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Change Taskbar in Windows

How to customize Taskbar and Notification area icons in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

By . Last modified: 2014-04-11.

In Windows XP and Vista, Taskbar looks almost the same; in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 you see only program icons, not their labels or titles by default. Grouping similar Taskbar buttons is on by default, but window previews in Windows Vista and later make switching between open windows a breeze.
Classic Start menu (introduced with Windows 95) is still available in XP and Vista, but not in Windows 7 and 8/8.1.

Windows XP and Vista have Quick Launch Toolbar for favorite programs. Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 replace the toolbar with program pinning and using keyboard shortcuts Windows key+<number 1-5>. So if you press Windows Key+1 in Windows 7, Windows Explorer opens by default. In Windows 8 and 8.1, this opens Internet Explorer. You can rearrange pinned programs, and their shortcut numbers change accordingly.

Locking or unlocking the Taskbar

Taskbar locking is a way to prevent accidental resizing of Taskbar itself or any toolbar on Taskbar. You can't move Taskbar to another side of screen, either. Taskbar locking is a good idea when you have a curious kid playing with mouse. Wink

To quickly lock or unlock Taskbar, right-click (or tap and hold on touch screens) its empty area and click Lock the taskbar. If there's a check mark to the left of the command, the Taskbar is locked.
Windows 7 Taskbar. To quickly lock or unlock Taskbar, right-click on some empty area of Taskbar and select Lock the taskbar.

When you have unlocked Taskbar and you have at least one additional toolbar on it, you will see dotted resizing handles. If you don't have a toolbar enabled, there will be no resizing handles, but you can still adjust the height of Taskbar.
Your mouse pointer turns into arrow mark on resizing handles so that you can change the width of toolbars on Taskbar or the height of Taskbar itself by clicking and holding left mouse button and moving your mouse to left and right or up and down:
Windows Vista, Taskbar unlocked. To resize Quick Launch Toolbar, move your mouse pointer on a resize handle and drag the handle to the direction you like. Windows XP, Taskbar unlocked. To resize Taskbar, move mouse pointer on the top of Taskbar and drag it to the direction you like.

To add a toolbar to Taskbar, right-click on some empty area of Taskbar, select Toolbars and click the toolbar you need. For example, Desktop is a good choice for accessing items on Desktop while open programs hide its contents.
Windows XP Taskbar. To add a toolbar to Taskbar, right-click on empty area of Taskbar, select Toolbars and click the toolbar you need.

You can also move the unlocked Taskbar to another location on screen - to the right or left side or to the top. Click and hold left mouse pointer on some empty area of Taskbar and drag it to the location you like. There's not much point in moving the Taskbar, but hey - you can do it! Laughing

Enabling or disabling Quick Launch Toolbar in Windows XP and Vista

Quick Launch toolbar is a place on taskbar for commonly used programs in XP and Vista. In Windows XP, there are Show Desktop and Internet Explorer buttons on it; Windows Vista adds Flip 3D button. In Windows Vista, you can launch these commands with keyboard shortcut WINDOWS KEY + <number>, for example WINDOWS KEY+3 would open Internet Explorer by default. If you rearrange icons, their numbers change accordingly.
Many programs put their icons on Quick Launch toolbar, often without asking permission to do so. As you can easily rearrange and remove icons from the toolbar, it might be a good place for your favorite programs' icons.
Here is comparison of Windows Vista Taskbar without and with Quick Launch Toolbar:
Windows Vista, Taskbar without Quick Launch Toolbar Windows Vista, Taskbar with Quick Launch toolbar

To show or hide Quick Launch Toolbar quickly, right-click some empty area of Taskbar, select Toolbars and click Quick Launch. If the latter item has a check mark before it, Quick Launch toolbar is displayed.
Windows Vista, to show or hide Quick Launch toolbar on Taskbar, right-click an empty area of Taskbar. Then open Toolbars and click Quick Launch.

Managing items on Quick Launch Toolbar in Windows XP and Vista

By default, Quick Launch Toolbar displays three or four icons and hides the rest behind an expansion handle (shaped like ">>"). To see other icons, click the handle.
Windows XP Taskbar, Quick Launch Toolbar. By default, only three icons are displayed. To see other icons, click the >> handle.

To add items to Quick Launch Toolbar from Desktop or Start menu, click and hold on a program icon and drag the item to Quick Launch Toolbar by moving your mouse. To finish the operation, release mouse button.
Windows Vista, Quick Launch Toolbar. To add an item to Quick Launch Toolbar or rearrange items, drag the item with mouse.

You can rearrange items on Quick Launch Toolbar the same way - click and hold on an item and drag it to desired location.

To remove an item from Quick Launch Toolbar, right-click on it and select Delete.
Windows XP Quick Launch Toolbar. To delete an item, right-click on it and select Delete.

Click Delete Shortcut or Yes to confirm deletion.
Windows XP, Taskbar. If you are deleting a shortcut to a program, click Delete Shortcut to confirm.

Pinning and unpinning programs on Taskbar in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1

In Windows 7 and 8/8.1, you can pin a program to Taskbar by right-clicking on its icon and selecting Pin to Taskbar. This can be done with program icons on Desktop and in Start menu or Start screen, plus program files (executables) in Windows/File Explorer.
You cannot pin documents. Pinning Modern UI/Metro-style apps to Taskbar in Windows 8 and 8.1 without Update is also not possible. Windows 8.1 Update (available since 8th of April, 2014) finally allows adding Windows Store apps to Taskbar.
Windows 7 Taskbar. To pin a program to Taskbar from Start menu or Desktop, right-click its icon and click Pin to Taskbar. Windows 8 Start screen, App bar. To add a Desktop program to Taskbar, right-click it and then click Pin to taskbar. Windows 8.1 Update, Start screen. To add a Modern UI/Windows Store app to Taskbar, right-click it and then click 'Pin to taskbar'.

Please note that Windows 8.1 Update does not display App bar on Start screen for keyboard and mouse users: traditional popup menus are now used instead.

If the program you want to pin to Taskbar is already running, right-click on its icon on Taskbar and select Pin this program to taskbar.
Windows 7 Taskbar. To pin a running program to Taskbar, right-click its icon on Taskbar and click Pin this program to taskbar.

In case you want to remove a pinned program icon from Taskbar, right-click its icon and select Unpin this program from taskbar.
Windows 7 Taskbar. To unpin a program from Taskbar, right-click its icon on Taskbar and click Unpin this program from taskbar.  Windows 8 Start screen, App bar. To remove a Desktop program from Taskbar, right-click it and then click Unpin from taskbar.

Pinning and unpinning items on Taskbar Jump Lists in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1

Jump Lists work with most programs in Windows 7 and newer by now, offering recently used items, popular commands, etc. To open a Jump List, right-click a program icon on Taskbar.

Sometimes it comes in handy to store an item on a Jump List permanently. For example, when you open many documents a day with the same program, its Jump List fills up and contents are replaced dynamically. But what if you have an important item that you need to open quickly any time? Answer to this is - use pinning.
To pin an item to a program's Jump List, move your mouse pointer over the item and click the Pin to this list icon.
Windows 8, Taskbar, program Jump List. To store an item on a program's Jump List permanently, move your mouse pointer on the item and click Pin to this list.

This will add Pinned section to the top of the program's Jump List.

When you no longer need a pinned item, click Unpin from this list icon to the right of the item's name.
Windows 8, Taskbar, program Jump List, pinned items. To remove an item from pinned category, click Unpin from this list.

To remove any item from any Jump List section, right-click it and select Remove from this list.
Windows 8, Taskbar, program Jump List. To remove an item from any category, right-click it and click "Remove from this list".

It is a whole different story when you need to clear all Jump Lists at once. Microsoft has provided no easy way for this. But sometimes you just have to... Wink The process needs some brainwork to discover, but it is neither as difficult nor impossible as some web pages describe.

In Windows 7, open Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window by right-clicking on Start button and clicking Properties. Make sure you are on Start Menu tab!
Under Privacy section clear the Store and display recently opened items in the Start menu and the taskbar box. Click Apply.
Windows 7, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties. To clear all Jump Lists at once, clear the Store and display recently opened items in the Start menu and the taskbar box. Click Apply button. Next, re-enable the check box and click OK.

Next, re-enable the check box and click OK. Check it out - the Jump Lists are empty now! Cool

In Windows 8 and 8.1, right-click Taskbar and select Properties. In Taskbar Properties window, open Jump Lists tab and clear the Store and display recently opened items in Jump Lists box. Click Apply.
Windows 8, Taskbar Properties, Jump Lists. To clear all Jump Lists at once, clear the Store and display recently opened items in Jump Lists box. Click Apply button. Next, re-enable the check box and click OK.

Next, re-enable the check box and click OK. Jump Lists are empty now.

Free CCleaner is also capable of clearing Jump Lists - the option is available in Windows Explorer section of Cleaner tab.

Adjusting Taskbar settings in Windows

To access Taskbar properties, right-click on an empty area of Taskbar and click Properties.
Windows 7 Taskbar. To adjust Taskbar properties, right-click on some empty area of Taskbar and select Properties.

This will open Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window in Windows XP, Vista and 7. In Windows 8, this is called Taskbar Properties and in Windows 8.1 it's Taskbar and Navigation properties. The Navigation tab in Windows 8.1 is largely covered in Customize Start screen in Windows 8 and 8.1 tutorial.

Make sure you have Taskbar tab open. The first option under Taskbar appearance, Lock the taskbar, is the same command as described in the beginning of this article. Enabling it prevents moving and resizing of Taskbar.
The second one, Auto-hide the taskbar is good if you have limited screen space or you do not want people looking over your shoulder to see the programs you have running. Enabling this option hides Taskbar while it is not in active use. You can reveal Taskbar by moving your mouse pointer to the very bottom of the screen or by using keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Esc.
Windows XP, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Taskbar tab. Select the features you like and click OK. Windows Vista, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Taskbar tab. Check the features you like. Windows 7 Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Taskbar tab. Activate the features you need. Windows 8.1 Update, Taskbar and Navigation properties, Taskbar tab. Activate the features you need.

Keep the taskbar on top of other windows (only in Windows XP and Vista) does not allow hiding a part of Taskbar by any other window. It is strongly recommended to keep this setting turned on.

Use small icons (only in Windows 7) and Use small taskbar buttons (only in Windows 8 and 8.1) is also useful only if you have limited screen space. This will make program icons on Taskbar smaller like shown on the following picture:
Windows 7 Taskbar, Use small icons feature turned on

Taskbar location on screen (only in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1) allows you to select in which corner Taskbar resides on your screen - bottom (the default), left, right or top. Remember, if Taskbar is unlocked, you can drag it to any corner in all Windows versions.

Group similar taskbar buttons (in Windows XP and Vista) and Taskbar buttons (in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1) are almost the same options.
In earlier Windows versions, it simply turns button grouping on or off.
For Windows 7 and later, the default is Always combine, hide labels. This shows only icons on Taskbar and any program having more than one window open will have one grouped button. When you move mouse pointer over a grouped button, (Aero) Peek shows previews of open windows for that program and you can activate the desired one by clicking on its preview. You can also close a window by clicking on the red X mark in its preview window. When you hold your mouse pointer on a preview window for a few seconds, all other open windows will turn transparent and you will see only the selected window contents.
Windows 7, Taskbar buttons set to Always combine, hide labels. Any program having more than one window open will have a grouped button on Taskbar. Stopping mouse pointer on an open program icon will show small previews of open windows. You can bring a program window to front by clicking on its preview or you can close the window by clicking the red X mark. Holding mouse pointer on a preview window will make all other windows transparent.

If you select Combine when taskbar is full, Taskbar button grouping will appear only when open window icons with labels do not fit on Taskbar anymore. This is similar to when button grouping is turned on in Windows XP and Vista.
Windows 7, Taskbar buttons set to Combine when taskbar is full. Open programs and windows have icons and labels and button grouping happens only when Taskbar is full and some program has more than one window open. Windows XP, Taskbar button grouping enabled. List of Internet Explorer windows opens when you click its grouped button.

If you set the Taskbar buttons option to Never combine, Taskbar button grouping will be disabled and all open programs or windows will have a label on Taskbar.
The picture below shows the same situation as in previous picture, but with Never combine option enabled. This is Windows XP and Vista equivalent to when Taskbar button grouping is disabled.
Windows 7, Taskbar buttons set to Never combine. Open programs and windows show icons and labels and button grouping is disabled completely.

Show Quick Launch (in Windows XP and Vista) shows or hides the Quick Launch Toolbar.

Show the clock (Windows XP only) enables or disables displaying current time in the rightmost area of Taskbar.

Show windows previews (thumbnails) (Windows Vista only) turns window previews on or off for Taskbar buttons.
Windows Vista, preview window of a program on Taskbar.

Show Windows Store apps on the taskbar (Windows 8.1 Update only) enables or disables the displaying of Modern UI/Metro apps and their previews on Taskbar. Here's an example where Music and Store apps are running. Note that you can control the Music apps by stopping mouse pointer on its icon and using playback buttons.
Windows 8.1 Update, Taskbar shows Modern UI apps, too.

Use Aero Peek to preview the desktop (Windows 7) and Use Peek to preview the desktop when you move your mouse to the Show desktop button at the end of the taskbar (Windows 8 and 8.1) enables or disables temporarily showing the Desktop while you stop mouse pointer in the rightmost corner of Taskbar (the Show desktop button).

Multi-display settings in Windows 8 and 8.1

Windows 8 and 8.1 finally added some Taskbar settings for those with multiple monitors. The Multiple displays section allows showing Taskbar on all displays and selecting button behavior.
To add Taskbar to all connected monitors, enable the Show taskbar on all displays option. This enables the remaining two combo boxes.
Windows 8, Taskbar Properties, multi-monitor options. The Show taskbar on all displays check box adds Taskbar to all connected monitors.

The second combo box, Buttons on other taskbars, is exactly the same option as Taskbar buttons combo box described above. It allows configuring button grouping and showing/hiding labels.

The Show taskbar buttons on combo box has three options:

  • All taskbars - displays Taskbar buttons for all open and pinned programs on all displays. This is the default option.
  • Main taskbar and taskbar where window is open - displays Taskbar buttons for all open and pinned programs on your main display. Other displays will display only buttons for those programs that are running on these displays. For example, if nothing is running on your second monitor, no buttons are displayed on its Taskbar. If you open Outlook on the second monitor, its button will appear on that Taskbar (and the main monitor's Taskbar).
  • Taskbar where window is open - displays buttons for programs running only on the specific monitor. Main display Taskbar will also display pinned programs. This is probably the most compact option.

Windows 8, Taskbar Properties, multi-monitor options. The Show taskbar buttons on combo box allows selecting which Taskbar buttons are displayed on each display.

Adjusting icon hiding in Taskbar Notification area

By default, Windows XP hides all inactive icons in Taskbar Notification area. Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 show icons for Power, Network and Volume, and display other icons only when the programs want to notify you about something. You can see all icons by clicking the arrowhead left or up button, called Show hidden icons.
Windows XP, Taskbar Notification area. Icons appear only when they have notifications. You can open other icons by clicking the left arrowhead button named Show hidden icons. Windows 7, Taskbar Notification area. By default, icons for Power, Network and Volume are displayed. Other icons appear only when they have notifications. You can open other icons by clicking the up arrowhead button named Show hidden icons.

In all Windows versions, you can choose to always hide or show specific program icons or turn the icon hiding completely off.
In Windows XP, you can turn the feature off by clearing the Hide inactive icons check box in the Notification area section of Taskbar tab.
To change preferences for individual icons, click the Customize... button instead.
Windows XP, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Taskbar tab. To adjust Taskbar Notification area icon behavior and hide or show specific icons, click Customize button.

In Windows Vista, open Notification Area tab of Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window. Again, clearing the Hide inactive icons check box disables the feature completely.
In the System icons section, select the icons you want to see - Clock, Volume and Network should probably be enabled here. Power is useful on laptops and tablets only.
To adjust the behavior of other program icons, click Customize... in the Icons section.
Windows Vista, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Notification Area tab. Check or uncheck the system icons you want to show or hide in Taskbar Notification Area.

In Windows 7 and later, click Customize... button in the Notification area section of Taskbar tab.
Windows 7, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Taskbar tab. To adjust Taskbar Notification area icon behavior and hide or show specific icons, click Customize button.

This will open a window titled Customize Notifications (Windows XP) or Customize Notification Icons (Windows Vista) or Select which icons and notifications appear on the taskbar (Windows 7, 8 and 8.1). This is a list of all program icons that are or have been displayed in Notification area.
To define an icon's behavior, select one of the three options (again named differently in each version of Windows):

  • Always show / Show / Show icon and notifications - icon is always visible in Taskbar Notification area.
  • Always hide / Hide / Hide icon and notifications - icon is never visible in Taskbar Notification area.
  • Hide when inactive / Only show notifications - icon is visible only when it wants to notify you about something. You can still see the icon by clicking the Show hidden icons button.

Windows XP, Customize Notifications. Select to Always hide, Always show or to Hide when inactive for each icon. Windows Vista, Customize Notification Icons. Select to Hide, Show or to Hide when inactive for each icon. Windows 7, Select which icons and notifications appear on the taskbar. Show icon and notifications keeps an icon always visible. Only show notifications displays the icon only when there is an active notification. Hide icon and notifications removes the icon from Taskbar permanently.

To revert to default icon behavior at any time, click Restore Defaults / Default SettingsRestore default icon behaviors.

In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, in case you want to turn off Taskbar Notification area icon hiding and always display all icons, check the Always show all icons and notifications on the taskbar box. This will negatively affect available space on Taskbar, but it's up to you. You cannot select individual icon behavior and Show hidden icons button will be gone if you use this option.

To select which system icons are displayed in Windows 7 and newer, click the Turn system icons on or off link.
Windows 7, Select which icons and notifications appear on the taskbar. To control the displaying of system icons, click Turn system icons on or off.

In the Turn system icons on or off window, select On or Off for any icon. Normally, Clock, Volume, Network and Action Center should be turned on. Power icon is useful only on laptops and tablets.
Windows 7, Turn system icons on or off. Except the Power icon, all system icons should be set to On.

Save changes and close windows by clicking OK.

Configuring Taskbar Jump Lists in Windows 8 and 8.1

Windows 8 Taskbar Properties  and Windows 8.1 Taskbar and Navigation properties window have an additional tab named Jump Lists.

If you want to see more than 10 recent documents or items in program's jump list, adjust the Number of recent items to display in Jump Lists option.
To enable or disable showing recently opened programs, use the Store recently opened programs check box.
To enable or disable showing recent items on Jump Lists, use the Store and display recently opened items in Jump Lists check box.
Windows 8, Taskbar Properties, Jump Lists. Adjust options as necessary.

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