The taskbar is the long horizontal bar at the bottom of your screen. Unlike the desktop, which can get obscured by open windows, the taskbar is almost always visible. It has three main sections:

  • The Start button Picture of the Start button, which opens the Start menu. See The Start menu (overview).
  • The middle section, which shows you which programs and files you have open and allows you to quickly switch between them.

  • The notification area, which includes a clock and icons (small pictures) that communicate the status of certain programs and computer settings.

You're likely to use the middle section of the taskbar the most, so let's look at it first.

Keep track of your windows

If you open more than one program or file at a time, you can quickly start piling up open windows on your desktop. Because windows often cover each other or take up the whole screen, it's sometimes hard to see what else is underneath or remember what you've already opened.

That's where the taskbar comes in handy. Whenever you open a program, folder, or file, Windows creates a corresponding button on the taskbar. The button shows an icon that represents the open program. In the picture below, two programs are open—Calculator and Minesweeper—and each has its own button on the taskbar.

Picture showing Calculator and Minesweeper on the desktop and their corresponding taskbar buttons
Each program has its own button on the taskbar

Notice how the taskbar button for Minesweeper is highlighted. That indicates that Minesweeper is the active window, meaning that it's in front of any other open windows and is ready for you to interact with.

To switch to another window, click its taskbar button. In this example, clicking the taskbar button for Calculator brings its window to the front.

Picture showing Calculator in front of Minesweeper, with Calculator's taskbar button highlighted
Click a taskbar button to switch to that window

Clicking taskbar buttons is one of several ways to switch between windows. For more information, see Working with windows.

Minimize and restore windows

When a window is active (its taskbar button is highlighted), clicking its taskbar button minimizes the window. That means that the window disappears from the desktop. Minimizing a window doesn't close it or delete its contents—it temporarily removes it from the desktop.

In the picture below, Calculator is minimized, but not closed. You can tell it's still running because it has a button on the taskbar.

Picture showing Calculator minimized on the taskbar
Minimizing Calculator leaves only its taskbar button visible

You can also minimize a window by clicking the minimize button in the upper-right corner of the window.

Picture showing the mouse pointer pointing to a window's Minimize button
Minimize button (left)

To restore a minimized window (make it show up again on the desktop), click its taskbar button. For more information about these buttons, see Working with windows.

See previews of your open windows

When you move your mouse pointer to a taskbar button, a small picture appears that shows you a miniature version of the corresponding window. This preview, also called a thumbnail, is especially useful. And if one of your windows has video or animation playing, you'll see it playing in the preview.


  • You can see thumbnails only if Aero can run on your computer and you're running a Windows 7 theme.

The notification area

The notification area, at the far right of the taskbar, includes a clock and a group of icons. It looks like this.

Picture of the notification area
The notification area, at the far right of the taskbar

These icons communicate the status of something on your computer or provide access to certain settings. The set of icons you see depends on which programs or services you have installed and how your computer manufacturer set up your computer.

When you move your pointer to a particular icon, you will see that icon's name or the status of a setting. For example, pointing to the volume icon Picture of the volume icon in the taskbar notification area shows the current volume level of your computer. Pointing to the network icon Picture of the network icon in the taskbar notification area displays information about whether you are connected to a network, the connection speed, and the signal strength.

Double-clicking an icon in the notification area usually opens the program or setting associated with it. For example, double-clicking the volume icon opens the volume controls. Double-clicking the network icon opens Network and Sharing Center.

Occasionally, an icon in the notification area will display a small pop-up window (called a notification) to notify you about something. For example, after adding a new hardware device to your computer, you might see this.

Picture of a notification displaying the message "Device driver software installed successfully"
The notification area displays a message after new hardware is installed
Click the Close button Picture of a close button for a notification in the upper-right corner of the notification to dismiss it. If you don't do anything, the notification will fade away on its own after a few seconds.

To reduce clutter, Windows hides icons in the notification area when you haven't used them in a while. If icons become hidden, click the Show hidden icons button to temporarily display the hidden icons.

Picture of the notification area, showing the Show hidden icons button
Click the Show hidden icons button to display all icons in the notification area

Customize the taskbar

There are many ways to customize the taskbar to suit your preferences. For example, you can move the entire taskbar to the left, right, or top edge of the screen. You can make the taskbar larger, have Windows automatically hide it when you're not using it, and add toolbars to it.