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How to Organize Your Programs in the Windows 7 Taskbar

Would you like to keep your programs neat and orderly in your Windows 7 taskbar?  Let’s look at an easy way to make your taskbar simpler and more aesthetic all at the same time.

The Windows 7 taskbar makes it easy to have quick access to your favorite programs.  With pinned applications, jumplists, and more, it’s easier than ever to manage your applications from the taskbar without opening the Start menu.  Unfortunately, it’s also easy to get your programs in a mess where it’s hard to find what you’re looking for.  Wouldn’t it be nicer if you could sort your most-used programs into groups that made it easy to find the app you’re looking for?  Here’s a quick trick that can help you regain control over your messy taskbar.

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The Windows 7 taskbar lets you pin any application or shortcut to the taskbar, so we’re going to use that to make spacer shortcuts to dummy applications so we can separate our programs into groups.  First you’ll need a folder to save your shortcuts and applications that you won’t delete.  We created a new folder in our Downloads folder, but you can save it wherever you’ll easily remember not to delete it.

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Now, in the folder, create a new text document or other file.  You could create any new file here, other than a folder or shortcut.

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Change the name of the file to something unique, and then change the file extension to .exe.

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Windows will warn you not to change the file extension, but it’s fine for this use.  Click Yes to apply the changes.

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If you don’t see the file extension listed, you may have your extensions hidden by default.  To make them visible, click Organize on the top of the Explorer window, and select Properties.

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Select the View tab, and uncheck the box beside Hide extensions for known file types.  Now click Ok to save the changes, and then change your file’s extension as before.

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Now, we could just pin this fake application to the taskbar, but that wouldn’t do us much good since it’d have the default application icon and wouldn’t be much good for separating programs.  Instead, we’re going to create a shortcut to this app with a transparent icon.  So, right-click on your new application, and select Create Shortcut.

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Now, we want to change the icon on the shortcut to a transparent icon so we’ll have clear gaps in our taskbar to separate programs.  You’ll first need a transparent icon file; you can create your own, or download one we’ve created from the link below.  Then, to change the shortcut’s icon, right-click on the shortcut and select Properties.

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Select the Shortcut tab, and click Change Icon.

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Browse to the folder where you saved the transparent icon, and select it as the new icon for this shortcut.  Click Ok to save the changes.

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Once you’re done, drag the new shortcut to your taskbar.  You’ll notice a new transparent gap between your applications.

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Now repeat the steps to make extra fake applications and transparent shortcuts.  You can make as many as you need to group your programs.

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Once you’ve got all your spacers made, drag them and your programs around to get them into neat groups.  You could group your Office, Creative Suite, browsers, or other programs together so they’re easy to find.

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Here’s our full taskbar, with several groups of our most-used applications.  Now it’s always easy to grab the program you want with one click!  Do note that you’ll be limited by the number of icons you can fit on your screen, so be creative and get your top icons down where you can easily grab them.

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If you switch to small thumbnails in the Windows 7 taskbar, you’ll be able to fit even more applications.

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Alternately, you could make your taskbar thicker to show more icons.  To do this, right-click on the taskbar and un-check Lock Taskbar.  Now drag the top of the taskbar up to make it taller.  Now even users with dozens of favorite apps should find a place for them all.

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You could even give your app groups names.  Simply change the shortcut’s name before dragging it to the taskbar, and then place it with the appropriate program group.  This might be helpful if you’re setting up a computer for someone that has trouble recognizing icons.

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Do note of course that these shortcuts are actually links to a program that’s not a real program.  If you accidently click on one, you’ll be informed that it’s not a valid program.

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Windows will then ask if you want to remove the shortcut.  Select No to leave it as before.

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We’ve found this little trick to be a nice and convenient way to keep our applications in order.  The Windows 7 taskbar already keeps up from using the start menu much, but with this level of organization it’s even easier to use.  If you’d like to do a similar trick on OS X, check this article to see how to do it.

Download a Transparent Icon for Your Shortcuts

Paint.NET Extension to create ICO files

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 09/9/10

Comments (26)

  1. Jordan

    Very clever idea! Very simple method too, nice find :D

  2. Steve K

    If you use the batch to exe tip also posted today, you can make a batch file with a simple REM (remark) or Echo groupname [the name of the group of icons] then turn it into an exe. That way if you click on it, you don’t get the error message mentioned at the end of the article

  3. Nick

    Or you can make the file an AHK script that simply has “exitapp” as the only command in it and compile it. Also, there are a bunch of default transparent icons included in the standard Windows icon library.

  4. Erez

    Wow, that’s a nice trick!

  5. cerec

    I was not able to make it work. When I tried to download the transparent icon I got nothing but a blank screen. Then I use one of the windows transparent icons but it shows on the taskbar as the windows tools icon.

  6. Matthew Guay

    @crec – Right-click on the transparent icon link, and click Save As.

  7. Joe

    I dunno, it seems like a waste of screen real estate to me.

  8. Ed

    I agree with Joe.
    There should be a windows setting to add a separator line, similar to organizing your bookmarks in firefox.

  9. Lyall

    The way I do it is create a blank shortcut with “%windir%\system32\ipconfig.exe” as the target, and then set it to Run: Minimized. This way even if you do click on it no window pops up.
    Also there is a blank icon by default in “%systemroot%\System32\shell32.dll” (which should be the default icon directory for a new shortcut).

  10. Glenn

    My new Dell XPS came with “Dell Dock”, a branded version of Stardock. It allows grouping on the dock, so I have one for Development, Internet, Office, ….

  11. roger

    Can someone help me? On my computer, if I select “Use Small Icons” I get the first couple of letters of the program name next to any active program icon. It is a minor matter, but one of those things that creates more irritation than the situation perhaps warrants. Until I can get rid of those letters I will have to use large icons unless I want to send my, already high, blood pressure stratospheric.

  12. Matthew Guay

    @Roger – Sounds like you have the labels enabled. Open your taskbar properties again, click the drop-down menu beside Taskbar Buttons, and select “Always combine, hide labels.” Click apply, and your text should now be hidden whether you’re using the large or small icons. Hope this helps!

  13. roger

    @Matthew – Thank you, that did the trick. It is ridiculous how, sometimes, something so minor can be so annoying, but better by far if all one’s troubles could be dealt with with such courtesy and dispatch. All the best,
    roger.

  14. John_Sixfox

    I can’t find the download link, while I click on the that link nothing opening after then.

  15. John_Sixfox

    I can not download the transparency icon app, someone help pls

  16. Matthew Guay

    @John_Sixfox – Right-click on the link for the icon, and select “Save As” and then save the file to your computer. Hope this helps!

  17. John_Sixfox

    yeah, that helps, but another problem here, i changed the icons of shortcuts to transparency icon and started drag and drop them to the taskbar, NOT worth it. that where the problem is.

  18. bm150280

    I did this step by step. Didn’t work for me. Whenever I put the icon in the taskbar, the “Notepad” icon appears. Did I miss something?

  19. wolo

    There’s no need to download or make transparent icon. Simply, after making the shortcut, go to Change icon in Properties, and Look for… to %SystemRoot%\system32\SHELL32.dll (which probably ‘ll be at default) and it seems that you can find clear icons here – it works great for me.

  20. Hassan

    It works like charm.

  21. Raza

    Wow. All that effort, and these guys couldn’t allow you to drag shortcuts on the task bar?

  22. Flavio Malaquias

    This is not a clean solution.
    They could be clever creating a way to insert real separators.

    Take a look on Dell Dock…

  23. jerone

    I’m using Windows 7 Taskbar Separator from directwebplus (http://directwebplus.deviantart.com/art/Windows-7-Taskbar-Separator-193082383).

  24. Jared

    For some reason, whenever I pin any of the transparent icons to my task bar, they come up as a black box. I’ve tried making my own and it’s transparent on the desktop, but not on the task bar. Any suggestions?

  25. keshu

    you can also download the software called ” fences “!

  26. PiresMachine

    I little problem.. When I uninstall a program..sometimes it removes all the blank shortcuts e the taskbar. Is there a way to preserve them for being removed? Thanks

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