Microsoft last week filed a patent application for a new method of browsing through open windows on the desktop that builds on an older, now-abandoned feature in Windows Vista and Windows 7.
The application, which was published April 11 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), outlines a way to view the current open windows on the desktop and lets users cycle through those windows until the desired one is in focus.
At first glance, the patent -- dubbed "System and Method for Visually Browsing of Open Windows" -- appears to be a follow-up to and possible replacement for Flip and Flip 3D, the little-used open-windows selectors that first appeared in 2007's Vista.
Flip and Flip 3D showed thumbnails of the desktop's open windows, either in strip form or in a 3D-like rendering. Although Windows 7 also included Flip and Flip 3D, Microsoft dropped them from Windows 8.
The new approach that Microsoft hopes to patent differs from Flip 3D. While the Vista/Windows 7 feature showed equal-sized windows, this maintains the relative sizes of open windows. And although it may stack them in a strict cascade, as did Flip 3D, the application also spelled out free-form ordering that would spread the reduced-size windows across the screen.
Key combinations would be assigned to call up the visual browsing and for cycling through the windows, including the ancient Alt-Tab long-time users have pressed for decades. Alternately, a "hot corner" could be designated, as Microsoft has done for other commands in Windows 8.
Microsoft's proposed visual browsing would be reminiscent of the OS X feature once called "Exposé," which was renamed "Mission Control" in OS X Lion, the 2011 upgrade to Apple's desktop operating system.
Exposé/Mission Control shows all open windows in a two-dimensional layout, but unlike Microsoft's concept, does not overlap them.
In the patent application, Microsoft knocked Exposé/Mission Control. "While Exposé allows the user to view open windows simultaneously, multiple windows are tiled on the screen, which can still lead to some confusion," the document read. "It would be helpful to provide an interface which allows a user to scan quickly through open windows, one at a time."
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.