Windows

Take advantage of the Taskbar features in Windows 7

Greg Shultz takes a closer look at the taskbar in Windows 7. He describes each feature in detail and shows you how to take advantage of each of them.

As you may remember, back in the Windows 3.x days, Microsoft gave the operating system the ability to run multiple programs at the same time, which was a revolutionary change. Unfortunately, taking advantage of the new capability was rather difficult because the operating system didn't provide us with a good method for keeping track of, or switching between, all the running programs.

Fortunately, in Windows 7, Microsoft has provided us with several very cool, very graphical methods for switching between open windows or tasks. Of course, Windows Flip 3D, which uses visual depth to give you a very interesting way of switching, immediately comes to mind when speaking of new task-switching features. However, the tried-and-true taskbar has received many new and improved features in Windows 7 that not only enhance task switching but add a host of other features designed to improve the overall usability of the operating system.

However, it is all too easy to simply focus on the basic aspects of the taskbar and overlook all the other neat features. Therefore, in this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll take a closer look at the taskbar in Windows 7. As I do, I'll describe each feature in detail and show you how to take advantage of each of them.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a corresponding TechRepublic download.

Thumbnails and more

Of course, the most prominent graphical feature of the taskbar is the Live Thumbnails feature. You just hover your mouse pointer over any button on the Taskbar and you'll see a thumbnail of that window's contents. And because the thumbnails are live, they can actually show active operations, such as the progress of a file transfer operation, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The Live Taskbar Thumbnails feature shows you live thumbnail images of running applications.
Of course, the Live Thumbnails feature first appeared in Vista, but Windows 7's taskbar builds on that foundation and provides many additional features. For starters, even though the thumbnails make it easy to identify the contents of the task, sometimes they just aren't large enough, so Microsoft added a new feature called Aero Peek. You just hover your mouse pointer over any thumbnail and you'll see the full window on the desktop, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Hover your mouse pointer over a taskbar button to see a thumbnail and then hover your mouse pointer over a thumbnail to see the full window.

If that's not the window you want, just move your mouse pointer away from the thumbnail and the window disappears instantly. If that's the window you want, just click the thumbnail and the window stays put.

There are several other taskbar enhancements in Windows 7 like larger thumbnail icons, a glass frame that includes a title bar, and the ability to show individual thumbnails for multiple instances of an application. For example, if you have three tabs open in Internet Explorer, instead of a stacked icon showing only the active tab, you'll see icons for each tab, as shown in Figure C, and you can easily switch directly to the tab that you want.

Figure C

Windows 7's taskbar shows thumbnails for each instance of an application.
On certain applications, like Windows Media Player, you'll even find a feature called Thumbnail Toolbars that provide application-specific controls. For example, from the Windows Media Player Thumbnail Toolbar, shown in Figure D, you can pause/play a selected song as well as switch to the next or previous song.

Figure D

Certain types of applications will display Thumbnail Toolbars, which allow you to control the application from the thumbnail.

Button feedback

Buttons on the taskbar can now provide all sorts of feedback. For example, taskbar buttons can now show the progress of an operation, such as the animated green bar that shows the progress of a file transfer, as shown in Figure E. This can come in handy when you are working on one task but want to keep an eye on the progress of another task working in the background.

Figure E

Taskbar buttons can show the progress of an operation.
Buttons can also indicate the presence of a confirmation or warning dialog box. For example, the button shown in Figure F, turned red to indicate that the file copy operation was stopped by a duplicate filename and a Copy File dialog box was prompting for a decision (Copy and Replace, Don't Copy, or Copy, but keep both files). Again, this type of notification can come in handy if you are working on another task in the foreground.

Figure F

This button turned red to indicate that the file copy operation was stopped by a duplicate filename.

In addition to providing notification, the Windows 7 taskbar also provides a feature called Color Hot-track. While this feature has no real significant benefits other than providing an aesthetic distraction, it is really neat. When you move your mouse pointer over a button on the taskbar for a running program, you'll notice that a light source tracks your pointer and the color of the light is based on the icon itself. For example, the light for the Windows Media Player button is orange, as shown in Figure D above.

More on Send To

In the blog "Move and Copy Files the Old Tried-and-True Way in Windows 7," I showed you how to configure the Send To command to send files to other destinations, such as a specific folder, or even to an executable file, such as WordPad, simply by adding shortcuts to those destinations to the Send To command's folder. However, the Send To command is already packed with additional destination -- it's just that they are hidden. I'm not sure why, but they can be revealed easily.

Press and hold down the [Shift] key, right-click on a folder or file, and then select the Send To command. When you do, you'll see a slew of additional destinations.

What's your take?

Do you use any or all of the taskbar features in Windows 7? Do they improve efficiency? What's your favorite? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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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.

28 comments
rasilon
rasilon

My personal favorite is the Jump Lists. By pinning a file to an application on the taskbar I don't need menus any more. I right click on the application on the toolbar and I get the pinned items as well as the recently opened ones. Hank Arnold (MVP)

torofe2000
torofe2000

Pretty, pretty waste of computer resources. Todays machines are very fast, and would be even faster, if not for all the useless junk. If I want "Bling" I'll go to Rodeo drive for it, not Microsoft. By the way, what college educated moron got rid of the Quick Launch bar and the Classic Start menu. I want my desktop cutomized the way I want it, not the way Microsoft thinks I do. That goes for all the unseen goings on in the registry. When the computer is sitting, why is indexing going on, or other "features" I have had to hunt for to turn off?

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

I love Windows 7 just because of the taskbar. Ever since I installed the beta in December 2008, I think, I loved it. It just makes life so much easier. What I like most, and you didn't cover, is that you can pin any application to the task bar. I have all of my frequently used applications there. Also, with one small edit, Firefox can also display all tabs separately, just like IE. (By default it doesn't do this - maybe by now it does?) The only thing I missed in the beginning is that in IM conversations (which I have a *lot*), you don't see who is saying something - you only know someone is saying something, until you hover over the icon. It's a minor thing and I got used to it already - the benefits outweigh this minor issue for me.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

Of course preferences are all a matter of taste and telling someone their taste is wrong is only when dealing with wine snobs. At work I am constantly switching between my existing XP system and the Win7 interfaces that I'm designing, and I find the Win7 interface much easier to use. Also of interest is that depending on the system I primarily use a mouse or a keyboard, barely even using the mouse on a win7 laptop. I think the thumbnail and aero peek functions are brilliant when I use them, the mouse becomes a very intuitive device showing things quickly depending on the context. I'm a big fan of context sensitive options and features. I also notice that I can easily fit far more windows on my taskbar without losing track of what is what, which is good for me because at any given moment I'm running 8-10 tabs of IE and 9+ applications on my taskbar (I think I've mixed ADD and multitasking together). Having the File windows group up and the notepad objects group up in the new Taskbar comes in quite handy. I will say this though, were there a delay in peek due to processing speed or what not, it would very quickly get under my skin.

Tink!
Tink!

I haven't found it any easier to use the new-fangled thumbnails. When I'm adjusting things on my daughter's Windows 7 system it's like a foreign world. The graphical taskbar is more confusing than helpful. Especially since all the icons appear where I'm used to having Quick Launch. Maybe it's better for mousers, but I'm a keyboard gal and the old Alt-Tab always worked efficiently enough for me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

requires Aero to be turned on. I don't see an advantage in Flip over the non-Aero Alt-Tab display. Maybe if I had multiple windows of the same app open then Aero Peek might be worthwhile, but I rarely have more than two or three of the same thing. I haven't felt any of the Aero candy to be worth the processing penalty. Just one twit's opinion.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you use any or all of the taskbar features in Windows 7? Do they improve efficiency? What's your favorite?

torofe2000
torofe2000

My complaint about Classic Start Menu and Quick launch is having the choice. Microsoft took it away. I have found third party software to have it my way, but Microsoft would serve themselves better to leave the choices available. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Microsoft is pushing me towards Linux very quickly. Windows 8 is even worse, now that I've seen the pre-release of that garbage

carlsf
carlsf

Sorry but JUMP and PINNING does not work for me. I/we do NOT like the whole WIN7 interface and the way AGAIN MS has changed things around, nothing intutitive about it when comming from XP or VISTA, it made my job a whole lot harder. I just wish the OLD "CLASSIC" option was still available.

carlsf
carlsf

Microsoft ain't litening. I agree MS I feel MS have made a mistake, bring back the "CLASSIC" option, but time and a continued slide downwards in sales will tell. I/we will be staying with XP and VISTA, we have had no problems with VISTA. The problem with VISTA was that OEM's were shipping it on systems with entry level specifications hence the crashs and problems NOT enough resorces (CPU, RAM, and Video).

carlsf
carlsf

We will be sticking to XP and VISTA (32 & 64bit). We all love the "CLASSIC" option and no one likes the WIN7 interface. Microsofts loss not ours.

Tink!
Tink!

So there really isn't a wrong or right way, but I would like a way to change it to the way I like. I'm one of those who always made sure my Microsoft Office didn't group multiple documents. I hate that, which is why I dislike the new taskbar in Win7. But, that's just my preference!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

With the increasing number of apps people run simultaneously, and with the increasing number of 'wide format' monitors, it's time for MS to set the default Taskbar position as the left side of the display, not the bottom.

tomfitz
tomfitz

I love the new interface of Win7. I've sold and installed windows7 to numerous clients and after the short learning curve, they come to love it as well. The taskbar is a definite plus and I've installed the quicklaunch on all of my clients machines. With XP losing support totally very soon, it's either Vista or Win7 for non apple users (of course there's Linux too). Between Vista and Win7 it's no contest. Boots faster, is less intrusive, and so far has worked flawlessly.

Tink!
Tink!

they're just listening to the wrong people! I always switch the views back to classic because MS's new views seem so moronic and unorganized. Supposedly, the people MS listened to, WANTED these new-fangled "easier" features. Bah!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The other problem was people upgrading to Vista without first checking if their hardware would run it, or not knowing that Microsoft's minimum hardware specs are a long-running industry joke.

RGSmith
RGSmith

Tink, One of the advantages of the new taskbar is being able to set it to work the way you like. Just right-click the bar and select properties. Then under buttons, choose not to combine or combine only when full.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

I'm not following the logic here Palmetto. I moved the taskbar over to the left of the monitor but I dont quite understand the advantage of having it off to a side. Can you elaborate please? Thanks.

Tink!
Tink!

for me and her anyway because the only reason I get on is to fix something. My son and her have separate accounts though.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you and your daughter are using separate accounts, then changes to your task bar will not affect hers.

Tink!
Tink!

but my daughter would probably kill me if I did that and then forgot to change it back. :D

Joaquim Amado Lopes
Joaquim Amado Lopes

... to pick things from the top than from the bottom. Maybe because they are at eye level or it is easier to move the mouse up than down.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

I tried putting it on the left last night on my widescreen format monitor. I could only stand it for about an hour before I had to put it back. But I was able to isolate my exact reason why I didnt care for it much. It was non-symmetrical. This is 100% a personal thing here, but symmetry is paramount to beauty in the eyes of this beholder. When things are off sided or off centered my head subconciously tilts to the side (my mother used to use this when hanging pictures almost like a level). Obviously this problem only shows up when I was dealing with full screen windows.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...some windows open with the title bar under the taskbar." I run into the same thing with the bar on the left. Some apps open with their left side buried under the bar. I suspect its probably the same apps that give you trouble, and I suspect they're coded to open at 0,0 regardless of the taskbar position. Whether I move the bar to the left depends on the monitor aspect and resolution. If I'm on a 4:3 monitor, one under 19", or one running at 1024x768 or less, I leave it at the bottom. If the monitor is a 'wide screen' ratio, 16:9 or higher width, I move it to the left; in that case, horizontal space becomes cheaper than vertical. I'll try the top over the weekend. What do you see as the advantage over the bottom?

Joaquim Amado Lopes
Joaquim Amado Lopes

You have a point on the matter of saving vertical space by moving the taskbar to the left. But many applications (like Outlook, Track-It, CRM, ...) benefit from all the horizontal space they can get (the way I work, anyway) and what you gain in height you lose in width. I usually work with a dual monitor system and 10+ apps/windows open at the same time. The taskbar is always on the top of my primary display, as it makes switching apps/windows a lot easier. The only problem is that some windows open with the title bar under the taskbar.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

I see what you mean now, given that the icons are slightly rectangular (width more than height) rather than perfectly square. I'll give it a shot and post back afterward

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

When the taskbar is on the bottom, the applications are displayed side by side. They take up a lot of space and start getting crowded after four or five apps. By having the taskbar on the side, the running apps are stacked one above the other, not side-by-side. Each takes up less task bar space, and you can easily have fifteen or twenty visible. Tray icons begin stacking in rows of three or four instead of stringing themselves side by side, taking up less overall taskbar space. Also, as monitors get wider, the ratio of height to width shifts increasingly in favor of width. More space becomes available in that dimension, and space top to bottom becomes 'smaller' relative to width. Moving the taskbar to the side takes advantage of the increased width, freeing up vertical space. Try it for a week and see what you think. If you run dual monitors, try it in the 'middle', either to the left side of the right monitor, or vice versa.

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