Changing How Tasks Appear on the Taskbar

by Barry Dysert
(last updated February 16, 2015)

The Windows Taskbar is quite a bit improved over what it was in the days of yore. It now can sport bigger icons, provide thumbnail previews, support pinning and jump lists, etc. With all this extra functionality built into the Taskbar, it's no surprise that you can also customize it to change how tasks appear.

By default, each of your windows has "large" icon in the Taskbar. Multiple windows from the same application (e.g., if you have several Windows Explorer windows open) are grouped together instead of individually stretching out across the Taskbar. Hovering your mouse pointer over a Taskbar icon brings up a live preview of the window. If an application has multiple windows, all of their previews are presented, and you can click any of the previews to be taken to that window.

You can change the Taskbar to some extent. For example, if you want smaller icons to represent your windows, right-click an empty space on the Taskbar and select Properties from the pop-up menu. Windows displays the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.

Click the "Use small icons" checkbox and OK to change the size of the Taskbar icons. Regardless of the size of the icons, hovering over an icon presents the same-sized thumbnail previews.

As was mentioned earlier, windows from the same application are grouped together in the Taskbar. This is because of the "Always combine, hide labels" setting for the Taskbar Buttons drop-down list in the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box. If you don't want this behavior, you can change it by dropping down the list box and selecting either Combine when Taskbar is Full or Never Combine. Once you select a setting, click OK to have it take effect and dismiss the dialog box.

Icons come and go from the Taskbar as you open and close windows. You can "pin" applications to the Taskbar, though, so they're always there regardless of whether the application is currently running. In this way, a simple click of the pinned icon will launch the application.

For example, let's say that you want to pin the Calculator to the Taskbar. You first navigate to the application (e.g., Start | All Programs | Accessories) and then right-click Calculator. From the Context menu, select Pin to Taskbar and the Calculator icon is pinned to the Taskbar. Now, whenever you want to launch the Calculator, just click the icon. To unpin an application, right-click the icon in the Taskbar and select Unpin this Program from Taskbar.

 This tip (12092) applies to Windows 7.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...

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