Windows 7 Journal Episode 4: The Taskbar

     In the last episode, we tackled what the main user-interface of Windows 7 was like in general. For this episode, we will tackle a specific part of the overall interface: the taskbar. For those who don’t know what taskbar means, it’s that small bar at the bottom of your desktop which shows the start button, as well as your active and inactive windows. It also shows your clock, as well as icons to show wireless connectivity, security notifications, etc. Before I begin, do note that this entry will be particularly long, since there is a lot of new stuff here. So far, it’s also my favorite new feature in Windows 7, so I will be showing you why I love the new taskbar.

Desktop Tasbar Partial

     As you can see, the quicklaunch tray now plays a much more significant role. One can say that they are the Dock (referring to the Dock from Mac OS X ) of  Windows 7. When an icon is boxed, it means that that application has a window open. These boxes will also have a “stacked” visual if that application has multiple windows open. In the image above, the Google Chrome icon has three boxes stacked, which means Chrome currently has three windows open. As one can see, Yahoo! Messenger has two windows open as indicated in the taskbar. This is a very welcome feature as it vastly reduced the clutter on your taskbar and, instead, categorizes them based on application.

Desktop Taskbar w/ Preview     This next feature is also quite useful. It borrows a feature used in Vista and works very well in Windows 7. When you hover or click the icon, as is shown on the image to the right, a thumbnail preview of the windows will appear on top of the taskbar. One can use this feature is to easily navigate through the various windows being run under that application. Also, when the cursor/pointer is hovered on top of one of these thumbnails, Windows will turn all other windows invisible and show only the window pointed at. This is especially useful if you want to see a particular window without necessarily making it the active one.

Taskbar Right Click     Another useful feature is how the taskbar effectively tracks all changes and progresses. For example, when you save a document or leave behind a browsing history, the taskbar will effectively record these changes and will be made available when you right-click on the icon in the taskbar. The image to the right side shows a pop-up window that appears when you right-click on the Windows Explorer icon. It will bring up a list of recently viewed locations in your Explorer and is used should one want to quickly navigate to specific files or folders. This will also work in Office applications, where the list will show recent documents, spreadsheets, etc, and Browsers, where the list will show recently or most frequently visited sites. Another nice tidpid is how the icon will show a download or file transfer progress bar. If you download a file off the web, or transfer files from one folder to another, the taskbar icon will show a green progress bar which will allow you track the progress without having to open windows. In the image at the bottom, the Explorer icon is showing the general progress of a file transfer. This progress tracking feature set is extremely useful and can be used to save time would otherwise be used to search for recent files or opening unnecessary windows. However, these features is still limited to Microsoft applications and a few third-party ones, but this should hopefully be adopted by other applications during the final release.

Taskbar Progress Bar

Desktop Button Highlight

     The last thing I want to show is a cool new feature dubbed “Invisible Windows”. This feature is very helpful if you will be using Gadgets often. What this feature is about points to this little button at the far right end of the taskbar. When you click on it, it will show your desktop by minimizing all windows. Click the button again and the windows are back on-screen. But what if you want to see your desktop without minimizing the windows? Don’t worry; Invisible Windows has you covered. What you do is instead of clicking the button, simply hover your mouse over the button for about a split second. Like magic, all the windows go invisible, as is shown on the image below, revealing the desktop and the Gadgets you are currently using. Move your mouse away from the button and the windows become visible again.

Desktop Invisible Windows

     That’s about every new feature one can find in the new taskbar in Windows 7. Microsoft did a great job in easing the workflow by compiling and simplifying windows to make the interface less cluttered and more pleasing. The result is the reason why I love this feature so much. The level of innovation Microsoft placed in the taskbar hasn’t been this much since the taskbar’s first induction in Windows 95. Though there are parts of the new OS that haven’t changed much since Vista, this is one particular exception. If you needed Windows to have a much better workflow in terms of interface, look no further than Windows 7. If you’re not willing to pay for this feature, there are always other operating systems or extra plug-ins to look forward to. What do you think of the new taskbar? Do leave a comment below!

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~ by Ian on March 24, 2009.

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