It is time to discuss the poll results of the new Windows 7 taskbar (aka Superbar). As I write this, more than 1,300 4sysops readers have submitted their votes. It is somewhat surprising to me that 63% of the respondents said they like the Superbar, only 18% said they dislike it and 19% are undecided.
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In the first few days after I launched the poll, the numbers were even more in favor of the Windows 7 Taskbar. This can be explained by the fact that early adopters tend to accept new features more easily. It is quite possible that we would see a different result if I launched this poll a year after the Windows 7 release.
I also suspect that some voters were influenced by the demonstration I added to the corresponding article. There is no doubt that the Superbar looks quite cool. I attached another video at end of this post that explains the Windows 7 Taskbar in more detail.
My view about the Superbar
I promised to share my own view of the Superbar only after the poll results were released because I didn't want to influence voters. However, it probably would have been a good counterweight to the video demonstration. Yes, I registered my dislike for the new Superbar in the poll, but I have to admit that my view changed the more I worked with Windows 7. Thus, I am slightly pro Superbar now. I am still not using Windows 7 in a productive environment, so it is possible that my opinion will change in the future.
I changed my mind about the Superbar because I learned to like some of the Windows 7 Taskbar features. However, there are still some things I dislike. Let's start with the positive parts.
What I like about the Windows 7 Taskbar
I like most of the things you see in the demonstration, in particular, the big thumbnails that are now clickable. Multiple thumbnails are displayed if you open more than one window in the application, and applications come to the foreground when you hover over the thumbnails. The Jumplists are also a fantastic enhancement.
I have no doubt that all these improvements will be very much appreciated by most users. However, I think, it will be a different story for IT pros. The difference between average users and IT pros is that the latter tend to use more applications; they usually have more of them open simultaneously and they switch between applications more frequently. If I were in the mood to make some barbed remarks about Apple (you've heard the OS X Dock looks quite similar), then I would say that this kind of taskbar works fine for Mac users because there are not enough OS X apps to fill the whole taskbar, anyway. Okay, but I'm not in that mood right now. 😉
Before I wrote this article, I monitored my own manners for several days. Whenever I start working, it usually only takes an hour or two for me to have about 15 applications open or so. These are the typical end-users apps like Outlook, Word, Firefox (and usually also IE), some folders, TweetDeck (Twitter client), and the likes. Then there are the typical IT pro tools such as virtualization software (usually VMware workstation) and management tools (RDP clients, monitoring tools, etc.). Applications that are minimized to the Systray, such as IM programs and backup software, are not included in this number. You can add another 10 apps to the number I mentioned above. So now you know why I am really a fat PC.
What I dislike about the Superbar
Why is this a problem for the Windows 7 Taskbar? Actually, there are several problems. First of all, I currently have about 28 icons in the Quick Launch bar. And believe me, only my most important tools have the honor of being linked there. If I pin all these apps to the Superbar, then I have about 45 icons in the Taskbar on a normal work day. I mostly work on a laptop with a 17" screen, so you can just imagine how cluttered this taskbar usually looks. Windows 7 highlights open apps to distinguish them from pinned-apps. But it is certainly not a practical way to find the app you want to launch or select from a list of 45 buttons.
With the old Taskbar, the open and pinned apps are clearly separated and, I think, this is better for fat PCs like me. It is possible to enable Quick Launch in Windows 7, although, it is a bit too complicated for my taste. Unfortunately, there are more complaints.
Another thing that distinguishes my work style from the majority is that I have moved my Taskbar to the right hand side of the screen. In my opinion, this makes much more sense than the default setting considering the typical screen dimension nowadays. Wide displays are great for watching movies and playing games, but they are not good for work. We mostly use PCs to surf the web and read or write texts. With a wide screen this often means you have to scroll the text more often. Modern user interfaces like the one in Office 2007 leave even less space for texts because of their wide ribbons. In web browsers, the number of toolbars is increasing steadily as well. If you place the Taskbar to the side of the screen, you have more space left for texts, especially if you need at least two rows for the Taskbar to make all your task buttons fit.
Of course, it is still possible to place the Taskbar to the side in Windows 7. However, my complaint is that the Superbar is optimized to be located at the bottom. It certainly was a great idea to allow icons without labels in the Taskbar. The cut-off labels are often useless anyway to identify applications. But why only one Taskbar button per row? It would increase the available space in the Taskbar tremendously if it was located to the side of the screen. I suppose, if Microsoft had added this feature, the new Taskbar would be a "Superbar" for me as well.
Another thing I dislike about the Windows 7 Taskbar is this combination feature. It groups multiple windows of the same application into one Taskbar button. Vista already does this once the Taskbar is full and I really hate this. It just means one extra click to access an application and I find this very disturbing as it often breaks my concentration. In some cases, one additional step to get the job done can be decisive. If I have to switch to another application, I want to do this as quickly as possible.
Disabling the Windows 7 Taskbar
The good thing is that this combination thing can be disabled in Vista and Windows 7. However, most of the new features of the Windows 7 Taskbar are based on the idea that you first move your mouse to the Taskbar button, and then choose the application. In some cases, I find this useful under Windows 7, but I doubt I will use these features often.
For those reasons, I don't use most of the major enhancement of the Superbar on my test machines. Since it is possible to make the Windows 7 Taskbar look more or less like the one on Vista, I can live with the "Superbar". I admit that some of its features look really cool, as mentioned above, and some are useful. Even though my complaints are quite lengthy, I consider the new Taskbar an improvement. But it is clear that most are people are praising the Superbar (and the results of this poll confirm that most people like it), so I thought it wouldn’t go amiss to outline the downsides in more detail.
So what are your experiences as an IT pro with the Windows 7 Taskbar?