Originally created 06/05/99

Tooling around with the Windows 98 Taskbar



There's lots of interesting stuff to play with in the Taskbar, that horizontal line across the bottom of your Windows 98 screen.

Play is the operative word. Many of the functions of the Taskbar are contextual: you have to click on exactly the right place at the right time in the right way, or nothing happens. Indeed, one of the problems beginners occasionally have with the Taskbar is when things happen accidentally: the bar ends up on the wrong part of the screen or icons mysteriously appear and disappear.

The basics first. As you probably know, active programs and open windows turn into little horizontal buttons on the Taskbar. Hit the left mouse button, and that particular item becomes active. Hit the left mouse button again, and the window is "minimized." A minimized window is just the button -- the program is active, but not displaying.

Another way to look at it, for the real beginners: most of the time, a program is just sitting on the disk, not doing much of anything but taking up space there. When you start up the program (with the Start Menu, natch) it is loaded into the computer's main memory, where it runs, at which point it shows up on the Taskbar. When it's not on the Taskbar, it's gone to sleep again on your hard drive.

The right mouse button does even more, depending on where you rest your cursor:

Right-click on one of those Taskbar buttons, and you get a little menu that gives you the option of minimizing the item's window, maximizing it to full screen, or closing (terminating) that particular function.

Right-click on a blank area of the bar, and you'll get a slightly different menu. You can adjust Taskbar properties, such as whether it displays a clock. You can also apply global commands to the entire Windows desktop from here, and tell it how to display windows -- minimize them all, tile or stack them one atop the other. Try those options and you'll see how they work.

For compulsive interface tweakers, we also have the Toolbar option. Toolbars in the Taskbar follow the same basic concept as the shortcuts that constitute the Start Menu. There's a folder containing shortcuts that's linked to a particular Toolbar, which are listed in a menu. I'm not a big user of Toolbars, but some people like them. Windows comes with some ready-made Toolbars, like the Quick Launch bar (some programs automatically install themselves there), or you can create your own.

Note that there are two different menus that let you invoke Toolbars. There's a short one that appears when no Toolbars are loaded and you right-click a blank portion of the Taskbar. If you do have a Toolbar loaded, right-clicking on a blank area of the Toolbar (not the Taskbar) lets you manipulate it. You can open up the folders of existing toolbars, and add or subtract shortcuts, or you can create wholly new Toolbars. And the Toolbar itself can be modified with bigger icons or different type.

There's a third class of creatures that live in the Taskbar, namely permanent icons for a few system-critical functions. These little guys are off on the right-hand side of the bar. You usually have a time display, a task scheduler for automating certain functions of Windows, and the volume control for your speakers. Other applications may install icons, too -- for example, your graphics card may let you switch screen resolution on the fly. As usual, a left click activates, a right click gives you a menu of options. If you're not sure exactly what each of these does, just position your cursor over it and wait a second -- you'll get a little floating caption that describes what the icon does.

While we're on the subject of contextual menus, notice that you'll get a totally different menu if you move your cursor off the Taskbar and onto the desktop area before you right-click. The various options of this menu will let you clean up your desktop, create folders or documents, as well as adjust your screen display.

With all this clicking going on, don't be surprised if you mess up occasionally. One fairly common problem: the Taskbar disappears. I'll never forget the panic-stricken call I got from my novice friend, Susan, who remarked: "My Start button disappeared and I can't turn the computer off!"

What usually happens here is that you've accidentally clicked and dragged the top edge of the Taskbar downward, at which point it is reduced to a thin line that displays nothing. The solution is to carefully position the pointer on the line until a little vertical line with a pointer at either end appears. At that point, left-click and drag upward to resize the Taskbar to its normal height.

You can, if you wish, take your current Taskbar, click on the top edge and drag upward to create a two- or even three-level task bar with room to display lots more stuff. You can also click and drag horizontally to vary the width of your Toolbars.

Rugged individualists can also move the entire Taskbar to the top or sides of the screen.

Find a blank spot on the bar -- just to the left of the time display usually works -- left-click and hold down the button. Move upward, and you should see a silhouette of the bar move to the top of the screen. Release the mouse button, and it's moved. Drag diagonally to the right, and the bar will stack itself there, or, if you wish, to the left. Reverse the procedure to recover, if you've accidentally moved the Taskbar.



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