The notification area in the taskbar’s corner, also called the tray, generally contains at least a few icons for applications that are running on your computer in the background (see Figure A). Common icons that appear in the tray by default include the clock and volume control. If MSN Messenger is installed on your computer, that shows up on the tray as well. Other icons might live there, too, such as the network status icon and the unplug or eject hardware icon.

Normally these icons don’t cause a problem and can even be handy—allowing you to change a program’s settings with only a few mouse clicks. Too many system tray icons however, can contribute to a cluttered, confusing Windows taskbar and if your computer is running slow, can indicate a more serious lack of system resources. So how do you help end users handle an overcrowded system tray? Simple—if they’re not running low on system resources, have them hide the tray icons they never or rarely use. Or if they’re running low on system resources, see if there are programs they can stop running.

Figure A
This system tray contains a network status icon, an unplug or eject hardware icon, an IntelliPoint icon, and a volume icon–to name just a few.

Hide and go seek
In some cases, you can allow the application to continue to run in the background while hiding the icon. For example, you might want to remove the clock or volume control icon. To hide the clock, right-click the taskbar, choose Properties, and clear the Show Clock check box. To hide the volume control, open the Sounds And Multimedia object in Control Panel and clear the Show Volume Control On The Taskbar check box.

Figure B

You’ll find the option to control the network status icon on the General tab (shown in Figure B) for the network interface’s Properties, which you can access in the Network And Dial-Up Connections folder. Many third-party applications that live on the tray give you the option of turning off the tray icon while still allowing the application to run (see Figure C).

Figure C
Some icons, such as this IntelliPoint one, can be hidden while the program still runs in the background.

Stop the program altogether
Removing other icons from the tray requires that you actually shut down the program. Although some tray-bound applications start through the Startup folder, many start from the registry. To prevent these applications from starting, open the Registry Editor and remove the application’s entry from the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run key (see Figure D).

Figure D