven't yet downloaded Windows XP's Tweak UI, you can do so from the Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP Web page. If you've previously downloaded and installed Tweak UI, make sure that you have the latest version. You'll find the version number at the bottom of the About page. The current version is listed as:
For Windows XP (SP1 and higher) and Windows Server 2003

If you have an older version, simply download the newer one and install it over the top of the existing installation.

Activating the X-Mouse feature
After you have Tweak UI up and running, you can enable and configure the X-Mouse feature by opening the Mouse branch on the tree list and accessing the X-Mouse page. Then, to enable the X-Mouse feature, just select the Activation Follows Mouse (X-Mouse) check box, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
When you open the Mouse branch, you can access the X-Mouse page.

Understanding the X-Mouse settings
After you enable the X-Mouse feature, you'll want to make sure that the Autoraise When Activating check box is selected as well. This is a crucial setting in that it allows the X-Mouse feature to not only activate a window, but to bring the window to the foreground as well. This is often referred to as bringing the window into focus.

Next, you'll notice that the Activation Delay (ms) control is set to 30. This setting means that as soon as you move the mouse pointer over a window, it's activated almost immediately. While that is the goal of the X-Mouse feature, an Activation Delay setting of such a small milliseconds value can have several unexpected side effects.

For instance, suppose that you have the Control Panel's System dialog box open over the top of a maximized window. Now, as you're about to change a configuration setting, you accidentally bump the mouse and the pointer moves off the System dialog box and onto the maximized window. As soon as it does, X-Mouse grabs the maximized window to bring it into focus and the System dialog box drops helplessly into the background right before your eyes. What makes this worse is that Control Panel apps don't place icons on the taskbar. This means that returning to the task at hand can be a bit frustrating as you must either minimize all open windows or use the [Alt][Tab] key to locate the hidden System dialog box.

Now that you have an idea of the side effects of a 30 millisecond setting in the Activation Delay control, you're probably wondering what would be a good setting. The answer depends on how long you want to wait before the window you need pops up.

I suggest that you start off with a value of 1000 milliseconds, which will configure the Activation Delay for 1 second. That way, if you accidentally move the mouse pointer off of the window you're working with, you'll have a chance to move it back before the focus changes. Once you get used to the X-Mouse feature, you can then return to Tweak UI and experiment with lower Activation Delay values.

To complete the configuration operation and to activate the X-Mouse feature, just click OK. You can then begin experimenting. As you do, keep in mind that, as with any new tool, it will take some time to get used to.

The cascade effect
When you're using the X-Mouse feature, you'll find it advantageous to use cascading windows on your desktop, which you can do by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting the Cascade Windows command. When you do, any windows you have open will cascade, or layer, across your desktop. This type of window configuration will allow you to take better advantage of the X-Mouse feature as a method of switching between windows.

When you cascade your open windows, you'll plainly see the title bars for each open window, thus making it easier to switch between windows simply by hovering the mouse pointer over the window you want to work with.

Of course, once you select a window, you can maximize it while you're using the application. Then, when you're ready to switch windows, just click the restore down button to reveal the cascading windows again.

Multiple monitors
If you're using multiple monitor configurations in Windows XP, you'll definitely want to use the X-Mouse feature because, not only are you switching between windows, you're also switching between monitors. And, of course, this involves a lot of clicking.

When you use the X-Mouse feature in a multiple monitor configuration, you can easily switch between the various applications you have open on each monitor simply by moving the mouse pointer back and forth between the monitors.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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