The system tray is a pretty big deal in Windows. I love having an application that allows itself to dock there rather than just sit in my taskbar, because that gets cluttered quickly. There are even third-party alternatives that will help send any and every application into your system tray.
In modern versions of Windows, there are two parts to the tray – hidden icons and shown icons. Allowing rarely-used application icons to remain hidden prevents a cluttered look and feel, and allowing more common applications, like maybe Skype or Spotify, to always be shown gives you immediate access to them. The system tray can be utilized in plenty of other ways, too.
One method is to take advantage of system tray icons to show data that you always want to see. In this post, I’ll show you 3 applications that can help you do just that.
TrayStatus adds several clean-looking new indicators to your system tray that will help you keep track of keystrokes and presses. It’s free and available for all versions of Windows, though the .NET Framework is a dependency.
In this single options screen, you’re shown every feature of the application. TrayStatus can put indicators in your taskbar that will show activity of the following keyboard keys:
- Caps Lock
- Number Lock
- Scroll Lock
It also offers the option to show the activity of your hard drive, but I found this feature to be problematic. It didn’t work correctly on my system (running Windows 8), so I disabled it (and don’t worry, because the same feature will be available in another application further down this post).
Here’s how each icon is displayed in your system tray:
When a key is pressed or active, it will be shown like this:
TrayStatus is a really niche application that does something simple, and does it very nicely.
DriveGLEAM is an older application that, like TrayStatus, is available as an installation or portable standalone. The website doesn’t mention its compatibility with each version of Windows, but I’m running Windows 8 Pro 64-bit and it works fine on my system.
This application is definitely more configurable than TrayStatus and offers system-based activity indicators, rather than indicators that are mostly exclusive to the keyboard. The hard drive activity indicator offered by DriveGLEAM does work on my system, whereas I had trouble using the one with TrayStatus.
With DriveGLEAM, you can monitor the following:
- Disk drive activity (both internal and external)
- CPU usage
- RAM usage
- VRAM usage
- NIC usage
You’re also able to configure poll intervals and change system tray icons. You can even set DriveGLEAM to start with Windows on a delay.
I find this application a lot more useful than TrayStatus for obvious reasons. Being able to monitor your network interface card is great if you’re a gamer and want to see how hectic your incoming/outgoing data is. I also find the CPU and RAM usage monitors to be really efficient and simple to read.
Here’s what these icons look like:
From left to right: network activity (green for in, red for out), RAM usage, hard drive activity (green for read, red for write), and CPU usage. The icons aren’t as elegant and smooth as the ones from TrayStatus, but they get the job done.
SysTrayMeter is a simplified version of DriveGLEAM. All it does is put your RAM and CPU usage in a single icon in your system tray.
The upper number is your CPU usage, as a percentage, and the lower number is your free RAM, in megabytes. These two pieces of data are probably the most crucial when you’re looking to monitor everyday system data, so despite the application being bare of features it’s actually quite effective and useful. A readme comes in the archive that can give you a little information about some settings you can add to the INI file. Other than that, SysTrayMeter is extremely straightforward.
The system tray is a powerful feature of the Windows OS if you can use it correctly. Applications like these show really clever usage that allows you to basically use standalone applications as visual indicators or widgets.
Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!