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Changes to the Windows 7 Taskbar You Should Know About

What is the single biggest change to Windows 7? Perhaps it is the less onerous UAC behavior? How about the improved responsiveness? My take is that the single biggest change is to the Taskbar. These changes will have the greatest impact how you will experience Windows 7. After all, you will be using the Windows 7 Taskbar every time you sit down to your computer.


At first glance the Taskbar in Windows 7 is similar to Vista’s Taskbar. Make no mistake about it, the changes are bold and may be confusing to you – at least until you get more comfortable with them.

Perhaps Microsoft hasn't fully understood how the changes would impact users. If they had they might have done a better job telling you about them. While beta testing Windows 7 I failed to fully understand the changes myself. It wasn’t until later when I realized how different the Windows 7 Taskbar really was and how it worked.

In this article I will detail the changes and let you decide for yourself whether or not you like them.

The Changes
How To
The Problems
Editorial Privilege


Some of the Windows 7 Taskbar terminology may be new or confusing to you. Let me define some of those terms for you right now before we get started.

Taskbar Nomenclature

The Changes

Here is a quick summary of the changes to the Windows 7 Taskbar:

Taskbar Button Shows Copying Status

Copy a file in Explorer and you will see the copy progress in a second window as usual. What has changed is that the progress is also displayed in the Explorer Taskbar Button.

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How To

So, how do you use the Windows 7 Taskbar?

Open Jump List

There are two ways to open the Jump List for any Taskbar Button:

The Jump List includes the Most Recently Used items in the top section. See the image below for a picture of the Jump List for Mozilla Firefox.

Launching a Program

Launching a program is easy. Unlike a desktop shortcut where you have to Double-Click to launch a program, programs pinned to the Taskbar work like Vista's Quick Launch icons. Click once on any Taskbar Button to launch the program.

Right-Click on the Firefox Taskbar Button and Select Mozilla Firefox to Launch a Second Firefox Window

Open the Jump List to launch more than one instance of a program.

If a window is already open for the program, the Taskbar Button will be highlighted. You must open the Jump List and select the program, Mozilla Firefox in this example, in order to launch a second instance of the program.

Pinning and Unpinning Programs

Drag and Drop Program Shortcut to Pin to Taskbar

In this example I Dragged and Dropped the Mozilla Firefox shortcut icon onto the Taskbar.

There are four ways to pin a program to the Taskbar:

Unpin Program From Taskbar

To unpin a program from the Taskbar open the Jump List and select 'Unpin this program from taskbar'.

Using Aero Peek

Aero Peek

Aero Peek – This example shows four Firefox windows open and I am peeking at the full window of the first thumbnail.

Hover over a Taskbar Button to view small thumbnails of all the open windows. Move the cursor to any thumbnail and hover over the thumbnail to 'peek' at the open window. If you want to navigate to that window, simply click on the thumbnail. It sounds complicated but it is a natural way to find and navigate to open windows.

Notification Area

Notification Area Action Center

Notification Area Action Center – Click on the small flag in the right side of the Taskbar to view the Action Center.

The Notification Area has been simplified. New to the Notification Area is the Action Center icon. The icon looks like a small flag. Click on this icon to view any important actions that you may need to take.

Notification Area Show Hidden Icons

Notification Area Show Hidden Icons Up-Arrow – Click on the Up-Arrow to view hidden icons.

Important icons may be hidden and only accessible by clicking the small Up-Arrow. When a program adds an icon to the Notification Area it is hidden by default for a much cleaner look. You can modify the settings for hidden icons if you want them to always be visible.

Click on Show Desktop Button

Show Desktop - The Show Desktop icon has been changed to a transparent bar and placed to the right of the system clock.

Click on the Show Desktop bar to minimize all open windows and view the desktop. Click on it again to restore the windows to the desktop. You can also temporarily view the desktop by hovering over the Show Desktop bar. All open windows will become transparent allowing you to 'peek' at the desktop - another variation of Aero Peek. Move the cursor away from the Show Desktop bar to return the open windows to normal.

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The Problems

Microsoft will likely disagree with me but I see some problems with the Windows 7 Taskbar.

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Editorial Privilege

What you think about the Windows 7 Taskbar is entirely a matter of personal preference. Some think it is terrific, others think it's terrible. I question whether or not it increases productivity. Personally, I don't see any performance gains by having the desktop shortcuts pinned to the Taskbar. Too many pinned programs look messy and they can't be organized like shortcuts can on the desktop.

I find the combination of program launching and highlighting to signify an open window confusing. The inconsistent behavior that occurs when you click on a Taskbar Button with and without a window already open is poor UI design.

Thumbnails and Aero Peek on the other hand are convenient ways to quickly identify and go to an open window.

I wanted to use Windows 7 for a while before coming to a final conclusion about the Taskbar. I have been using Windows 7 for quite a few months now and have decided that I prefer the Vista Taskbar. Of course there is always the possibility that I have finally become that stereotypical stodgy old fart that finds any change unacceptable.

If you don't like the Windows 7 Taskbar you can modify it to better fit your preferences, but I will leave that for another time. Until I write that article I will point you to this article that shows you how to change the Windows 7 Taskbar to look more like the XP or Vista Taskbar.

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