How to Customize the Taskbar in Windows 7 & Windows 8.1

TaskbarMicrosoft made some great improvements in the taskbar with Windows 7, making it much more versatile and useful than the taskbar in previous versions. Although there weren't nearly as many changes between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 because they got it so nearly right the first time, there are a few things that have changed to complement Windows 8.1's new ways of doing things. Here's how to customize the taskbar in both operating systems:

One of the major improvements in the taskbar is in the way it can be customized. Since most people work more productively when their tools are arranged according to their own preferences, let's take a look at what can be done with the taskbar. Most of this will apply equally to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. I'll talk about the Windows 8.1 exclusives along the way.

How to Open the Taskbar Properties Window

Most of the configuration options are located in the taskbar properties window. To open it, right click or press and hold on a blank space of the taskbar and select Properties.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

The configuration options are found in the first tab, called Taskbar. Below you can see how it looks like in Windows 7.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7

And here is a view of how it looks in Windows 8.1:

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 8.1

Let's see what these options do.

How to Change the Appearance & Location of the Taskbar

On the Taskbar tab, you'll be able to choose where your taskbar is located, whether it stays there or not, the size of the icons on it, which icons appear where, and whether you use Aero Peek to get a preview of your Desktop. Let's go through these one by one:

  • Lock the taskbar - If you select this, your taskbar will stay where you place it, and it won't allow you to move it somewhere else or change its size. If you'd like to have a movable or hidden taskbar you should un-check this.
  • Auto-hide the taskbar - This option hides the taskbar until you hover your mouse pointer over the area where it's hidden. Then it slides into view. Once you move away from it it hides again.

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

  • Use small icons (Windows 7) or Use small taskbar buttons (Windows 8) - This can make your taskbar less obtrusive, by changing the size of the icons on it and therefore the width of the taskbar itself.
  • Taskbar location on screen - This lets you put the taskbar on the side or top of your screen instead of just the bottom, which is the default. Click or tap the drop-down menu and choose your location. If your taskbar is unlocked you can also click and hold and drag the taskbar elsewhere.

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

  • Taskbar buttons - This lets you choose how application icons behave. You can choose from Always combine, hide labels (each application shows only one icon regardless of how many instances you have running, but the icons are stacked to show that there's more than one of them, and they are icons only, no text), Combine when taskbar is full (works like Never Combine until you fill up the taskbar, and then the icons stack), and Never Combine (just keep squeezing in the icons for as many applications as you open).

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

  • Show Windows Store apps on the taskbar (Windows 8.1 only) - It allows Windows 8.1 users to view the Windows Store apps they open on the taskbar, alongside desktop applications. This is very useful when you are working with both modern apps and classic desktop programs.

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

  • Use Aero Peek to preview the desktop (Windows 7) or Use Peek to preview the desktop when you move your mouse to the the Show desktop button at the end of the taskbar (Windows 8) - If you select this, you can move your pointer over the Show Desktop button on the taskbar on the far right, and it's just a different-colored patch on the taskbar if you've chosen to hide labels. This makes all the open applications on your Desktop transparent so you can see how the Desktop looks without minimizing or closing everything.

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7

    There is a Show Desktop button on the Windows 8.1 taskbar as well, although you won't see it as an actual button (it's just a blank space at the end of the taskbar). It minimizes all the open apps to the taskbar temporarily, so you can see how your Desktop looks. Click or tap the button to minimize everything, then click or tap again to put it all back.

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 8.1

    If you're using a mouse (this does not work on touch screen devices) you can right-click on the Show Desktop button and choose Peek at Desktop to get just a quick look.

    Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

In both Windows 7 & Windows 8.1 you can resize the taskbar as you would resize any window, by hovering over the upper margin till you see the “resize" cursor appear and then dragging the margin up or down. Note that the taskbar must be unlocked to do this, and it has minimum and maximum values beyond which it can't be dragged.

How to Add Toolbars to the Taskbar

You can add toolbars to the taskbar if you like, by right-clicking (or press and hold) on a blank space on the taskbar and choosing Properties, then the Toolbars tab. The choices that appear will be different depending on which programs you have installed. This is what mine looks like; yours will almost certainly be different.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

You can also right-click (or press and hold), then choose Toolbars and check the toolbars that you want to enable.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

The default choices from the right-click menu are Address (which adds the equivalent of a URL bar to the taskbar, so you can type in frequently used websites or file locations), Links (which puts in a toolbar with all your favorite web sites, but only if your default browser is Internet Explorer) and Desktop (which repeats all the shortcuts on your desktop - a fairly useless choice). The most useful item is New Toolbar, which lets you put in a custom toolbar with the contents of any favorite folder of your choice. If the folder you choose to pin has a lot of content, your taskbar can fill up pretty fast and it will take longer to load. The default folder is Libraries -> Documents.

How to Pin Items to the Taskbar

You may have favorite programs or frequently-used files that you want to have speedy access to. One good way to make this happen is to pin those items to the taskbar. This works the same way in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

If an app or program is already running, right-click on its icon in the taskbar, and choose Pin this program to taskbar from the menu that pops up. Here I've chosen the icon for my favorite email client, Eudora.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

There are many things you can pin to the taskbar and we have covered this subject extensively in separate tutorials:

How to Remove Toolbars from the Taskbar

If you don't want to see a particular toolbar any more, right click or press and hold on the taskbar, choose Toolbars, and deselect the toolbar you wish to hide. Items that you have added will disappear; default items on the list will just un-check so that if you change your mind you can re-check them.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

If you want to hide multiple toolbars, it's faster and easier to right-click (or press and hold) on the taskbar and choose Properties, then the Toolbars tab, and uncheck the ones you don't want to see any more. Again, default items will be un-checked; custom items will disappear.

Taskbar, customize, icons, toolbars, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

Don't forget to press OK to apply your changes.

Conclusion

As you can see, the Taskbar is far more versatile and customizable than it might appear at first. Microsoft has made this area of the screen pretty much a one-stop-shop location for your programs, files and favorites. It's worth playing around with to get it set exactly as you prefer.

Have you customized your Taskbar in an interesting way? Please show us what you did.