Microsoft

Customizing Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu

Here's a tour of Vista's Taskbar and Start menu, as well as some tips for altering it in order to take better advantage of Aero's features.

Microsoft has done a fair amount of reorganization and fine tuning on Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box. Of course, it makes sense that being a new operating system, Windows Vista's new Start Menu would need a bunch of new customization features; however, I was pleasantly surprised at how familiar the dialog box was. It's very easy to find and change the old stuff and customizing the new features is a snap.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you around Windows Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box. As I do, I'll point out how to make certain alterations to Windows Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu in order to take better advantage of Aero's features.

Getting started

You can access the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box in Windows Vista using the same methods that you do in Windows XP. You can right-click on the Start button or the Taskbar and select the Properties command or you can open the Control Panel, select Appearance and Personalization, and then click the Taskbar and Start Menu icon.

Either way you access it, you'll see the new Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box shown in Figure A. Right off the bat, you'll notice that the new Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box has four tabs rather than two.

Figure A

Windows Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box has four tabs instead of two.

Keep in mind that, just like in Windows XP, selecting the Properties command from the Start button will open the dialog box with the Start menu tab showing while selecting the Properties command from the Taskbar or clicking the Taskbar and Start Menu icon in the Control Panel will open the dialog box with the Taskbar tab showing.

The Taskbar tab

As you can see, the Taskbar tab is straightforward and contains just six check boxes. (The Notification area, which used to be on this bottom portion of the tab, now has its own tab.) The first five configuration options, and their corresponding actions, are identical to those in Windows XP. The new option, titled Show Window Previews (Thumbnails), allows you to disable the live Taskbar thumbnails feature, which of course is one of the new Aero features that displays thumbnail images of running applications as you hover your mouse pointer over any button on the Taskbar.

Since the thumbnails are very helpful in quickly identifying active tasks and will actually show live operations, such as a download in progress, I'm not sure what advantage disabling it will have. However, some folks may not like the additional graphics overhead and clearing the Show Window Previews (Thumbnails) check box will revert the Taskbar back to the way it worked in Windows XP—it simply displays the title of running applications as you hover your mouse pointer over the button on the Taskbar.

Alteration advantage

Even though hiding the Taskbar will give you more screen real estate, I was reluctant to do so in Windows XP because I always needed the Taskbar not only to switch tasks, but also to see the time; however, I've discovered that in Windows Vista I don't have to permanently keep the Taskbar on the screen because of Flip 3D.

If you enable the Auto-Hide The Taskbar option and disable the Keep the Taskbar On Top Of Other Windows option, you'll not only increase your screen real estate, but you'll begin to really appreciate the elegance of using Flip 3D as your main task switching mechanism. Furthermore, having the Clock gadget on the desktop's Windows Sidebar further does away with the need to have the Taskbar visible in order to see the time.

Keep in mind that hiding the taskbar and primarily using Flip 3D to task switch doesn't negate the usefulness of the Taskbar. It will still appear and can be used when you press the [Windows] key or when you hover your mouse pointer at the bottom of the screen.

The Start Menu tab

When you first open the Start menu tab, you'll notice that it no longer contains a miniature image of the Start Menu, as shown in Figure B. You'll also notice that it contains a new panel titled Privacy that provide you with two check boxes to remove the Recent menu from the Start Menu and disable the list of recently opened programs that automatically accumulate on the main section of the Start Menu.

Figure B

The Start Menu tab no longer contains a miniature image of the Start Menu.

While Microsoft has greatly enhanced the way that Windows Vista's Start Menu works, you can still select the Classic Start Menu radio button, click Apply, and revert back to a Windows 2000 style Start menu. If you then click the adjacent Customize button, you'll discover that the Customize Classic Start Menu dialog box is almost identical to the same dialog box in Windows XP.

If you are using the Vista Start Menu, you may want to click the adjacent Customize button and investigate the plethora of options on the Customize Start Menu dialog box, as shown in Figure C. Rather than two tabs, this newly designed dialog box only has one tab and a host of configuration options now appear in the scrolling outline box.

Figure C

The Customize Start Menu dialog box now only has one tab and a host of configuration options appear in the scrolling outline box.

Alteration advantage

You can put the main area of the Start Menu to much better use if you configure it as a launching area for all the programs you use most often. To do so, clear the Store And Display A List Of Recently Opened Programs check box in the Privacy panel. Then, access the Customize Start Menu dialog box and clear the Internet Link check box—an Internet Explorer icon already appears on the Quick Launch menu. You may want to clear the E-mail Link check box as well—especially if you have a shortcut to your E-mail application in the Startup folder so that it starts each time you log on or if you launch it once and then leave it running all the time.

Once you clear up that space on the Start Menu, access the All Programs submenu, right-click on a shortcut to a program you use most often, and select the Pin To Start Menu command. You can add between 15 and 30 shortcuts to your most often used programs to the Start Menu. (The number of shortcuts you can add will depend on your screen resolution setting.)

The Notification Area tab

On the Notification tab, shown in Figure D, you'll find that the Hide Inactive Icons check box and Customize button work exactly like they do in Windows XP. However, you'll notice that in the System Icons panel you can add and remove not only the Clock, but also the Volume, Network, and if you're using a laptop, the Power icon.

Figure D

The System Icons panel on the Notification Area tab provides you with a quick stop place to add icons to the Notification area.

Alteration advantage

If you configure the Taskbar with the Auto-Hide setting and rely on the Clock and Calendar gadgets on the desktop's Windows Sidebar for the time and date, you can then clear the Clock check box in order to enlarge the space available to the Taskbar and provide more room in the Notification Area.

The Toolbars tab

The Toolbars tab, shown in Figure E, is completely new to the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box, and displays the same list of toolbars that you can see by right-clicking on the Taskbar itself and selecting the Toolbars submenu from the context menu. And while you can easily enable and disable the various toolbars from the Toolbars tab, you can't add new toolbars. To do that, you still have to go to the Toolbars submenu on the Taskbar.

Figure E

Unfortunately, the Toolbars tab is missing the ability to add new toolbars to the taskbar.

Conclusion

Windows Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box has received a fair amount of reorganization and fine tuning yet is still familiar when it comes to customizing the Taskbar and Start Menu. If you have comments or information to share about Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

About

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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