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.