The new taskbar in Windows 7 is for launching applications as well as showing what is running; and one of the first things you do with a new installation is to pin your favourites there so they are easy to start.
Very soon, you’ll run out of space. This is a problem that will get worse, too, because app vendors will discover that the notification area is no longer effective for getting the user’s attention and background applications will use the taskbar instead.
Unfortunately a scrolling taskbar is not much fun to use. In fact, it’s a disaster. The taskbar divides itself into pages, and a fiddly scroller lets you flip from one page to the next.
Further, if you activate a running application which is on a different page, then its page comes into view, hiding the other icons.
Now let’s say you want to launch an application which is on a page that is no longer in view. Instead of clicking one large target (especially nice if you are using touch), you have one tiny target (especially horrible if you are using touch) – the up or down arrow on the scroller – followed by a second click on the app icon. Maybe there is a keyboard shortcut for scrolling the taskbar, but the only one I know is Win-T which cycles through all the icons – tedious.
At this point, you have two further options. You can increase the height of the taskbar. Right click – Properties – untick Lock the taskbar – then drag the top border up. Now you have more space for icons, but you have also lost valuable working space on the screen.
The second option is to use small icons, which is another option in properties. When you do this, you can fit in a few more icons, though not as many extra as you might expect. It is easy to see why this is so unsatisfactory. Here is the Word icon in normal size, followed by the small icon version:
Two observations. First, the “small” version is not that much narrower than the large one. Second, if you look at the size of the icon versus the amount of background, the small version is mostly wasted space. The actual image on the small icon is roughly 25% the size of the large. You get a poor yield in terms of extra icons, but a severe usability loss in that the small size is hard to see.
I don’t know if this problem can be improved by tweaking other Windows settings, but would be interested to discover.
It is also a shame that the taskbar cannot be extended across a second display, if you are running two or more screens.
The conclusion, in my case, is that neither the double-height nor the small icon view is really satisfactory, though double-height is less bad.
I like the new taskbar, but this is a real annoyance. Any tips I’ve missed?