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The Windows 8 Taskbar
By Kamm Schreiner

December 23, 2012

Although there is not a lot that has changed about the taskbar in Windows 8 as compared to Windows 7, it is an extremely well thought-out user interface element with many useful features so a discussion on the topic is certainly worthwhile.

What is the Taskbar?

The Taskbar is a narrow strip that appears at the bottom of your computer’s desktop by default. It is basically a toolbar for the desktop and contains quick access to your most popular applications and also displays status for things like your Internet connection, volume, date and time, and various status indicators for programs that you’ve installed. It can also be configured to show the contents of folders on your computer.

The Windows 8 Taskbar

Windows 8 Taskbar

In the screenshot above, there is an icon for File Explorer and for the Paint program. There is also a status indicator for Network/Internet connectivity, a sound on/off indicator and the current date and time. Other indicators appear as necessary to make you aware of problems you need to address.

In Windows 7 there was a Start Button that gave you access to all of the programs and features of your computer. However, in Windows 8 that has changed. The Start Screen, in conjunction with the new Windows 8 Charms, is now the place to go to get top-level access to all the programs and features of your computer. This means that the Taskbar has a somewhat more limited, but still extremely important role to play in Windows 8.

What does the Taskbar do for You?

Whenever you start a program, that program’s icon is displayed in the taskbar so that you know it is running. If you move your mouse pointer over that application’s icon, it will display a small screen shot of each window being used by that program so that you can easily switch between multiple open documents. You click on any of the mini screenshot to bring that particular window to the front of all other windows. In addition to the mini screenshots, there is a pop-up menu that will appear if you right click on a program's icon where you will find a list of the recently opened files for the application and a list of pinned files. Please note that the files that appear in the recently opened list depend on how they were opened and also, on the program that opened them. In general, any file that is opened by double clicking on the file to activate (open) the associated program will appear in the list of Recent files. If you open the file using the program’s File>Open command, it will only appear of the program makes use of the appropriate programmer’s API calls for Windows 7 or higher.

Tip: If there are certain documents that you access frequently, you should click on the small icon that looks like a push pin at the right side of the menu in order to pin that file to the menu so it will always be there.

Pinning a Frequent File

Example of a File with the Pushpin Icon

In the example below you’ll see both a pinned document and a recently accessed document.

Program Pop-up menu

Taskbar pop-up menu

Once you open an application and its icon is visible on the taskbar, you can elect to make a the application’s icon stay on the taskbar permanently by right clicking on the program’s icon and choosing “Pin this program to taskbar” option. You should definitely do this for all of the programs you use on a daily basis since it makes starting the programs much quicker.

For some applications there may also be a “Tasks” area in the pop-up menu which will give you several options related to starting the program.

What else can you do with the Taskbar?

Here are a few more things you can do with the Taskbar.

Display a Folder

If there is a folder on your computer with programs or files that you like to access frequently, you have at least two options:

Option 1: Drag the folder to the taskbar and drop it.

This will make the folder appear in as a pinned folder when you right click on the File Explorer icon at the far left of the Taskbar.

Option 2: Add a Toolbar to the Taskbar using the folder.

This option will add a toolbar to the right side of the Taskbar, but to the left of the status area. When you click on the icon for this new toolbar it will show the contents of the folder you used to create the toolbar. Here is how it is done:

1.      Right click on an empty area of the Taskbar and choose Toolbars>New Toolbar.

2.      In the File Explorer that appears, navigate to and select the desired folder.

3.      Click Select Folder.

Now you’ll see the name of the folder at the right side of the Taskbar. Just to the right of the folder’s name is a narrow button with two arrows on it. If you click that button, you’ll see the contents of that folder displayed as a menu. If you right click on the folder’s name, a menu will appear and the top-most option will be Open Folder. If you click that option, the folder will open in File Explorer.

Folder added as toolbar

Example of a folder added as a toolbar (the folder’s name is ‘Word’)

In the example shown above, clicking the toolbar button for Word will display all files in the folder I’ve created for MS Word documents.

Arrange All Currently Open Windows

If you right click on an empty area of the Taskbar, among others, you’ll see the following options:

·         Cascade windows – this will rearrange all windows so that the first window is placed at the top, left of the desktop and then each additional window is offset down and to the right the same amount as the height of a window’s title bar.

·         Show windows stacked – this will rearrange the windows so that they create columns of windows where the windows are generally wider than they are tall.

·         Show windows side by side – this will rearrange the windows so that they create columns of windows where the windows are generally more square or are taller than they are wide.

·         Show the desktop – this option will minimize all windows so that you can see the full desktop. (Tip: If you place the mouse pointer in the bottom right corner of the taskbar and click, it will also show the desktop. Clicking a second time will restore all windows to their original positions.

For the first three options, the idea is to make all of the windows visible so that you can find the one you’re looking for.

Tip: After using one of the first three options above and after you’ve located the window you want, click on its title bar to make it the active window and then right click on an empty area of the taskbar again and choose Undo cascade all windows/Show all windows stacked/Show all windows side by side and all windows will return to their original size and placement and the window you activated will still be on top of all other windows.

Tip: If you want to compare two documents side-by-side, drag one document by its title bar to the left of the screen so that the mouse point hits the left edge of the desktop, but not the top of the desktop. This will cause that to be resized to take up exactly half the desktop on the left side. Now do the same for the other document except drag it to the right edge. Now both documents can be seen side-by-side. If you drag one of the documents down and to the left from the docked position, it will return to its original size.

Tip: If you hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and then press the right arrow key, the active window will dock to the right edge of the desktop taking up exactly half the available space. If you press the right arrow key again, it will dock to the left of the desktop and if you press it again it will return to its original size and position. Pressing the left arrow key does the same in reverse order starting with a left hand dock.

Tip: If you hold down the Windows key and press up arrow, the active window will become maximized. If you then press down arrow, it will return to normal size and position. Pressing Windows+DownArrow while the active window is already normal size, will minimize the window.

Next Article: Windows 8 Search Charms

 
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Copyright © 2012 by Kamm Schreiner. All Rights Reserved.
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