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Introduction to the Windows 7 Taskbar: Why is it Different from Vista?

written by: Percila Jackson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/5/2011

This article introduces the features and main aspects of the Windows 7 Taskbar. Does the Taskbar live up to its billing as a "superbar?" Read this article to find out.

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    The Windows 7 Taskbar is probably the most talked about feature of the operating system. It has been the focus of many articles, blog posts, videos, and discussions on many forums. So, why is it generating such a buzz? Why is the Taskbar one of the most important elements of Windows 7?

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    Larger Taskbar 

    The Windows 7 Taskbar is not an enhancement of the Vista Taskbar. It’s entirely new, and functions in a very different way. The first thing that you will notice about the Windows 7 Taskbar is that it's slightly bigger than the one in Vista and that the Quick Launch portion is absent. (However, for backward compatibility reasons, Windows 7 keeps the Quick Launch folder and you can bring it back to the Taskbar if you want).

    Quick Launch and the “taskband” have been unified to provide a new kind of user interface. This unification also makes it possible to move the taskbar buttons. By default, the buttons on the Taskbar are icons only, but if you prefer to have text along with icons it can be enabled from the taskbar properties. Window 7's big taskbar buttons have a unique behavior: when an application is started by clicking on any icon on the Taskbar, the button changes its behavior to a switcher (to switch between the open instances of the application).

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    When you move the mouse over a big taskbar button in Windows 7, it displays clickable thumbnails of the open documents/windows of that application. This gives you quick and easy access to open or close any instance of the application right from the thumbnail, or to switch between them. One nifty feature of the Taskbar is that no matter how many instances of an application are running, there is only a single button representing that application on the Taskbar. (Although it is possible to have individual buttons for each instance of the application, which eventually makes a mess of your Taskbar).

    Moreover, if Aero is enabled, the Taskbar displays the full-sized window of the thumbnail when you hover your mouse over while all the other open windows become transparent. This feature is known as Aero Peek. This is quite useful to identify the right document window when the small thumbnails are not enough. For example, the small thumbnails work great for images, but if you are looking at the small thumbnails of a Word document or an email, it isn’t easy to identify the correct document window with such a small preview. Hovering the cursor over the “Show Desktop” button on the far right of the Taskbar (right after the date/time display) will activate Aero Peek making all the desktop windows turn transparent and provide you with a view of the desktop.

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    Jump Lists

    Jump List for Windows Media Player Another much talked about feature of the new Taskbar are the “Jump Lists.” This is nothing but the list of menus you get when you right-click on any button on the Taskbar. This list contains specific menu items to control various common aspects of the application. For example, the Jump List for Windows Media Player lists frequently played media files and also provides you with basic player controls. The Jump List for Windows Explorer gives you access to frequently used folders and drives. It also gives you access to special folders such as documents, music files, pictures, etc. You can also pin a specific file to its application’s Jump List if you want to always have quicker access to that specific file. Jump Lists offer you the ability to perform common tasks related to an application without having to start that application first, and that is a good comfort factor.

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    Other Features

    Now, let’s take a look at another important part of your Taskbar, the Notification Area. The Notification Area has been designed to occupy less space and to show only a few system icons. The rest of the icons appear in a menu. You can also configure which icons and notifications should appear in the Notification Area.

    Along with the features discussed above and some other features, like a progress bar in the taskbar icon, the Taskbar now displays by default the date, the time, and what’s called “color hot-tracking.” This feature is a light source that tracks the mouse when the mouse is moved over a running program on the Taskbar. The color of the light is based on the icon itself. It makes the Windows 7 Taskbar a visual treat, is extremely efficient, and is perhaps the best feature of Windows 7.