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Windows 7 Taskbar – FAIL!

Like many others I've been trying out Windows 7 just recently.

My trial of it didn't start well with the MSDN version being available around the same time as the public release – I mistakenly thoughts as a paying MSDN subscriber I might get it a little earlier but hey, I get to find out and fix any problems in my applications at the same time my users get to see the issues. Still at least my stuff doesn't eat your MP3's!

I installed a test version of W7 in a Hyper-V instance which didn't go all that smoothly either, first time around and I had to have a second go, but that might have been because I put the iso of Windows 7 on a NAS and a network problem may have crept in causing the installation not to find the files it wanted.

Next (I think) because I access my Hyper-V set-up using the Hyper-V MMC snap-in from my Vista box copy and paste doesn't work between the two machines so entering the product code and trying to paste the Url in to browse for the patch to stop W7 trashing my MP3's was painful. But hey, I should save my Hyper-V bashing for another day as I could go on for some time about that!

What really annoys me with W7 is what has happened to the taskbar.

Apparently I'm not alone. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against change and I like a lot of what's changed over the years in Windows, generally it's been for the better.

With Vista, XP and those before it I actually like the quick launch toolbar. I like it having small icons and I use it heavily (I have 18 apps in there). I also like the notification area, not massively but for a lot of applications it's perfect. Theirs a number of application I don't want in their and think they should live else where (like the ATI stuff, SmartStamp, OpenOffice QuickStart) but I can live with that.

In XP Microsoft gave us the collapsing notification area and initially I adopted that but ended up finding it annoying, the worst of which was with Outlook email notification as I had times when XP would decide it should hide it and then you didn't get to see it hence ignoring new email (OK so not a bad thing) or other times when receiving a lot of emails it would cause the notification area to shrink and grow which was really annoying and had a side effect on the running programs and made it difficult to hit the correct icon.

There is one big problem with the quick launch, toolbar and notification area in XP and Vista and it's this that I believe Microsoft are trying to solve with the redesign in Windows 7. The problem is you can't fit much into the default Quick Launch and Notification areas.

So the way I see it is you have two options:

  • Go the Windows 7 route and redesign the toolbar – FAIL.

    Windows7 Toolbar

    Windows7 Toolbar

  • Make the toolbar 2 units high by default – this works a treat for me!

    Vista toolbar 2 units hight

    Vista toolbar 2 units hight

Let me explain why I don't like the new Windows 7 Toolbar:

  • The new taskbar is to tall – way to tall. It's smaller than my current Vista taskbar because I have that 2 units high, but the height for 1 unit in Windows 7 is not far off the 2 unit Vista one, so that means when I set it to be 2 units high it's massive - stupidly massive. I'll explain shortly why I like the toolbar 2 units high.

  • I've never liked the grouping option of the Taskbar. I see that's on by default again, you can switch that off, or to group when it's full.

    What I also don't get is why when grouping is on and you only have 1 instance of the app do you just get the icon but when it's off you get the icon and the application name? Why not the icon and app name normally? Although if you do show the application title like we are use to it becomes ever more confusing as to how you “quick launch” an application.

    Anyway, I can never find the running application I want when grouping is on.

  • Theirs not really a quick launch bar any more, you can pin your applications to the toolbar instead. These are full height icons taking up a lot of space (width and height) and then when you launch the application guess what, the icon stays where it is looking just like the launch icon, except when you click it again it actually minimises the window.

    Now some applications are slow to load, some get messed up and load outside the screen area or minimise incorrectly/badly on start-up or go straight to the notification area on start-up you could end up in a big mess figuring out what's going on with the W7 way of taskbar launching.

    And if you've launched an application from the taskbar and want to start a new session of it (say you want another IE 7 because you've got to many tabs open in the current IE7) it's really not obvious. You have to right click the icon and then choose the application name from the menu. novel!

  • The notification area, if you use it correctly it's great and sadly some apps abused it. Now for something like Dinner Timer Lite you really want that icon showing so you can send the running Dinner Timer Lite instance to the tray and hover over it to see how long you've got left quickly and easily, not click an up arrow then hover.

    Other application change colour or blink to inform you of things, this can be really useful, sometimes the icon changes such as when you mute the speakers and it's useful to see that at a glimpse, but for most of the time it's easy to ignore the notification area if you are not interested.

    Still at least with the notification area there is some hope as you can set it back to how it was, Except, now that one little icon takes a lot of space and if you make the toolbar 2 units high you can only get 2 icons vertically, so the waste of space isn't especially resolved.

Here's how I fix the Vista/XP ToolBar problems:

I make the taskbar 2 units high. Nice and Simple!

You get a lot more running applications in the taskbar before it gets overly cluttered (to the point that my head gets cluttered before the taskbar).

  • You get 2x as many applications in the quick launch toolbar.

  • You get 3x as many applications in the notification area.

  • You get to see the date, time AND the day of the week in the clock area (which I really like).

On a default Windows Vista/XP set-up anything more than 6 icons in the notification area is a pain and similar for the quick launch area.

With 2 units high I have 18 quick launch apps, 13 notification icons, the date, time and day and currently 11 running applications without a problem.

Now I have a 22” wide-screen monitor so things are a little easier but I run exactly the same set-up at work where I have only a 19” square monitor and it works just as well, if not better as the quick launch and notification area don't take up hardly any room.

So you have two choices:


  • Implement a really easy change to Windows 7 and make the toolbar 2 units high by default, keeping everything else exactly as it is in Vista and XP so building on what you know and not introducing new code.

  • Change the taskbar to a new way that people have to adapt to, change the way you quick launch applications, change the way you see your notification icons, introduce new and most likely more complex code to the Windows 7 Code base which will not have been tested as well as previous versions.

Personally, I think that the XP/Vista taskbar works well and that making it 2 units high solves the problems with the quick launch and the notification area and making the change in Windows 7 just introduces code that isn't needed and with no doubt lots of new and fun bugs.

Fingers crossed that theirs an option to use the previous taskbar implementation in W7 or failing that some amusing adverts mocking the new taskbar so the pain has some good.

Comments (3) -

  • (Alastair Smith)

    1/14/2009 6:51:25 PM |

    Interesting post!  

    I found that on Windows XP the 2U task bar worked very well, and I used it for years for precisely the reasons you mentioned.  I never felt the need to do so on Vista, though; I tried a 2U task bar on Vista for a couple of days at work after your recommendation last week and felt sick.  It's ugly and it's too big under the Aero theme, and the three-line date/time display looked squashed (whereas it was nicely spaced on XP).  

    I don't have a problem with the application groupings on the task bar, and saw that as an improvement when it came in.  I usually find it makes things easier for me to find; I know what apps I use, so I know where to find open tasks, etc.  I also have a nice 20.1" widescreen monitor at home (1681650, and sadly only the one), so I have a nice long task bar that easily fits lots of stuff on.  When I ran out of task bar space at work, I realised that it wasn't just task bar space I'd run out of, it was desktop space, which is why I now run a copy of the slightly flaky CubeDesktop (check out my post on "Multiplicity in Computing Environments" at  I wish Windows would do that natively!

    I'm a big fan of the Dock in OS X, so I'm looking forward to playing with the new task bar in Windows 7; to my eye, it looks like an improvement" alt="Smile" style="display: inline; vertical-align: bottom;" class="emoticon" />  I can't wait to see if Apple slap MS with a patent infringement suit (even if the patent is still pending).  


    PS: why does your comments' system allow underline and not italics?


    2/16/2009 4:27:56 PM |

    Steve, everything you are complaining about here can easily be changed.  For example, you can make the icons smaller by checking small icons in the properties.  Yu can also change the notification area to allow it to show all icons.  Change the grouping and you have the same taskbar that you have also known and loved.

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