The Windows taskbar was introduced with Windows 95 and has functioned as a launching application as well as a place to store and access minimized or hidden windows. But through all it’s following iterations it never really changed. Meanwhile other OS developers were introducing fancy new features like application docking and taskbar customization and Windows users started looking to 3rd party applications like Rocketdock to get the features they wanted.
Windows 7 shows a complete reinventing of the Windows task bar. More than a launch platform it is now a full fledged object dock with tons of added functionality and it is fully customizable. I could write a whole article just on the new taskbar, but here I’m just going to give you some highlights:
The most useful new feature of the taskbar is that you can now drag and drop any item, whether a shortcut, a folder or even a file, onto it for easy access. And whereas in the older versions the quicklaunch icons were separated from the actual running app icons, they are now one and the same. In practical terms this means when you launch an application already docked on the taskbar it gets highligted rather than duplicated. And if yo launch several windows (or in the case of most browsers several tabs) they stack one behind the other to give you access to all of them at the same time. The same goes for file folders and documents. Additionally you can move and reorganize any and all items on the taskbar in any way you want even when they are open.
If you have multiple windows or folders open at the same time it can be tricky to remember which one contains which item. To abolish this problem the taskbar has a new feature called Peek. Like the name suggests it gives you a peek of the opened content when you hover over the different active icons providing a preview and full access to all the options without actually having to open them.
Peek manifests itself like a bigger taskbar with preview images of each of the open windows, tabs, files or folders and when you hover your mouse over each of them, the full window gets switched to the object in question giving you a quick preview. When I’m writing I usually have multiple browser tabs, three or four folders and at least two or three Word documents open at the same time and this feature makes it infinitely easier for me to find what I’m looking for rather than having to Alt+Tab my way through all the opened elements.
In addition to simply launching and previewing open applications, the taskbar gives you enhanced and program-specific functionality at the click of the right mouse button. This activates a pop-up menu which, depending on the icon in question, gives you a list of everything from bookmarked or pinned pages to recently viewed documents and frequently accessed folders. And for each of the pinned applications you can pin sub-elements directly to the taskbar for instant access. In practical terms it functions like a favourites list for all your applications allowing you to pin important or useful documents, graphics, web sites, folders, videos, projects, whatevers directly to the taskbar for instant access.
See only what you want to see
One of my pet peeves with the taskbar in XP and Vista was the section that is supposed to give you information about running background applications such as virus scanners, wireless status, audio, video etc. My big problem with this feature was that everything and it’s seccond cousin twice removed wanted to get top billing in the bar and as a result I had this insanely annoying accordion thing going on where I needed to hit a button to make all the icons appear and then quickly navigate to the right one to make my change.
No more! The new Windows 7 task bar lets you decide exactly what icons to display and what icons to ignore. And you are provided with two levels of access: The icons on the taskbar itself and the icons in a pop-up menu that can be accessed from a button. With these two features you can hand pick what application icons you want to see and which ones you don’t care about. And as with the other applications you can reorganize the icons in any way you want giving you full control over your workspace.