The Windows system tray can be so much more than a parking lot for programs you don't want cluttering up your task bar. Read on to see the five most popular tray tools readers can't live without.
It speaks of the popularity of multi-monitor setups that UltraMon is such a popular system tray application. UltraMon is so feature packed it's nearly impossible to take a single screenshot that captures the usefulness of the application. The most obvious feature UltraMon adds from the system tray is the addition of two buttons to the title bar of all open applications. The two buttons you see in the screenshot here—the dual triangles and the box with the arrow in it—allow you to instantly expand a window across all monitors or reduce it to one and to sling a window from one monitor to another with out having to drag or resize. That feature alone is invaluable when you're dealing with dozens of windows across multiple screens, but that barely scratches the surface. UltraMon allows you to create custom shortcuts so applications will always end up the size you specify on the screen you want. You can set up multi-monitor friendly screensavers and wallpaper with Ultramon and enable the Smart Taskbar—a tool that extends your taskbar space across all available monitors. UltraMon isn't free—nor is the $US40 price tag pocket change in the current economy—but for users in a multi-monitor environment it would be tough to get more value for your money.
Taskbar Shuffle has the distinction of being not only a popular application in this Hive Five but also the only application that actually acts upon the system tray itself. After installing Taskbar Shuffle, you can indulge your inner—and slightly obsessive compulsive—nerd to your heart's content arranging and rearranging the items on your taskbar and system tray. If you've ever been annoyed as hell that somehow an application icon you really want visible in the system tray somehow keeps ending up tucked out of sight, Taskbar Shuffle is a free and effective solution for liberating your programs from their cement shoes. In addition to the obvious and useful program dragging, you can also close applications by clicking their taskbar button with the middle mouse button, tweak the way Windows groups similar taskbar buttons, and assign a keyboard hotkey to keep you from accidentally shuffling things around with some furious productivity-fuelled clicking. As an added bonus, Taskbar Shuffle works with the aforementioned multi-monitor Smart Taskbar provided by UltraMon.
AutoHotkey is a macro-scripting tool with scripts that—when running—reside in the system tray. The strongest selling point of AutoHotkey is that the scripting language it uses is extremely accessible to new users—especially those with no programming experience. You can use AutoHotkey to do everything from creating simple time-saving typing macros—turning every typed instance of btw into by the way, for example— to creating complex applications, like our very own Texter. Additionally you can also create simple interfaces to allow user input into the scripts and even save your AutoHotkey scripts as executables to use them as portable applications or send them to friends. If you're not interested in writing your own scripts that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the excellent scripts others have written—check out the posts we've written about AutoHotkey scripts and browse the Scripts section of the AutoHotkey community forum to find scripts.
If you're looking to cut down on the number of programs cluttering up your system tray and taskbar, Digsby combines the functionality of many separate applications into one. Once configured, Digsby allows you to chat with friends on AIM, MSN, Yahoo Chat, ICQ, Google Talk, Jabber, and Facebook Chat. Additionally you can receive notifications and check email accounts including popular services like Gmail, Hotmail, or any service that supports IMAP or POP. Right from the overview box in Digsby you can mark emails as read or flag them as spam. As if combing most popular chat platforms and email services together wasn't enough to sell most people, Digsby also supports alerts and updates on popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and LinkedIn. From both a time and screen-space saving aspect Digsby is a gem.
Dropbox is a remote file storage and syncing service. The magic behind Dropbox may reside on a distant server, but the convenience sits in the system tray as an always available link to your Dropbox sync folder. Anything you need to access from a remote location can be dragged into the Dropbox sync folder and within moments it will be uploaded to your Dropbox account. By far the biggest selling point is the dead simple file syncing and the ample-for-most-purposes free 2GB of remote storage. Many readers have noted that thanks to the speed and simplicity of Dropbox they have forgone toting their files around on flash drives. To take Dropbox beyond simply syncing copies of your TPS Reports check out how to use it to sync your Firefox installations and how to use it as the ultimate password syncer.
If you have your own system tray treasures and tips to share, sound off in the comments below!