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Everything about the windows taskbar

The Windows taskbar includes the following items:

  • Start menu
  • Quick Launch bar
  • Taskbar buttons
  • System Tray

In this Windows taskbar help guide, let’s take a closer look at the functions of each area. You can follow along by the numbered items from the illustration.

The Start menu – Item Number 1

The Start menu gives you access to run programs, open documents, and change settings. You can start your installed programs by clicking Start > All Programs (or just Programs in Windows 98 and Windows 2000) > Accessories > Calculator to open the calculator application included with Windows.

You can also access recently opened documents in your Recent Documents menu, access the Find, Help, and Run commands, and shut down or restart your computer from the Start menu.

Quick Launch Bar – Item Number 2

The Quick Launch Bar holds shortcuts to applications. Windows itself puts some shortcuts here, like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook (if it’s installed), or Outlook Express.

The Show Desktop button lives here. That’s the blue button on the right side of the Quick Launch bar that looks like a little notepad with a pencil on it. One click and all of your open windows will minimize to the taskbar. Another click and the windows will open back to where they were.

Everything about the windows taskbar

Some program installations put a shortcut here, also. A good installation will ask you if you want to put a shortcut here.

And if you want to, you can add your own shortcuts here, too.

This is a great area to use for frequently used applications, as it takes only one click to launch your application from here and it’s quick access for you.

Notice the double right arrows on the right side of the Quick Launch bar? If you have more icons here than will show in the space alloted, then these arrows will show. You click the arrows to pop up an “extension” of the Quick Launch bar to access the hidden icons.

Taskbar Buttons – Item Number 3

Windows places a button on the taskbar for each window or application that you have open (if the application isn’t running in the System Tray area).

In this illustration, Internet Explorer and My Computer have buttons on the task bar. Clicking one of these buttons will open the window to the position is was in before it was minimized to the taskbar.

System Tray – Item Number 4

Software companies can design programs so that they run a tray program in the system tray instead of showing as a taskbbar button. The system tray also houses the computer clock. Other icons may show up there, such as a printer icon when you send a print job to the printer. This icon will go away as soon as the print job is completed.

Now, let’s talk about some of the taskbar properties. Right-click on the taskbar in an area with no taskbar buttons (or you can right-click on the system tray area).

Left-click on the bottom choice, Properties. This will open the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box with the Taskbar tab to the front.

Now, let’s go over the choices there.

  • Lock the taskbar – This does pretty much what it says. It locks the taskbar so that it can’t be expanded upward, or moved to the side or top of the screen. It also locks the QUick Launch bar so that it can’t be resized or moved.
  • Auto-hide the taskbar – Checking this item will cause the taskbar to slide down out of view when you move your mouse away from it. To make it slide back into view, move your mouse down to the bottom of the desktop.
  • Keep the taskbar on top of other windows – This is another item that’s pretty self-explanatory. If you check this item, the task bar will disappear behind any windows that are in front of it. This means you will have to minimize any windows that are in front of the taskbar to be able to get to it. Kind of troublesome if you have several windows open full screen.
  • Group similar taskbar buttons – Seems like people either love this or hate it. Choosing this feature means that if you have multiple instances of one program window open (for instance, 4 Internet Explorer windows), then they will all be grouped under one taskbar button. This only takes effect when there are too many buttons on the taskbar to display an acceptable amount of text for each button. They become ungrouped when you close some of the windows to create more room on the taskbar.
  • Show Quick Launch – Checking or unchecking this item will either display the Quick Launch bar on the taskbar or not. The Quick Launch bar does take up some room, but you may decide that it’s worth the real estate cost to be able to quickly access frequently used programs.
  • Show the clock – This selection allows you to display the clock in the system tray area.
  • Hide inactive icons – This seems to be another love it or hate it item with the taskbar. Checking it will hide items in the system tray that haven’t recently been used. Once selected, you can click the customize button and decide if you want an item to always be hidden, always be displayed, or just be hidden when they haven’t been recently clicked or updated by their associated program (this last one it the default behavior if you don’t customize).