The Best Windows 7 Feature: The Taskbar

David Pierce 24-06-2009

best-windows-7-feature I’ve been a PC my whole life, but have always harbored a secret Mac envy. I love how Macs are simple to use, that the hardware and software interface so well together, and that everything on Mac OS appears to be tailored to improving the user experience. There are a ton of advantages to Windows, but Macs have recently tickled my fancy.


About a week ago, I installed Windows 7 on my primary computer – it’s now the operating system I use all day, every day. We’ve already talked about how to install Windows 7, as well as some of the great things about the operating system. No nagging menus, for a start. But in the week or so that I’ve been using it as my primary OS, one thing in particular about Windows 7 has stuck out to me: the taskbar.

Now, the taskbar is that crazy thing that lives on the top, bottom or side of your screen, and lets you launch and switch between applications. There’s also a system tray, with a bunch of applications you can access that way. But all that existed already. The Windows 7 taskbar added a bunch of useful features and tweaks to make it even more useful.


The first thing you’ll notice is my favorite feature – there’s an almost dock-like quality to the new taskbar. Indeed, by right-clicking any application icon and selecting “Pin to taskbar,” you can add an icon to your taskbar that’s ready to be launched with just one click.


When an application is running, you’ll see a square around the icon in the taskbar. If there’s more than one window, you’ll see the edge of two squares around the icon (like the Firefox icon in the screenshot above) – or, you can choose to have different icons for every open window. Click the icon, and you’re taken to the application’s window. Launching a new window is easy, too – just hold Shift as you’re clicking on the icon.


These two features give the taskbar a Mac OS X dock-like quality, and make launching and switching applications a lot easier. That means, you can clear your desktop a bit, get rid of some icons, and use the taskbar as you would any other application launcher. By right-clicking on the Taskbar, selecting “Properties,” and then clicking “use small icons,” you’ll be able to fit a ton of icons.

live thumbs

And that’s not all. If you hover over an icon on the dock, little thumbnails show up of every active window of that application. This feature is called “Aero Peek,” and is a perfect way to figure out which application you actually want to change to. The thumbnails are live, which means that if you’re watching a video, the thumbnail shows the video in real-time. Roll over a thumbnail, and you’ll see the window, full-size, with everything else transparent. It’s the best way to switch applications I’ve ever seen, and the fastest way to figure out what you’re looking for – the more applications you run at a time, the more you’ll appreciate the taskbar.



Right-clicking on an icon like Microsoft Word or Windows Explorer brings up a list of recent items, that you can easily open with a single click. Apps will flash when they want to get your attention, rather than the annoying blinking that used to happen in Vista.

I used Quick Launch on Windows for a long time to launch apps, and the taskbar to switch. It was clunky, slow, and difficult to maneuver if I had a lot of apps open. With the new taskbar, opening, closing, switching and managing windows and applications is a breeze. Forget all the other stuff – that’s worth the upgrade right there.

What are your best Windows 7 features? What’s missing? Share them with us in the comments.

Related topics: Windows 7, Windows Taskbar.

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  1. EdHolman
    February 10, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    "Apps will flash when they want to get your attention, rather than the annoying blinking that used to happen in Vista."

    Oh yeah, flashing is so much less annoying than blinking.

  2. Bob
    November 22, 2009 at 9:34 am

    After playing with Win7 for a few hours (You don't want me to tell you all the things I said during that time) I began searching for ways to revert to a more xp type task bar. It took some work (maybe there is an easier way but I couldn't find it. I finally have my quick start menu back and the text telling me what is on the task bar. Not just a bunch of icons I have to put my mouse on to see a pop up window to tell me what it is.

    So far I am not impressed with the "improvements".

    • irishlady
      November 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm

      can you help
      I dont like the tool bar at the top of my startup screen
      I mean the one that comes down whenever you go near the top
      it has W.L.M, ebay, norton pse and more I would like to get rid of it
      Any help

      • libertao
        November 22, 2009 at 3:53 pm

        Sounds like a toolbar that either came pre-installed on your computer or you accidentally installed. Try running this program and see if that helps:

        Then try searching for and removing spyware using Spybot Search & Destroy:

        To use that, use the update feature, then the immunize feature, then the search and destroy feature and finally click "Fix selected problems"

        Hope that helps!

  3. Roy
    June 25, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I've been using the Windows 7 RC for a few weeks now and I agree that the taskbar is the best new feature. That's saying a lot, because everything about this OS has been positive for me. Despite JFrankParnell's hostility toward it, the new taskbar (like OS X's dock) really makes things more efficient and productive.

    Another great feature, which is kind of related, is the integration of Areo Peek with Alt-Tab. It's kind of like the F9 (or is it F11) functionality in OS X, except a better, more intuitive way of providing the same useful function.

    And then of course there's the fact that it's faster than either Vista or XP were on the same computer, that's a huge plus! My Dell laptop will be the next machine I install it on. It's been through Vista, Ubuntu and now OS X, but 7 is the first OS I've used that I actually intend to keep on it instead of replacing it next time I feel like trying something new.

  4. memo
    June 24, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    not to talk crap about Mac, I would like one to work with Pics, Vids, and Music. The thing is that it is made very basic for very basic people, in other words "stupid proofing" a high tech device. I am an IT, and I have dealt with many types of OS; i would have to go with PC no matter what, and even though i have several iPods (wonderful devices) and not as "cool" as mac I will continue to go with Windows because its compatible with everything, cheaper, and more easier to manipulate. In a PC world, your in Control.

  5. JFrankParnell
    June 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    How do ppl keep saying macs are easier to use? The interface is complete crap. Total crap. One of the worst things about it is that retarded dock, and now you think this win7 dock is so great? Its crap. I want to see the titles of the windows i have open, cuz frequently, they change to let me know what that window is doing. Plus, i want to click directly on the window that i want, not wait around for some mouseover thing.

    There is nothing about mac that is worth copying. Nothing. And yes, i have used one rather extensivly. And nothing about mac is easier to use than win. Nothing. Too bad MS gave into the bs marketing and made this retarded dock.


    • D. HUnter
      June 24, 2009 at 3:48 pm

      Wow, such anger for a feature that can easily be turned off.

    • codyp
      June 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

      Wow.. Its easy to change it back to the old style... Right in the properties menu.. first thing you see actually.. I changed it back to the old way for about an hour. Decided I like the new way better.

      btw, you and 90% of the net need to learn that you aren't being cool by slamming something like that. You just look kind of blind sighted.

    • jacob
      June 25, 2009 at 5:33 am

      the mouseover time can be changed to no delay with ( xdntweaker that now works with win7. with aero switched on, you can get a preview of what your windows are doing even as they change and not have a delay with the tweaker.

  6. jb
    June 24, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I can't believe they are tricking me into buying another new windows again...