Windows

Taking a fresh look at the Windows XP Task pane

The Task pane in Windows XP is home to many handy shortcuts -- but you can't see them if you don't look for the pane in the first place. Greg Shultz discusses why it's worth it to take a second look at the Task pane.

If you're like most Windows XP aficionados, chances are good that you prefer the Folders pane in Windows Explorer to the Task pane that displays by default in My Computer. If that is the case, you probably avoid My Computer or simply click the Folders button on the toolbar each time you open My Computer. If so, you've probably never spent much time looking at the commands on the Task pane and may be missing many handy command shortcuts.

For example, how many times have you dug into the Control Panel to access Add/Remove Programs? If you use the Task pane in My Computer, you can simply click Add Or Remove Programs in the System Tasks section. Moreover, if you open a drive from My Computer, you will find another command that you frequently use in the Files and Folders section of the Task pane: the Make A New folder command.

When you select a folder, you can copy and move folders anywhere on your hard disk very easily by selecting the Copy This Folder or Move This Folder commands. When you do, a Browse dialog box will appear. This essentially serves as an alternate version of the Folders pane in Windows Explorer.

When you select a file, you can choose either the Copy This File or Move This File command and get the same Browse dialog box with a Folders pane.

Note: This tip applies to Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional.

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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.

47 comments
itjmn
itjmn

How to cusotmize windows-XP title bar to add my own strings whenever I start my computer

deepsand
deepsand

that's not the case on any XP machine that I've ever touched. You really should have explained how to access that view if it's not the default.

fixmypcmike
fixmypcmike

OK... How does one access the "Task Pane"? There are no instructions nor tips on how to access it. By default, one usually uses the "My Computer" or "Explorer" Icon, but where does one access "Task Pane"? Hmmmm...I thought there is usally a tip or explanation of how...oh, well. Anyway.

Mike
Mike

It would be nice to have the option to have the taskpane AND folders view at the same time. But, how about the taskpane in the save/open window in Office applications? See below: When you save or open a file from Word, Excel, etc. the window that opens has the taskbar (pane) on the left side. (Similar to the taskpane in Windows Exployer - XP) It shows "History", "My Documents", "Desktop", "Favorites", and "My Network Places". These are not the best helps. With a new document you might use History for previous folders (but the Office programs default to those spots). How many times would you save to the Desktop? The Favorites is more suited for Internet shortcuts, it would be overloaded with all of the docs, and couldn't be shared. When you want to save/open at a Network area you have find the correct network pc and go through all the folders of it and hope you find the right folder so someone else would know where to find it. Is there a way to have it show "Shared Documents", or "Shared Documents on the Data PC" (networked), or something else meaningful?

for_merlin
for_merlin

I have used the Classic view for years.I customize it by Checking Status Bar under View, And I unlock the tool bar under View and Add a couple of Separator Bars, Folder Options, Stop, Properties, Cut, Copy, and Paste. And I add Control Panel to the Classic view so it is one more click to Add Remove Programs. I also am lazy so I set Single Click to open an Item.

alle2003
alle2003

Very good tip Greg Shultz. I missed out on the ease of use of using the Task pane because I for one prefered the Folders view. I now find using the Task pane to make a make new folder or add or remove a program very useful. Thanks for the very good tip.

netochavez
netochavez

Thank you very much. I have used so many other FM that make my life easier, since Windows 9x I have avoided Windows Explorer for the lack of options. Yet, a lot of times I have seen the "Tasks Pains" behave differntly in other computers. I really love my alternatives, yet it will help when I don't have them at hand.

Stuigi
Stuigi

Nice suggestion, but it gave as much information as my telling you how easy it is to bake a cake if you take eggs, flour and butter and bake tham to get one. Uh, how do you get to the results you speak of? Are you lazy or just believe that everyone has your knowledge?

jkinlaw
jkinlaw

I like run commands, add remove programs via appwiz.cpl.

ssanders
ssanders

It would have been nice if Greg had explained more about how to get to the task pain and exactly what it is for that matter. But I do like the tip about the folders button on the toolbar (in My Computer) to toggle between the folders view and the task pane.

micnet
micnet

I never use it and have always hated it. I get to my files and folders with the keyboard using Windows + E.

jdurante0527
jdurante0527

Sounds good, but it isn't helpful if you don't know how to find the task pane or what it looks like.

jason404
jason404

The Task Pane in XP is really cool, and it's a shame that the Toolbar in Vista has not got the same context sensitive usefulness to the same degree.

Goutham S.C.
Goutham S.C.

To access all drives and control panel directly from Task bar, all you have to do is, Right click on Task bar and go to Toolbars -> New Toolbar, Select My Computer and click ok. This makes you access all drives and control panel from Task bar itself. To get "Copy To" and "Move To" in Shell: 1. Start the Registry Editor 2. Go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT \ AllFilesystemObjects \ shellex \ ContextMenuHandlers \ 3. Right-click the ContextMenuHandlers entry, and from the menu select New > Key 4. Name the new key Copy To 5. Repeat step 3, but this time for the name (step 4) choose Move To 6. Change the (Default) string value found in the Copy To key to {C2FBB630-2971-11D1-A18C-00C04FD75D13} 7. Change the (Default) string value found in the Move To key to {C2FBB631-2971-11D1-A18C-00C04FD75D13} 8. Close the registry editor. These two tweaks makes computing more easier.

Shepps
Shepps

... if there were some ways to access those quick links using keyboard shortcuts? How often I wished that the Insert key could add a new Folder (yes I know some 3rd party programs do, but I don't want to install programs for basic OS stuff). Having said which I just discovered the 'email selected folder/files' shortcut and will definitely be making more use of that!

for_merlin
for_merlin

Please open "My Computer". Then you should click on Tools and select "Folder Options", a new window will open. Under view you will see two choices, "Show common tasks in folders" and "Use Windows classic folders. When "Show common tasks in folders" is selected and applied, an additional grouping of functions will appear. The main functions are "System Tasks", "Other Places" and "Details". I believe this additional grouping is what is referred to as the "Task Pane"

tom
tom

Quite a few readers have asked this. The Task Pane is what you see on the left of the window when you switch "Folders" (using the Folders button) off in Windows Explorer.

tom
tom

Here are some more things you can do to make the Office Task Pane more useful. While in the Save dialog, right click in the Task Pane to see a context menu of options that include Open, Remove, Move Up, Move Down, Rename, Large Icons and Small Icons. Small Icons is handy if you don't want to scroll down. Move Up and Move Down lets you sort the icons. Remove lets remove items you put there, but doesn't seem to allow you to remove the default items. There may be a reg hack to do that, not sure. By the way, I believe Woody Leonhard, formerly of Woody's Office Watch and Woody's Windows Watch, and currently of Windows Secrets (great newsletter), originally created a utility that did this. MS thought so highly of it they integrated it.

tom
tom

You can do some of this. For instance, if you frequently save to a specific folder on the network, do the following to get that folder in the task pane: While in a document, click Save or Save as. When the Save dialog opens, browse to and highlight the folder you want in the task pane. Click on Tools (upper right in the Save dialog). Select "Add to My Places".

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

I'm w/ for_merlin. Classic View is simple, robust (or robust enough, anyway) AND DOESN'T KEEP CHANGING EVERY OTHER YEAR! I didn't know about adding CP to the view (and that's the downside of not checking out new features) so I added it to my Quick Launch. I tried Single Click for a while and didn't much care for it, but I do save myself a lot of right-clicking by going to Tools -> Options -> File Types -> Folder -> Advanced, and setting the default action to Explore on any new PC I have to work on.

memman
memman

I notice that you are a "LAN Admin." Are you serious? This stuff is minor to a LAN admin. Don't go throwing dirt at the author if YOU are too lazy to try to learn the basics. I'm a fan of Explorer and have used it as a preference, but, after the suggestions here, I'm certainly going to look closer at the "Task Pane." (which, by the way... a task pane is a task pane is a task pane.) Ever look at MS Word? How about Excel? Both have "Task pane"s and located in the same place. I've also noticed that there are some "Retired" persons here on these posts that evidently have more familiarity with MS products than this particular Net Admin. I'm a bit shocked that you are so quick to criticize. Great article (IMO)

juaneryle
juaneryle

appwiz.cpl Now that was nice. I forgot about run commands. Do you have more?

Gerbilferrit
Gerbilferrit

make an explorer shortcut that automatically opens up on My Computer, instead of My Documents in the folder tree pane - i never wanna/need to look in there. The tweak is out there on the net somewhere. I even set up a new default profile with this shortcut on the desktop and in the quick launch bar amongst some other explorer enhancements. I make this part of setting up my images to deploy across the network too. It's damn handy when users are logged in as themselves and you need to override their permissions invoking the run as command whilst they're present at their machines and you need to do some over-their shoulder tinkering. ...actually this has got me thinking, if i've already run as admin, if i goto the control panel still within this elevated explorer, will the applets require "running as" again...? hmmm - must try that tomorrow on Vista at home right now.

DukeCylk
DukeCylk

heck, I always right click on start and just select 'explore'

joe935
joe935

Your article explains what but not how to get the task pane. I opened My Computer but see no way of getting the Task Pane. OS XP Pro

juaneryle
juaneryle

Those were some nice tweaks. Do you have more for Vista?

alle2003
alle2003

Good useful comment. Thanks!

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

Thanks, Goutham, just what I was looking for!

bsj0526
bsj0526

Use alt combination of "alt, f, w".

Techsplorer
Techsplorer

Hanging out at TR I've recently started using it, especially for creating new folders, and it is really growing on me. I nearly find it indispensible now that I've used it awhile. I just have one gripe about it, however, and I'm surprised that someone hasn't created an add-on (hint, hint) to fix what I consider to be a gaping shortfall with the task pane: users don't seem to be able to add other tasks to it. For instance, when I right-click on a file or folder in Windows Explorer, I can select "Scan with Norton Internet Security", but can I add that command to the File and Folder Tasks? NO0000!!! (Not that I've been able to find, anyway) Another minor gripe I have (this is with Windows Explorer, but mostly when I want to be using the task pane, so I'll mention it here) is that I'd love to be able to have a keyboard shortcut for toggling between showing the task pane and showing the folders view. (I might or might not mind having both visible at the same time in some sort of three column or split-left-column layout as an alternative, but it would have to be functionally robust and visually appealing as well!) Okay, I'm done griping now.

Willie11
Willie11

I didn't get much out of the original article but reading the comments showed me how to put my computer on the task bar, how to show the tasks in My Computer and how to quickly open Windows Explorer with Windows +E. All very helpful tips.

dhays
dhays

I see them in MSO, but not anywhere else. None of the "how to get there" explanations have actually given anything that shows the task pane.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

Rather than "dig" for the Control Panel, I had just made a shortcut on the Quick Launch pad (bar?). One click and one double-click and I?m into Add/Remove (or just about anything else I might need there) ... but this is even better.

JCitizen
JCitizen

it was a good place to start to look at a lot of problems and also do something about; kind of a maintenance catch all.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

I also had some difficulty getting to the Task Pane. A little look in Help showed why: it's not available if you're using Windows Classic View, which I much prefer for its simple, yet robust functionality.

blarman
blarman

The author makes the cardinal sin of explaining about a feature of Windows XP without ever explaining where it is or how to use it. This is simply inexcusable, especially as the author himself lists the feature as a "less-well-known feature".

rexwalker
rexwalker

In My Computer on the ToolBar click on the Folder icon. It will toggle the Task Pane with the Folder view in the left panel. Just click again to go back to the other view.

computerteacher
computerteacher

In My Computer, click on TOOLS, then FOLDER OPTIONS. Under the "General" tab, the first item is TASKS. Click on "Show common tasks in folders". Then click APPLY and you're done!

LeeWin
LeeWin

Double click on My Computer and look for the column on the left that has boxes in it with "System Tasks," "Other Places," and "Details." It will also have a box for "File and Folder Tasks" when you start double-clicking clicking on folders or clicking on files. If you "explore" My Computer (right click and hit explore) you will not see the task pane.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

Yes, but you forgot the final F: Alt+F File), W (New), F (folder). I haven't found any mouse-click technique that beats this for speed.

rubmop
rubmop

"I didn't get much out of the original article but" I am not degreed in the IT field but have been hunting and pecking since the early eighties on company networks and can hold my own in solving basic problems. I have often wondered just who the manuals, instructions, articles and tips are written for that come from the vendors and pundits (especially Microsoft and Symantec). I have said countless times I wish the authors would take what they have written to the street or to the office down the block and have someone in the real world give a realty check on their work. I guess my rant is mostly due to having one of these experiences this morning. Thank Goodness for Google.

ray.labrecque
ray.labrecque

I love this stuff!!! Keep em coming! BTW: no one who takes the time to share there knowledge and experience should ever be called 'Lazy'. Excellent att-on tip to an excellent article!

tom
tom

Double-click My Computer (not Windows Explorer). Look on the left side of the window. If you see System Tasks with options under it, Other Places with other options under it, etc. that is the Task Pane. If you don't see those options go to the Tools menu item and select "Folder Options". On the General Tab make sure "Show common tasks in folders" is selected. You should now see the Task Pane options when you open My Computer. If you open Windows Explorer you see the Folder view on the left. If you click the Folders button on the tool bar, you will have the "My Computer" view, which should still be showing the task pane. The Folder button basically toggles between the "My Computer" view and the "Windows Explorer" view.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I always treat people like they will understand "by osmosis" or something; a bad habit I will be fighting the rest of my life; I'm afraid..

ray.labrecque
ray.labrecque

Boy do I feel stupid! Been working with M$ Windows since day 1 and this is another new one for me!

dhays
dhays

If you mean go to the desktop (I usually keep icons hidden) and click on "MC" when I did, no such items are visible, nor are they after the next guy's idea of using the common tasks option--it looks the same common tasks or windows classic. Of course since we have no priviledges, maybe they aren't accessible. What is the task pane in the first place? I thought the task pane was the blue bar at the bottom of the screen next to the start button. I normally leave "MC" alone, it is to me of little value. I use WExp more. Using the folder option shows the files available under each folder on the left, in lieu of the disk icons otherwise.

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