By Peter Tysver
You know what the Windows taskbar is, don’t you? It’s that familiar horizontal strip at the bottom of your desktop where your open files and programs appear. It’s where the Start button lives. It’s where you receive an assortment of pop-up notifications. Face it, you’ve probably never even given it a second thought.
That’s about to change. With Windows 7, the taskbar has been given more than just a facelift. Microsoft rebuilt it and made it better than it was before. Sort of like the Six Million Dollar Man—better, stronger, faster. (Okay, maybe not stronger, but pretty powerful nonetheless.) Check out some of the ways the taskbar will simplify the way you work so you can get things done faster.
When I work on a complicated project on my computer, I sometimes find myself with more open windows than I can reasonably comprehend. So I’ll just sit there, dazed and confused by the cascading rectangles that spread out before my eyes like a deck of playing cards scattered on a table. How do I choose which windows I want to look at? How do I switch from one window to another? How do I make all these windows go away?
With a little something called Aero Peek, that’s how.
You can use Aero Peek to quickly preview open windows without leaving your current window behind. Point to a taskbar button to see a thumbnail preview of that window, and point your mouse to that thumbnail to preview the window full-screen. Then, if you decide you want to switch to the window you’re previewing, just click the thumbnail. It’s unbelievably useful.
For more information, see Preview an open window on the desktop using Peek.
Sometimes you just want all your open windows to go away and leave you alone, if only for a moment (or maybe that’s just me). Perhaps you have something practical in mind, such as having a gander at a gadget on your desktop. Aero Peek makes it possible to instantly minimize your open windows with the Show desktop button.
The Show desktop button is a rectangular bar at the very end of the taskbar, like a bookend to the Start button.
Here’s how to use it:
Point to the Show desktop button, and get a quick glimpse of the desktop as open windows fade from view and become transparent. Move the mouse away from the Show desktop button, and the windows return.
Click the Show desktop button to minimize all your open windows, revealing the peaceful, uncluttered expanse of your desktop. Click it again and your windows return.
For more information, see Temporarily preview the desktop using Peek.
So now that we’ve gotten all those windows out of the way, let’s take a look at the taskbar buttons themselves: They now have a new look, and they make new things possible.
When you first start using Windows 7, each of your open programs appears as an individual unlabeled button. Looks neat and tidy, doesn’t it?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could change the way your taskbar buttons look and how they group together when you have a bunch of programs open at once? With the Windows 7 taskbar, you can.
For more information, see Change how buttons appear on the taskbar.
What if you’re not happy with the order of your taskbar buttons? Now you can rearrange them in the order you want by clicking and dragging. That’s one small step for your taskbar buttons, one giant leap for you.
For more information, see Rearrange buttons on the taskbar.
In previous versions of Windows you could pin programs to the Start menu for easy access, but with Windows 7, you can also pin programs anywhere on the taskbar. By pinning a program to the taskbar, it’s always right there in front of you so you can open it with a single click—fast and convenient.
For more information, see Pin a program to the taskbar.
Another cool new feature in Windows 7: Jump Lists. Jump Lists are lists of pictures, songs, websites, and more, grouped by the program that you use to open them—which means that now you can open files you need from the same taskbar button that you use to open the program.
To view the Jump List for a program, right-click the taskbar button, or drag the button toward the desktop. Then, click the item in the Jump List to open it.
For more information, see Using Jump Lists to open programs and items.
In previous versions of Windows, pop-ups, notifications, and alerts were frequent and irksome interruptions to my workflow. With Windows 7, I can manage the notification area on the taskbar so that I see fewer balloons. And to help me stay on top of them, they’re all in the same place—Action Center—a single location that collects important security and maintenance notifications.
For more information, see What is Action Center?
You can also choose which icons show up in the notification area so that it’s not just a cluttered cluster of icons. Yes, now you get to choose which icons show up there. And you don’t have to worry about hidden icons, either. All you have to do is click the Show hidden icons button on the taskbar to easily see them all again.
For more information about customizing the notification area, see Change how icons appear in the notification area.
So go ahead and start using the new taskbar. With all the great new improvements you'll discover, it's bound to make your time at the computer a lot more efficient and simple. No, it's not actually bionic—but it's so good I wouldn't be surprised if you thought it was.
About the author
Peter Tysver is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft.
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