Explore the new Taskbar features in Windows 7 beta

The Windows 7 Beta was released during CES 2009 with several new and interesting features. Greg Shultz takes a look at one of those features in Windows 7 that really jumped out at him -- the new Taskbar.

I downloaded the Windows 7 beta over the weekend and have spent the last couple of days putting it through the paces. And, even though it is only at the first Beta stage, I must say that I'm pretty impressed with what I have experienced so far. At this point, Windows 7 appears to be a solid and stable operating system with all the features that you would expect in a beta 2 or release candidate version.

There are a lot of things in the Windows 7 operating system that are pretty much the same as in Vista, but there are also a lot of new and exciting features and changes. Regardless of how stable this version seems, it is still a beta, so I won't really tackle any performance issues — I'll wait until we get closer to the real deal. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll take a look at one of the features in Windows 7 that really jumped out at me — the new Taskbar.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download. If you want to get a full look at the Windows 7 beta, check out the First Look Photo Gallery.

The new Taskbar

When you first boot up Windows 7, your eyes immediately focus on the Start button and the Taskbar. The Start button and the Start menu are basically the same as in Vista, but Microsoft really revamped the Taskbar. To begin with, the Taskbar no longer displays text adjacent to each icon. Furthermore, the Taskbar is twice the height that it was before.

The next thing that I noticed was that the Quick Launch bar, first introduced in Windows 95, is gone. At first, this absence was a real shocker, because I have grown quite accustomed to the Quick Launch bar and depend on it for access to several common tools. However, once I began using the new Taskbar, I quickly forgot all about the Quick Launch bar because now the Taskbar itself acts as a place to both launch common applications as well as access running tasks.

In fact, in this beta, Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player icons all live on the Taskbar right next to the Start button by default, as shown in Figure A. And, you can drag and drop any application's icon onto the Taskbar just like you could in the Quick Launch bar. As such, even though the Quick Launch bar is gone, you still have the same functionality.

Figure A

The Quick Launch bar is gone, and Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player icons all live on the Taskbar by default.

Building on this concept of making the Taskbar act as both a place to launch common applications and a place to access running tasks, the default icons, and any icons that you add to the Taskbar, the icons on the Taskbar also serve as the task icon. For example, once you launch Internet Explorer using the icon on the Taskbar, that same icon transforms into the task icon that you use to switch back and forth between applications.

The task icons will also use a stack concept to show you how many open windows, or in the case of Internet Explorer how many tabs, are open by the application.

The Live Taskbar thumbnails feature, first introduced in Vista, has also been dramatically revamped as well as endowed with new capabilities in Windows 7. To begin with, it builds on the stack concept in that when you hover your mouse pointer over a task icon that's showing a stack, you'll see thumbnails for each window or tab, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

When you hover your mouse pointer over the Internet Explorer task icon that's showing a stack, you'll see thumbnails for each tab.

Furthermore, when you hover your mouse pointer over any active task icon, you'll see a small thumbnail, but when you hover your mouse pointer over the thumbnail, it will immediately expand to fill the screen. This feature is called Aero Peek, because this capability is dependent on the Aero UI and allows you to essentially take a peek at a window without actually switching windows. However, if you click on a small or large thumbnail, you'll instantly switch to that task. Click the close button on the thumbnail, and you'll close the window or the application.

Another capability of the Internet Explorer icon is that it can indicate progress of a download, as shown in Figure C. This capability will most likely show up in other progress-intensive applications.

Figure C

During a download operation, the Internet Explorer icon will show a green progress bar.
The new Taskbar also incorporates a new feature called Jump Lists. Designed to make it easier to find what you want and perform common operations associated with an application, Jump Lists appear on the Start menu as well as on the Taskbar when you right-click on an icon. For example, the Jump List for Windows Media Player will show frequently used operations, most recent music selections as well as some common tasks, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Jump Lists will make it easier to find what you want and perform common operations associated with an application.
One handy feature of the Quick Launch bar that might appear to have slipped through the cracks is the Show Desktop icon. However, that same functionality is now enhanced by Aero Peek and accessed by hovering your mouse pointer over a small, innocuous button in the far right-hand corner of the screen adjacent to the clock. When you do, all open windows on the desktop instantly become transparent with only a faint outline remaining, as shown in Figure E, and you can see the desktop.

Figure E

Aero Peek replaces Show Desktop's minimize-all-open-windows feature.

What's your take?

What do you think about Windows 7's new Taskbar? Have you downloaded the Windows 7 beta? Please drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.

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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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