Nearly everyone’s system has applications that place icons in the system tray as they’re running. Typically, these are applications that run continuously in the background the whole time that your computer is turned on. For example, Windows Messenger’s icon sits in the system tray while it’s running in the background, monitoring the status of the users contacts. Another example of a program that runs in the background full time and lives in the system tray is Norton AntiVirus. You probably have other applications that you leave running the entire time you use the computer. For example, you probably launch your e-mail program in the morning and then leave it running all day. This lets you know immediately when you receive new e-mail. However, it also means that valuable ground on the taskbar is continuously occupied.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could put the icons for applications that run all day long in the system tray or even on the desktop rather than on the taskbar? That would save valuable screen space for applications that you need to get at sporadically. Well, you can remove the clutter from the taskbar with a nifty little shareware program called Actual Windows Minimizer from Actual Tools. And best of all, Actual Windows Minimizer is compatible with all versions of the Windows operating system.

I’ll introduce you to Actual Windows Minimizer and show you how easy it is to configure and use Actual Windows Minimizer to place application icons in the system tray or on the desktop.

Version information

This article covers version 1.5 of the Actual Windows Minimizer program, which was released on Dec. 4, 2002.

Getting started with Actual Windows Minimizer
Actual Windows Minimizer’s shareware version has a 14-day trial limitation, and registration reminders pop up regularly. If you like Actual Windows Minimizer, you can register it for just $14.95. With the registration you get free upgrades as new versions are released, as well as free e-mail technical support.

Once you download and install Actual Windows Minimizer, you’ll discover that the program is automatically configured to run each time you start your system. As such, you’ll see its icon in the system tray. You can disable both automatic startup and the icon’s placement in the system tray if you wish.

To get started, just double-click the Actual Windows Minimizer icon. When you do, you’ll see the configuration screen shown in Figure A.

Figure A
When you activate Actual Windows Minimizer, you’ll see the configuration screen.

As you can see, the left side of this window contains the Window Rules tree, while the main portion of this window provides an introductory summary of what a Window Rule consists of. Basically, a Window Rule is a group of configuration settings that define how you want Actual Windows Minimizer to handle the minimization of a particular application’s window.

As Figure A shows, Actual Windows Minimizer comes with a preconfigured set of Window Rules for a group of common Windows applications. These applications appear in the Window Rules tree, and a check box indicates whether the rule is enabled or disabled. By default, all of the initial rules are enabled. You can clear the check box or use the Delete Rule button to remove any of the default applications.

Testing how it works
To test how Actual Windows Minimizer works, you may want to launch Notepad and Calculator and then minimize them. When you do, you’ll see that both Notepad and Calculator minimize to buttons on the desktop rather than on the taskbar. As you’ll discover, both buttons initially appear in the upper left corner of the screen and will overlap each other. Fortunately, you can move the buttons to any location on the desktop, and Actual Windows Minimizer will remember that location.

For example, just click and drag the topmost button to a position just below the bottom button. When you do, your desktop will look similar to the one shown in Figure B. Notice that neither Notepad nor Calculator show up in the taskbar, even though they’re currently running on the system.

Figure B
You’ll need to rearrange the buttons on your screen, as they initially overlap each other.

To restore either application, simply double-click the button on the desktop. When the application’s window opens, you’ll see its icon on the taskbar. While applications are minimized as buttons on the desktop, if you maximize another window, you’ll notice that the desktop buttons are configured to always stay on top and so will appear to float on top of the application, making them easily accessible. However, it also means that the buttons can interfere with the underlying application’s menus, so you may want to choose a more inconspicuous location on the desktop to position the button. For example, I’ve discovered that positioning the buttons in the top center of the desktop means that they appear in the middle of the title bar of a maximized window, which is typically unused space.

Just a suggestion

Personally, I’d like to be able to toggle the always on top setting on and off at will. In the Off position, you could still easily access the desktop buttons by clicking the Show Desktop button on the Quick Launch bar. I dropped this idea in the Actual Tools suggestion box, and they responded by saying that the idea will definitely be considered for the next version of Actual Windows Minimizer.

Creating a Window Rule
Now that you have an idea of how Actual Windows Minimizer works, let’s create a Window Rule for one of your applications (for example, the freeform information organizer database program InfoTree32 XT), which keeps track of notes and other odd bits of information that you need regular access to and that runs throughout the day. Rather than having this application take up valuable space on the taskbar, let’s move it to the system tray.

To begin, click the Add New Rule button on Actual Windows Minimizer’s toolbar. When you do, you’ll see the Window Rule configuration page, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
Use the Window Rule configuration page to specify the application for which to create a Window Rule.

Provide the Window Rule with a name by overwriting the default Window Rule 1 placeholder. At this point, go ahead and launch the application for which you’re creating the rule. In the case of my example, that’s the InfoTree32 XT application. Once the application’s window appears on the screen, resize and reposition the two windows so you can see both and so Actual Windows Minimizer’s window is on top of your application’s window.

At this point, locate the Target icon in the Target Window panel, drag it over top of the title bar of your application’s window, and drop it. As you can see in Figure D, while you’re performing this operation, your mouse pointer takes on the form of the target icon.

Figure D
To identify the application for which you want to create a window rule, drag and drop the target icon on the window’s title bar.

After you drop the target icon, return to the Target Window panel. When you do, you may see that either one of the Window Class or Window Caption list boxes is filled in (maybe both) or that one of the corresponding check boxes is selected. If you look back at Figure D, you’ll see that in the case of the InfoTree32 XT application, both the Window Class and Window Caption list boxes are filled in, and the Window Class check box is selected. According to the Actual Windows Minimizer documentation, using the Window Class setting is the better choice of the two.

However, if Actual Windows Minimizer is unable to determine the Window Class, you’ll need to use the Window Caption setting. In that case, you can type in the exact title of the application’s window, if it’s not already provided, and select the Exact Match radio button.

Move down to the Minimizing Options panel and choose where you want the window to minimize to—either the desktop, which Actual Windows Minimizer identifies as the Screen Edge, or the system tray. You’ll notice that if you choose the system tray, you can optionally configure the icon to live there permanently regardless of whether the application is running or not. If you choose the desktop, you can optionally choose to use a large icon. At this point, click the Save button on the toolbar. Then, return to your application’s window and close it.

Actual Windows Minimizer in action
Now, launch the application again and minimize it to see Actual Windows Minimizer in action. If you chose the system tray, as I did for the InfoTree32 XT application, minimizing the window puts the icon in the system tray. You can then activate the application by clicking its icon in the system tray.