When Windows 7 was still in beta, I asked 4sysops readers about their opinion on the new taskbar in Windows 7, a.k.a. Superbar. At the time I wrote the article, I was not really convinced of the value of this new feature, but I needed more experience. Using such a feature on test systems is quite different from working with it in a productive environment. I have been using Windows 7 on my laptop for a while, and my final verdict about the Superbar stands now. I also want to share how I use the Windows 7 taskbar.

Windows-7-Taskbar

I think, this is an important topic, especially for IT pros, because we usually work with many applications simultaneously and switch between tools all day. Hence, finding the best method to switch tasks can increase your productivity significantly, even if the time needed to change from one tool another is only a second. These seconds add up over a long work day. Even more important is the fact that switching quickly between applications is essential for keeping your focus. If you need two seconds or more to switch between apps, then this will certainly have a negative effect on your concentration and will tire you out quickly.

Jumplists ^

Windows-7-Taskbar-Jumplists Let’s start with what I like about the Windows 7 taskbar. The new feature I like most is the Jumplists (right click on an icon on the taskbar). I hopelessly underestimated the value of the Jumplists at first. This thing is really a time saver. For example, you can pin folders to the Windows Explorer icon, which allows you to jump to a particular directory very quickly. Also useful, the Word icon displays the last documents opened. You can also pin documents to the Jumplist. I find myself using this feature all day. I am sure that ISVs will find many helpful ways to make use of this function and I believe that this will turn out to be a killer feature in the long run.

Quick Launch bar ^

I also found that pinning icons to the taskbar has one big advantage: The relative position of the application in the taskbar always stays the same. After a while you get used to the position, which allows you to locate an icon quicker than in Vista or XP.

The only problem is that not all the apps I need for my daily work fit on the taskbar. This is why I’ve only pinned the most important tools. All apps that can be minimized to the Systray are banned from my taskbar. To be able to launch these tools quickly, I revived the good old Quick Launch bar. The Quick Launch bar also handles those tools to which I only have to switch every now and then since they have no fixed position in the Taskbar once they are launched. If I need more space on the Taskbar, I can just close them.

Combining taskbar buttons ^

The taskbar feature I dislike the most is that windows of the same application are combined. To move the mouse first to the application’s button and then search again for the right window in a long list of much-too-small thumb previews is an absolute time killer. I have seen people doing this in presentations and I always wonder how they can be so patient as to allow three seconds or more just to switch to another window in the same application. This would drive me nuts. I’ve also seen, more than once, that people lose concentration just because of this.

Windows-7-Taskbar-Combining

Our short-term memory only has a very low capacity (up to five items) and lasts only a few seconds depending on the type of content. Yes, these thumb previews look absolutely cool. This was the reason why I expressed a liking for this feature in my first review. But after working with these thumbs for some time, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are useless.

It is possible to disable the combining feature, which I highly recommend. It makes sense to combine taskbar buttons only when the taskbar is full. This is at least better than working with two taskbars. However, every time Windows starts combining taskbar buttons, I find myself looking for apps I can close for the time being. This is certainly not very productive, either.

Therefore, the new taskbar works great for me as long as I don’t have too many apps open. The smaller the screen I’m using, the more problematic this downside of the Windows 7 taskbar becomes. Since most of the time I’m working on a laptop, I can’t really say that the Superbar is "super". At best, I’ll let myself be carried away to say that it is a Nicebar.

But there is a better way to switch tasks. This will be the topic of my next post.

7 Comments
  1. D 13 years ago

    I find myself working almost the same as you do.. a few other things i think are anoying;
    – In the taskbar, the windows apps are in order of the application it was launched from. When i have my outlook inbox open, i have a calendar open next to it, next to that a new email, my tasks all the way up front, etc. But i find myself looking for the new email i just started, coz it used to be the last (=at the end) of the apps in the taskbar. So i find myself spending more time looking, than less..
    – the Explorer icon seems to have a different icon for every other item the explorer has open, this results in opening a lot of new explorers, coz this is faster than searching. I must spend some time to find the solution to keep that icon from changing.
    – The Explorer itself.. This was the killer feature of XP, but it seems to have degraded after XP. It seems they want to have us disband the treeview look, but it remains the best option to quickly navigate. Then there is the useless sorting, the forgetting of the default view i told the explorer to look (damn annoying) and having a useless bar at the bottom that doesn’t even tell me how much space there is left (XP did).

  2. Michael Pietroforte 13 years ago

    I can live with all three things you named. I think it is quite useful that you can now change the order of the taskbar icons manually. I also like that the Explorer icon is dependent on the type of the location. Music folders look different than video folders. In my view this improves usability. I also disagree with your view about the new Explorer. It improved significantly in Vista and again in Windows 7. Most noteworthy are the Libraries. My favorite feature is Aero snap which allows me to display two Explorer windows side by side quickly.

    I guess everyone has his own complaints when it comes to user interface changes. It is not easy for Microsoft to satisfy to all wishes.

  3. Fred 13 years ago

    One thing I don’t care for with the task bar preview is the “thumbnail view” of the application window is a snapshot of the last time the application was on screen, NOT it’s current state. So if the nature of the screen changed, you don’t see it.
    Example:
    -You have an application with a progress bar. open three copies of it.
    -minimize one with progress bar is at 10%
    -roll over the thumbnails and the shot shows 10%
    -click on it and it’s been at 100% for quite a while
    It would be nice if the thumbnail refreshed when it displays.
    I bet the 3 second delay it configurable. I know in XP you could adjust start menu fly-outs to appear instantly rather than after a short pause on the root folder (with a registry hack)

    My least favorite item is the start menu itself. I’m one of those silly guys who likes the classic view. Yes I know you can just ype in the name of the application and I do but, sometimes I just have to look (I don’t remember what application X was called… )

  4. Migration Expert Zone 13 years ago

    I find that pinning takes the place of the Quick Launch toolbar just fine, but I really miss the text labels that used to appear alongside running programs. Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy matter to restore them.

  5. Michael Pietroforte 13 years ago

    Fred, what would be the advantage if the thumbnail view would be synchronized instantly? I know, it is cool, but how would these improve the taskbar’s functionality? As to the start menu, I think this is was a major improvement in Vista. You can still navigate to the application, but often it is faster to just start typing the program’s name.

    Migration Expert, I think pinning and Quick Launch complete one another. I suppose Microsoft wouldn’t have created this KB artcile if they didn’t receive many complaints about the missing Quick Launch bar. Hopefully it will be added again in Windows 8.

  6. xixixao (also Michael) 13 years ago

    Thank you for this article because I am thinking a lot about the new taskbar too and the way I handle everyday use of it. I have it set now to never combine (from combine when full, actually testing this right now) and small icons. As you, I also dont really like the thumbnails, they are just way too slow, and more difficult to control with a touchpad. But I have an answer for your question for Fred. It would be very useful (and it actually works for some programs, so I think it is really a matter of the programs, not windows taskbar, but who knows – exp. WMC) because Id like to check for the current state of a program. Especially when using just one small 1280×800 display, it is very difficult to have many windows open next to each other and still see what’s happening in more than two of them :). But what I really think would be useful for me is to have the small icons, several of one program next to each other, or even separated, without the labels. That would be probably the way I’d go when there is a lot of windows open (and I read you’re struggling at that time too). Then I’d probably use the whole taksbar differently, moving the icons of single windows around, so I’d have for example firefox window with youtube next to msn windows (their icons on the takbar) and on the right my “work” windows. There is more I can imagine concerning this concept but maybe that’s just my specific view. And what about tabs vs. windows? 🙂

  7. Michael Pietroforte 13 years ago

    xixixao, I followed your advice and use now the “never combine” option. This combining thing drives me crazy. It is even better to switch between two taskbars. Tabs are great. Unfortunately not every application supports it. I never understood why Word doesn’t have tabs.

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