Computer Performance, Microsoft Windows 7

Microsoft Windows 7 Taskbar

Microsoft Windows 7 TaskbarReview Microsoft Windows Version 7 Taskbar

Compared to Vista, the Windows 7 Taskbar brings a different look and feel to handling programs.  It also introduces a new way of working; some say it's better and quicker, other like 'Mad' Mike say it's more restrictive, and prefer the taskbar in Vista.

Microsoft Windows 7 New Taskbar Review

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Windows 7 Taskbar - New Way of Working

The word radical maybe a bit strong, but the Windows 7 taskbar clearly exhibits different behaviour when accessing programs compared with Vista or XP.  Perhaps the change is like switching from a car with a shift change gearbox to an automatic.  Some people hanker for the control of manual gear selection, while others accept the efficiency of automatic changes.

Windows 7's new taskbar philosophy is based around the program icon, it helps to think of any individual documents as being combined with that main icon.  Observe in the screenshot below how the Word for Windows icon appears to be glowing, this is because the taskbar is trying to tell us that this program has open files.  Furthermore, you can just about make out 3 shadows to the right of the Word icon.  When you click on the this icon up comes a Jump List confirming that there are indeed 3 Microsoft Word files in use, in this example: Tips, Shopping now and Finance.

Review Windows 7 Taskbar

Previews
If you hover over a program icon which has open files then you can see a preview, this is designed to save time when searching for one of your many open documents.  To get the most from this new way of working embrace the Winkey +Tab technique, and use Flip 3-D to cycle through a preview of each open program.  As usual Microsoft provides at least 3 ways of doing everything, and as usual, it's easy, satisfying and fun to learn about these new features simply by exploring on your own.

Pin to
To get the most out of the new Windows 7 taskbar embrace the concepts of: 'Pin to ....' and 'Jump List'.  Thus when you find one of your old favorite programs, just right-click its executable and choose 'Pin to taskbar'.  As for Jump List, if you click on any non-glowing icon in the taskbar you get a 'Jump List' with a 'Recent' or 'Frequent' menu showing you the last files that you used.  Incidentally, one reason why the new taskbar behavior does not give me any problems is that I still use Alt + Tab to check my open files (See screenshot above right). 

Fine-tuning the Taskbar
Returning to the taskbar, the secret of success is to fine tune the icons behavior; thus right-click the taskbar and select 'Properties'.  For instance, I prefer Small Icons, while Luddites like 'Mad' Mick choose the 'Taskbar button' option, which allows them to 'Never Combine' documents with their parent program.  I call them Luddites because they want to revert to the old Vista ways of individual documents in the taskbar rather than embracing the new look and feel of the Windows 7, but hey, it's a free country at least as far as the Windows 7 taskbar is concerned.

Tip: If the taskbar does not exhibit the behavior you expect, then right-click and select, 'Lock the taskbar', alternatively, try removing the tick.

Tip: Widen the Windows 7 taskbar.  Providing there is no tick next to 'Lock the taskbar', you can widen the band by dragging the top upwards.  However, you have to be firm, this does not seem to work at first, but persevere. One reason would be you want the clock to display the day of the week.

Deleting the Taskbar: My old friend 'Mad' Mick has been experimenting with various alternative shells that effectively remove or hide the Windows 7 taskbar.  The default shell is explorer.exe but you could change it (not recommended) with regedit.  If you are going to do this then it's best to get a third-party alternative shell.
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\shell
Or for just one user here (you may need to add a Reg_SZ called shell): 
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon

In summary: Windows 7's new taskbar technology displays a combination of the executable icon together with any files that you launch from that program.  If an icon glows it means that program has open files, while if it does not appear highlighted then the executable is inactive.  Microsoft's mantra is to keep both the taskbar and the notification area clear of clutter, and they regard Vista's arrangement with one icon for the program and another for its files as unnecessary.

Jump Lists, Recent and FrequentReview Microsoft Windows 7 - Jump Lists

There are three buzzwords that Windows 7 promotes in connection with the Taskbar, they are Jump List, Recent files, and Pin to.  For example, the list of programs that you see when you click the Start Orb, this is now called a Jump List.

Windows 7 extends this 'Start menu' behaviour to other programs.  The result is that it's easier to resume a playlist from where you left off, or find a Word file that you used yesterday.  Right-click IE8 in Windows 7 and you get a 'Frequent' list.  Right-click Word or Notepad and you get a 'Recent' jump list, see screenshot.

I also like to pin my regularly used programs to the Start menu, that way they don't get bumped off the list by new-comers.  You can also 'Pin to the taskbar', rather like you added shortcuts to the Quick Launch area of Vista.

Confusion of When Can You 'Pin to list'?

Sometimes an option to 'Pin to list' appears on the shortcut menu, and other times it's not the there.  The secret of being able to see 'Pin to list' is that the parent application is closed when you right-click on icon in the taskbar, furthermore, you should see 'Recent' or 'Frequent' in the top left corner of the menu.  If the program is actually open, then you only see the list of current files, there is no sign of 'Pin to list' until you close all open files, and only then right-click the executable on the taskbar.

Pinning an Application

As for pinning the parent executables, click on the Start orb, type the name of the program, when you see the executable, right-click and select 'Pin to Taskbar', or 'Pin to Start Menu'.  When you realize that you are not going to use a program or file again, then reverse the procedure, and simply click 'Unpin' from the shortcut menu.

Pinning an Individual Document

When you first try pinning an individual document it can be confusing at first because the Windows 7 taskbar adds the parent program automatically.  Your document then becomes to pinned to that executable, which makes sense.  If you then pin a second document, that gets added to the first list, you don't get a second entry in the taskbar, that would just create unnecessary clutter.  People find new method a bit strange the first time they see it, but it soon becomes accepted behaviour.

Conclusion

Jump lists, Recent and Pin are three examples where Windows 7 rewards intelligent user behaviour.  I would not want to go overboard here, but I feel that the operating system is trying to understand what I want, and then provides slightly easier methods to tackle my task than Vista.  However, others prefer to revert to the old-fashioned but familiar Quick Launch ways for Vista.  For them Microsoft provide the option to Never Combine taskbar buttons, see Taskbar properties, and the old Quick Launch area, see below.

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How to Return to the Vista Quick Launch Technology

For Luddites, like my friend Mad Mick, it is possible to get back the old Quick Launch in Windows 7, I don't recommend adding the Quick Launch, but this is how Mad Mick does it:

  1. Copy this string into memory:
    %userprofile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch
  2. right-click on the Taskbar, choose Toolbars and then New Toolbar.
  3.  Now paste (the above string) into the Folder dialog box
  4. Click SAVE Review Microsoft Windows 7 - Quick Launch
  5. Now you should see the chevrons of the Quick Launch bar at the right of the Taskbar.
  6. Finally, right-click on the Taskbar and turn off 'Lock the Taskbar'.
  7. Actually, while I found the Quick Launch useful in Vista, it seemed out of place in Windows 7, and I much prefer the look and feel of the new Windows 7 taskbar.
  8. Unless you have a specific need for the Quick Launch I would consider experimenting with the native taskbar; if you check the settings for each property, you may be able to get this taskbar very close to the old Vista way of operating, if that is what you want.

Tip for lovers of keyboard shortcuts.  Windows Key + 1 (or 2, 3,4) launches one of the programs in the taskbar.  Actually, this also works in Vista and maybe even earlier systems.

 

Windows 7 Notification AreaReview Microsoft Windows 7 - Quick Launch

Microsoft consider the Notification Area as an extension of the taskbar; it's original purpose was to provide information about the status, progress, and even the detection of devices.

One of the criticisms of the new taskbar is lack of control, well the Windows 7 Notification Area allows users a much greater say as to which icons earn the right to display in that box.  Even by default, Windows 7 allows fewer programs to deposit their icons in the Notification Area, and if unwelcome programs manage to freeboot their way into the box, then you can click on the fat arrow, select Customize and remove unwanted intruders. 

While you are in the Customize area take the opportunity to adjust the the behavior of default icons to you liking.  It is even possible to turn off some of the system icons, but I haven't yet found a use for this facility.

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Related New Features in Windows 7

Show Desktop

In Window 7, the 'Show Desktop' icon has been moved to the extreme right of the taskbar, even to the right of the clock.  Suppose that you have a Word document open, if you hover the mouse over the Show Desktop button then you can view the desktop.  If you move the mouse away from the button then you return to the Word document.  As with many of these flashy features, you need Aero graphics to see the full effect.

Needy State (Icon blink)

Microsoft Windows 7 Aero PeakThere is a subtle change on the Windows Orb, it now glows when you hover over the Start Button area.  This concept of enhanced visual clues extends to the Taskbar icons, and 'Needy State' is a Microsoft term for when programs in the Taskbar try to grab your attention, for example a blinking icon alerting you that email has just arrived in Outlook.  The difference in Windows 7 is that the icon now flashes gently seven times, rather than aggressively three times.

Action Center FlagReview Microsoft Windows 7 Action Center Flag

The Action Center folder collects messages about security and maintenance then literally flags problems via an icon in the notification area.   It's hard to ignore a red flag, so double-click red cross under the flag and enter the Action Center where you can see what's occurring.  If the problem looks tricky, then there are a new generation of intelligent troubleshooters on hand to help you solve the predicament.

Gadgets are In - But The Sidebar is Out

Gadgets are now embedded into the Windows desktop rather than existing in a sidebar container.  It may sound strange, but the new system is easier to use, and is an improvement over grappling with gadgets in Vista's sidebar.  Just right-click the desktop and you will see 'Gadgets' on the shortcut menu.

Device Stage - Control Panel

Continuing the theme of more intelligent use, the Device Stage section of the control panel gathers your printer, camera, mouse and other devices into one folder.  Moreover, it provides a richer body of information about each piece of hardware.  To some extent the usefulness of this new way of view devices depends on the manufacturers making their information available to the operating system.

Turn on / Turn Off Windows Features

Windows 7 develops the theme of 'Features' to replace XP's 'Add or Remove Programs, Windows Components'.  The benefit is that you can now turn off 'Features' that were previously built-in to the operating system, Internet Explorer 8 is the most prominent examples, other examples include Media Features.

Talking of turning on and off, when you click the start Orb there is a new 'Power Button' which makes shutting down fractionally easier.  Furthermore you can customize the button so that the default is to restart if you prefer.

Troubleshooting with PSRWindows 7  Problem Steps Recorder PSR

The PSR (Problem Steps Recorder) is a like a tape recorder, but instead of recording music PSR collects the sequence of actions that causes Windows to misbehave.  The only skills the user needs are to be able to find the PSR executable in Windows 7, and remember where they saved their recording file.

Vista Items Moved into the Background

  • Windows 7 moves the Printers folder (Vista) to the Hardware and Sound section of the Control Panel.
  • There is no Network link or button on the Start Menu, however, it does appear in the Windows Explorer which is just as useful.  Talking of networks, there is no Connect To button, instead you go click the icon in the Navigation Area and select: Open the Network and Sharing Center.
  • The Recent Items button list is no longer on the Start menu, however the new Jump Lists offer recent files on a program-by-program basis. 
  • Flashing network icon.  Unlike Vista, the Windows 7 network icon does not flash in response to network activity.
  • My old friend and Luddite 'Barking Eddie' wanted the old Classic Start Menu from XP days, but we could not find a way of getting it Windows 7.  Guy says 'move on Eddie', embrace the new technology.

Summary of Windows 7 New Taskbar

Microsoft has redesigned the Windows 7 Taskbar and Notification Area to reduce clutter.  These changes alter the responsiveness of programs and their open files.  Some say that working with Windows in now even more intuitive, while others hanker for the Vista and XP style of taskbar with its Quick Launch toolbar.  My guess is that after a few days the new way will seem normal and you will take the Windows 7 look and feel for granted.

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