Top 20 Windows 7 Tips

Taskbar Tips

One of the most significant changes to the Windows 7 interface is its new taskbar, which acts more like the Mac OS X dock than the Windows taskbar of old. Here are a few quick tips for using the new taskbar and tweaks for taking charge of it.

Speed Up the Display of Thumbnails on the Taskbar

One of the nicest things about the taskbar is that when you hover your mouse over the icons in it, you can see thumbnail previews of all open windows for each of those applications. When you do so, there is a slight delay before the thumbnail appears. But you can make the thumbnails display more quickly by using a Registry hack.

Important: Always create a Restore Point before editing the Windows Registry. If you don't know how to create a Restore Point or find your way around the Windows Registry, see "The tweaker's guide to the Windows Registry."

The taskbar in thumbnail view.

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1. Launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit in the Search box and pressing Enter.

2. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Mouse.

3. Double-click MouseHoverTime. The default value you'll see is 400 -- which means 400 milliseconds. Type in a new, smaller value -- 150 is a good bet. Then click OK and exit the Registry Editor. You'll have to log off or restart your computer for the change to take effect.

Rearrange Taskbar Icons

It's easy to rearrange the icons across the bottom of the screen -- simply drag an icon to where you want it to live. You can also add icons to the taskbar by dragging them from an application, and delete the icons by highlighting them and pressing the Delete key.

Take Control of the Taskbar Notification Area

The notification area, at the far right of the taskbar, shows system messages and alerts, and displays the icons of programs and services that typically run in the background, such as Windows 7's wireless service. But what determines when, how and which icons show up there seems one of Windows' great mysteries.

Customizing the taskbar notification area.

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There's a simple way to find out, and better yet, to customize it.

1. Right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and from the dialog box in the notification area section, click Customize.

2. For each application, select from the drop-down box whether you want the icon and notifications to always be displayed, to never be displayed or to have an icon appear only when there's a notification of some kind. Click OK when you're done.

You can also customize the system icons and services that appear there, including the clock, volume, network, power and Action Center icons. At the bottom of the same screen, click "Turn system icons on or off," and from the screen that appears, choose whether to turn on or off the icon and notifications. Click OK twice when you're done.

See Taskbar Thumbnails Without a Mouse

If you're a fan of using the keyboard rather than your mouse whenever possible, you can move your cursor from icon to icon in the taskbar without a mouse -- and still see thumbnail previews. Press Windows key-T, and you'll move the focus to the leftmost icon on the taskbar. Then, while still pressing the Windows key, press T again to change the focus to the next icon to the right. You can keep doing this as long as you like.

Launch Taskbar Apps Without a Mouse

Likewise, you can launch any program on the taskbar without the mouse. Press the Windows key and the number that corresponds to the position of the application on the taskbar -- for example, Windows key-1 to launch the left-most application on the taskbar, Windows key-2 to launch the second left-most application and so on.

Run Multiple Copies of Applications from the Taskbar

The Windows 7 taskbar serves a dual purpose, which can get confusing at times. It's used to launch programs, and also to switch between programs that are running. So you launch a program by clicking its icon, and also switch to that program after it's running by clicking its icon.

But what if you want to launch a second instance of the program? Once the program is running, it seems there's no way to launch a second instance, because when you click its icon, you only switch to the running instance.

There's a simple fix: If a program is already running and you want to launch a second instance from the taskbar, hold down the Shift key and click the icon. A second instance will launch. You can keep launching new instances this way.

Get back the Quick Launch bar

Windows 7's new taskbar functions as a program launcher as well as task switcher. As a result, the old Quick Launch bar, the area on the left side of the taskbar that contained shortcuts for frequently used programs, has been banished. However, if you really miss the little applet, you can add it back. Here's how to do it:

1. Right-click the taskbar and choose Toolbars --> New Toolbar.

2 . You'll be asked to select a folder for where the new toolbar should live. In the Folder text box at the bottom of the dialog box, enter this text:

%userprofile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch

After you do that, click Select Folder. A link for the Quick Launch bar will be added to the taskbar. It will be on the right of the taskbar, just to the left of the Notification area.

The Quick Launch bar docked on the right.

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It's not particularly useful docked all the way to the right with no application icons showing, so we're going to have to do a bit of work on it to make it useful. Right-click the taskbar and, in the pop-up menu, remove the check next to "Lock the taskbar." Now right-click Quick Launch and remove the checks next to Show Text and Show Title.

Once you've done that, drag the vertical triple dotted line next to the Quick Launch bar to the left until you expose its icons. To prevent further changes, right-click the taskbar and check Lock the taskbar. You can now use the Quick Launch bar as you could in Windows XP and Vista, including adding icons to it and deleting them.

The Quick Launch bar, restored to usefulness.

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More tips for Windows 7:

Preston Gralla is a Computerworld contributing editor.

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