I am running Windows 7 RC on my primary desktop. The operating is pretty darn stable-I can’t remember getting a blue screen since I installed it. Oh, I’ve had to kill some processes once in awhile when the machine slows down. Usually, it’s a game or something video related that brings the system to a crawl. ATI’s drivers are not yet fully baked, so I expect an occasional performance problem. Until 7 is officially released, that is.
Windows 7 introduces many small, though significant user interface enhancements. Among them is the task bar. Microsoft has rethought how the task bar works and, I think, they’ve improved it in many ways, and have gone backward in other ways. Overall, it is an improvement. One of the things they did was change the way the system tray works. It only shows, by default, four icons: Network center, Action Center, Volume and Mail. At least, for me, that is what it shows by default. Well, I have a Palm Pre and when I connect it, via USB, to the computer, I have to disconnect it via the system tray Explorer icon first before I physically disconnect it from the USB cable. Previously, I was clicking the jump list, then clicking the Explorer devices icon and then selecting the Pre. This gets old quick. While I could have made a shortcut, I hate shortcuts on the desktop. I found, quite by accident, that by right clicking the task bar and selecting PROPERTIES, there is a button called ‘Customize’ which gives you a list of all of the system tray icons and lets you choose how to display or not display them. (NOTE: you can also get this from the Control Panel: Control Panel->All Control Panel Items->Notification Area Icons.) From here, you can set each icon to: Show icon and notifications, Only show notifications or Hide icon and notifications. You can choose to turn off the system icons all together by clicking the link just under the list window. You can also choose to always show all icons and notifications on the taskbar. I’ve now got the explore devices icon set to always show. It’s cleaner and easier that way.
Other taskbar tricks and changes include the ability to click the lower right of the taskbar to quickly show the desktop. This feature is called Aero Peek and you can turn this off (or on) via the taskbar property window. The visual task tips feature, introduced in Vista, has also been enhanced. When you have stacked icons, hovering over them will show the visual task tips for each stacked icon and you can then select the one to bring to the front. Also, when downloading a file, the browser icon slowly fills with green. This is like a progress bar that has been integrated into the icon.
One of the major changes that Microsoft made is the way it mixes active tasks with shortcuts. You can ‘pin’ a shortcut to the task bar and maintain the effect of the ‘quick links’ that previous versions of Windows had. You can control the way these are displayed. Bring up the taskbar property windows and click the ‘taskbar’ tab. Here, you can the normal things like Lock the taskbar, Auto-hide the taskbar, Use small icons and the location of the taskbar. But, now, you have one more choice: Taskbar buttons. You set them to always combine and hide the labels, combine when taskbar is full or never combine.
Right clicking the taskbar also shows a few interesting tricks concerning open windows. You can show windows side by side or stacked. Either way has the effect of tiling the windows. For each option, there is also an option to undo the action. This feature could come in handy for things like comparing to Explorer windows, comparing two (or more) text files, etc.
While some of these little niceties might have been part of the taskbar in previous versions of Windows, their utility seems to have been enhanced with Win 7. The visual cues that Microsoft has added just enhances an already cool and very useful taskbar.