Most people don’t spend much time customizing their taskbar, even though it’s something every Windows user uses every day. It seems almost set in stone — but it isn’t. The Windows taskbar is actually very customizable.
Even geeks often seem to forget just how customizable the taskbar is. The taskbar at the bottom of your screen doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s — it doesn’t even have to be at the bottom of your screen.
Choose a Start Menu
On Windows 8, you can install third-party Start menus that give you a classic Start menu back. On Windows 8.1, Microsoft has restored the Start button, but it just goes to the Start screen — for a traditional desktop Start menu, you’ll still need to install a third-party Start menu.
If you’re using Windows 8.1 and would like to get rid of the Start button to free up taskbar space and use Windows 8 the way Steven Sinofsky intended it, you can use the StartIsGone utility to hide the Start button again. Microsoft doesn’t provide a built-in option to disable the Start button.
Choose Any Edge of the Screen
The Windows taskbar appears on the bottom of the screen by default, but it doesn’t have to. You can easily place your taskbar at any edge of the screen — at the left, top, or right. Placing it on the left edge of the screen can help on modern laptops, which often use widescreen resolutions with much more horizontal space than vertical space. This will give you more vertical space for web pages, documents, and everything else.
To do this, right-click your taskbar, select Lock the taskbar, and then drag it to any side of the screen. Right-click your taskbar and lock it again afterwards. You can also right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and select a location from the Taskbar location on screen box.
The taskbar doesn’t have to appear on screen all the time, either. You can make it automatically hide itself and only appear when you move your mouse to the bottom of the screen. This can help if you want to use your precious screen space for your programs, particularly on old netbooks with a very low screen resolution.
To toggle auto-hide, right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and click the Auto-hide the taskbar box.
Use a Traditional Taskbar
Windows 7 introduced a new style of taskbar that combined program-launching and window-switching with a single taskbar icon. However, you can still use the previous style of taskbar. This can be useful if you just use a few programs — let’s say you mostly use your browser and like having different browser windows that you can easily switch to from your taskbar.
To choose the type of taskbar you want to use, right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and choose one of the options from the Taskbar buttons box.
Use Small Icons
Along with customizing the type of taskbar entries you use, you can select whether to use large or small icons. Large icons are probably ideal if you’re using a high-resolution screen, but if you have a tiny screen — here come the netbooks again — choosing small icons will give you more of your display back.
To make taskbar icons smaller, right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and enable the Use small taskbar buttons checkbox.
Re-enable Quick Launch
Remember the “quick launch” area that was used on Windows XP and Vista? It gave you shortcuts that you taskbar shortcuts that you could click to launch your favorite programs. On Windows 7, this is less useful because programs you use frequently can be pinned to the taskbar.
However, you can still re-enable the quick launch toolbar. This is particularly useful if you want to use the old-style taskbar from Windows Vista and XP.
Create Toolbars With Shortcuts
You can also create other toolbars with shortcuts. This can be useful on Windows 8, as it allows you to make a Start menu-like program launcher without installing any additional software. You can also enable toolbars included with Windows — for example, the Address toolbar allows you to type web page addresses into a box directly on your taskbar to access them.
To use this feature, right-click your taskbar, point to Toolbars, and select New toolbar.
Hide the Clock
The clock seems like a permanent part of the taskbar, but it’s not. You can actually hide the clock fairly easily, freeing up space on your taskbar for other things.
To do so, right-click the clock, select Customize notification icons, click Turn system icons on or off, and set the Clock to Off.
Customize Your Notification Area
The notification area — also known as the system tray — has become such a mess over time that Windows hides most notification icons by default. However, you’re free to customize which icons will and won’t be shown.
You can do this in a simple way — just drag and drop the notification area icons between the hidden area and the main taskbar and they’ll be made always-visible or always-hidden. You can also open the notification area dialog to perform more detailed customizations.
Create Custom Jump List Shortcuts
The jump list feature allows you to right-click a taskbar program and quickly access important functions. For example, Chrome’s jump list entries allow you to access frequently-visited websites or open new browser windows.
Some programs don’t include jump list shortcuts or may not include one you really want. You can create your own custom jump list shortcuts with a third-party tool.
Of course, you can also pin taskbar icons to make them always-visible by right-clicking them and selecting Pin this program to taskbar or drag and drop them to rearrange them on your taskbar. That’s the one bit of taskbar customization many Windows desktop users seem to do.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 09/19/13