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Windows XP Your Way: Customizing the Taskbar
The Taskbar is the strip across the length of the screen that is the central means for accessing programs and files. Configuring it to suit individual preferences is discussed.


In addition to containing the Start button, the taskbar can be used as the main pathway to accessing frequently used functions, programs, or files. Unlike icons on the desktop, it is not hidden by open windows. The taskbar has several sections as shown in the figure below. The term “taskbar” is not used consistently in articles and books on Windows XP. Here it will mean the entire strip. The middle part where the open programs are listed is also called the “taskbar” by many people. In addition to the sections shown in the figure, assorted tool bars can be added. The various areas of the taskbar are discussed in the sections below.
Windows XP taskbar

Configuring the taskbar

To configure the taskbar, right-click in an empty space on the bar and select “Properties” from the context menu. The resulting dialog box is shown in the figure below. The taskbar is locked by default and the box by the entry “Lock the taskbar” will have to be unchecked if you wish to make changes. Each area of the taskbar has a vertical divider separating it from the other areas. The dividers are draggable and can be used to resize individual areas.

Taskbar properties sheet

Notification Area (aka System Tray)

A variety of programs will place icons in the section of the taskbar on the far right that typically contains the clock. In XP, Microsoft calls this the “Notification area”. It was previously known as the “System tray”. Programs with icons in this area have one or more functions running in the background. If Windows XP deems an icon to be inactive, it will hide it unless the setting is changed. The setting is in the bottom section of the properties dialog box as is shown in the figure below. You can also show or hide the clock in this section.

Section of Taskbar properties for Notification area

If you choose to check “Hide inactive icons”, the customize button (grayed out above) is available and individual icons can have their settings customized as shown in the next figure.

Customizing whether icons are visible

The functions associated with icons in the notification area can usually be seen by right-clicking (Left-clicking often, but not always, has no effect.) An example menu from the right-click menu for the firewall application, ZoneAlarm, is shown in the next figure.

Example of a right-click menu for icon in Notification area

Quick Launch Bar

Depending on the configuration of your computer, the quick launch bar may not already be available. The taskbar properties dialog box contains an entry for showing the “Quick Launch” bar. This area of the taskbar will appear just to the right of the Start button as shown in the figure below.

Area of taskbar with quick launch bar

As the name indicates, this area provides for quick access to programs, folders, or files. Shortcuts can be dragged and dropped here. Unwanted entries can be removed by using the right-click context menu. Only a single left-click is required to open programs or files from here. By default, an icon for “Show Desktop” is included. This useful applet minimizes all open windows and displays the desktop on the screen. Other default entries are the Microsoft applications Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. The example above contains an icon for Internet Explorer, Show Desktop, and Notepad. The quick launch bar is a convenient place for shortcuts to frequently used applications or folders.


It is possible to add customized toolbars to the middle area of the taskbar. Right-click an empty spot on the taskbar and choose “Toolbars”. There are five standard default choices , including “Quick Launch” (first figure below). (Other software may sometimes add extra choices.) There is also an item “New toolbar” that allows the choice of any folder (second figure below). The Desktop toolbar gives access to the contents of the desktop without having to minimize any open windows. Similarly, a frequently used folder can be made easily accessible by creating a toolbar for it.

Adding a new toolbar to the taskbar

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