Rightly or wrongly, Vista has been hated by the majority since its release in 2007. The taskbar didn’t add any extra functionality compared to Windows XP, and needed a lot of resources for Aero. Cue Windows 7… Well, Aero is still there, but it’s got a purpose as well as a taskbar that adds functionality compared to XP and Vista.
The new taskbar is probably one of the first things you’ll notice if you’re looking at Windows 7 for the first time, as it’s distinctly thicker than the taskbar in Vista and comes with some quite nice features. For those of you in to eye candy, the Windows ‘Orb’ glows whenever you hover over it with your mouse, almost like a child trying to get the attention of its parent. When I first started using Windows 7 it got on my nerves a bit, but you get used to it over time and it doesn’t constantly demand your attention, so no worries there!
Another thing you’ll notice about the new and improved taskbar is the appearance of various icons rather than the old style text descriptions of the running applications. When you login for the first time, you’ll be presented with 3 icons: Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer and Windows Media Player. All 3 applications are ‘pinned’ to the taskbar by default, and can be opened by one click on the icon. If you right click on the icons, you’ll see what’s called a ‘Jump List’ containing pieces of information related to the application you click on, for example, when you right click on Internet Explorer’s icon, you’re presented with frequent web pages, tasks such as ‘Open new tab’ and the option to un-pin the application from the taskbar so it doesn’t stay there if you don’t use it or want it on the taskbar.
A feature I found particularly useful was being able to see the progress of a download right on the icon in the taskbar. When you start a download, a green progress bar appears over the active icon showing you the progress of your download. I found this to be a genuinely useful feature.
It’s easy to distinguish between applications that are currently open and those that aren’t, as when an application is running, a transparent square appears over the icon on the taskbar, so you can see at a glance what’s going on. Another great feature of the new taskbar in Windows 7 is Aero Peek. If you hover over an open application’s icon, you can see what’s going on in that window without having to switch applications or close the window you’re working in. If you have a program using multiple windows or multiple tabs, you can preview every single window using Aero peek, an just hover over the one that you want to quickly preview. This is great when using Messenger too, as you can quickly hover over the icon and see who’s trying to talk to you, as that particular preview pane will be glowing orange.
The final feature I want to introduce you to on the new taskbar is the ‘Show desktop’ button. You might not know it was there if it wasn’t pointed out to you, as it’s a very discrete, slim button located to the right hand side of the taskbar. If you hover over it, you’re presented with a ‘preview’ of your desktop, so when you move the mouse away you return to the window you were previously working on. If you click on it, every window minimises so you can view and interact with your desktop.
Overall, I think the taskbar in Windows 7 is a huge improvement over the XP and Vista equivalent, adding functionality that not only improves productivity when working on multiple things at once, but makes Windows generally nicer to use. If however you’d prefer it to function a bit more like its previous incarnations, there is a way how to ungroup icons and apply text back onto the Windows 7 taskbar.