It seems like every week we learn about a new tip to enhance the Windows 7 taskbar, and it's hard to keep them all straight. Here's the complete power user's guide to tweaking and using your taskbar like a pro.
Learn to Use the Taskbar Like a Pro
Before you even get started trying to tweak your taskbar, you should make sure that you understand how to use all of the features, and there might be more than you think — check out our complete guide to Windows 7 shortcuts to learn useful basic manoeuvres, like how you can hold down the Ctrl key while left-clicking to cycle through a group of taskbar buttons, or hold down Shift while right-clicking to show the regular window menu. Here's the full list of Taskbar-specific shortcuts:
- Win+number (1-9): Starts the application pinned to the taskbar in that position, or switches to that program.
- Shift+Win+number (1-9): Starts a new instance of the application pinned to the taskbar in that position.
- Ctrl+Win+number (1-9): Cycles through open windows for the application pinned to the taskbar in that position.
- Alt+Win+number (1-9): Opens the Jump List for the application pinned to the taskbar.
- Win+T: Focus and scroll through items on the taskbar.
- Win+B: Focuses the System Tray icons.
- Drag+Drop taskbar buttons or System Tray icons: to reorganise them.
- Shift+Click on a taskbar button: Open a program or quickly open another instance of a program.
- Ctrl+Shift+Click on a taskbar button: Open a program as an administrator.
- Shift+Right-click on a taskbar button: Show the window menu for the program (like XP does).
- Shift+Right-click on a grouped taskbar button: Show the window menu for the group.
- Ctrl+Click on a grouped taskbar button: Cycle through the windows of the group.
- Drag a File to a taskbar button: to pin the file to the current application's Jump List.
- Shift+Drag a File to a taskbar button: to open a file with the current application.
- Middle-Click on a taskbar button: to open a new instance of the application.
- Middle-Click on a Aero Thumbnail: to close that application instance.
- Left-Click + Drag upwards: to open the Jump List for an application.
Once you've mastered the shortcut keys and mouse tricks, or at least those you'll actually use, it's time to learn how to fully use Windows 7's Jump Lists, from tweaking the number of items shown to pinning document templates and quickly accessing private browsing modes.
Tweak Your Taskbar Settings
Now that you fully understand all of the tips and tricks to using the built-in features, it's time to tweak the taskbar to work just the way you want it to-for instance, if you don't want taskbar buttons pulling up the Aero Peek thumbnails every time, there's a registry hack that can change the default left-clicking behaviour to switch to the last active window instead.
Rather than dealing with messy registry hacks, the 7 Taskbar Tweaker customisation tool gives you fine-grained control over what happens when you left, middle or right-click on taskbar buttons, and even customises window grouping and whether dragging to the taskbar pins items or opens them. If the new Aero Peek doesn't work quite the way you want, you can use a registry hack to make Aero Peek display instantly, or just use the Desktop Peek Tweak tool to make the changes more easily.
If the look and feel is what you want to change, you can check out AeroWorks to re-skin your Windows 7 taskbar without patching anything, or use the Windows 7 Start Button Changer to change that orb to something that fits your mood a little better. You can use the Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer to tweak the size and spacing of the thumbnail windows that show up when you hover your mouse over a taskbar button. You can even get the old-style network activity icon back in the system tray if you really want it.
Pin Anything To Your Taskbar
So you've mastered the taskbar, tweaked the settings just the way you want, and it's time to pin all of your favourite applications to the taskbar, but there's just one problem: Windows doesn't let you pin just anything. No worries, however, because you can use a trick to not only pin individual folders to the taskbar, but actually pin any item. If you really want to tweak your system, you can use transparent shortcuts to separate and organise your taskbar icons, or add a fully functional recycle bin.
Once you've pinned an application to the taskbar, there's a simple trick to customising it that might not be immediately obvious — just pop up the Jump List, and then right-click on the application name to get to the real properties screen, where you can add extra command-line parameters, or set the compatibility mode.
Enhance the Taskbar's Application Launching
The Windows 7 taskbar combines window management with an application launcher, since you can right-click on any item and pin it to the taskbar, but that's not nearly enough for a power user. We've already told you how you can boost your productivity with Jump Lists, and that starts with using some more powerful application launchers that enhance your taskbar experience-Jumplist Launcher consolidates applications into a single button, while JumpLaunch turns your Quick Launch folder into a Jump List.
If you are a fan of the eye candy, check out the slick 7 Stacks utility, or use Standalone Stack to not only launch applications, but browse through your file system with popup navigation that can be pinned to your taskbar. Of course, you aren't limited to launching applications, since you can also close all windows from the taskbar.
Monitor Your System With Add-ons
There's any number of desktop widgets that can show you the weather or monitor your system, but they all have the same problem-if you've got a window maximised, you won't be able to see anything. You can get around this problem by simply docking an application to the taskbar that gives you your system monitoring right there in the taskbar button itself.
If weather is your thing, check out how Weatherbar integrates weather forecasts directly into the taskbar, or you can use SuperbarMonitor to add drive space, battery life, and memory or CPU usage into separate buttons on the taskbar. If monitoring the web is more your thing, you can integrate a taskbar RSS reader, or put Gmail notifications into a taskbar button.
Virtual desktop application Dexpot is not only a powerful virtual desktop manager, but the latest version includes full support for Windows 7's Aero Peek thumbnails-you can pin the application to the taskbar, and use the thumbnails to easily navigate between multiple virtual desktops.
Revert the Whole Thing Back to XP/Vista Style
If the new taskbar with all of the great functionality just isn't your thing, you are in luck-you can actually revert everything back to work almost the same as it did back on the Windows XP or Vista days.
One of the first things most Windows 7 adopters ask is how to get the Quick Launch back, and luckily there's an easy trick to add the Quick Launch bar back-just add a new toolbar with %appdata%MicrosoftInternet ExplorerQuick Launch as the folder location. You can also head into the taskbar settings and tweak the whole thing to look just like older versions of Windows. Of course, if you really hate the taskbar, there's always the option of using Taskbar Eliminator to ditch the taskbar entirely.
What about you? What's your favourite Windows 7 taskbar tweak? Share your thoughts in the comments.