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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The Taskbar, the Start Menu, and Other Tools

The taskbar is the command center for your user environment under Windows 7. With few or no desktop icons after initial setup, everything you do within Windows 7 has to start with the taskbar. The taskbar (refer to Figure 4.1) is host to several other highly useful tools, including the Start menu, the taskband, the open application buttons, and the notification area.

The Start menu is the control center for Windows 7. Most native applications and installed applications have an icon within the Start menu that is used to launch or access them. The Start menu has two columns of access elements.

By default, the Start menu displays the most recently accessed applications. A fresh installation of Windows 7 includes prestocked items in this list, such as Windows Media Player and the Getting Started menu, which walks you through various configuration items, such as adding additional users and personalizing the Windows 7 environment. This leaves room for only a single recently accessed application. These prestocked items will disappear, but if you are impatient you can forcibly remove them one at a time by issuing the Remove from This List command from the right-click pop-up menu.

At the bottom of the left column is All Programs, which is an access point to the rest of the Start menu. Those of you from Windows 9x and above will recognize this as the Programs section of the Start menu. The Start menu's right column lists Documents, Pictures, Music, Games, Computer, Network (optionally), Control Panel, Devices and Printers, Default Programs, and Help and Support.

Below the right column is the Shut Down button and the Shut Down menu, marked by a right arrow. The Shut Down button works exactly as advertised—it shuts down and powers off the computer with no confirmation dialog boxes, other than prompts to close any open files. The Shut Down menu enables you to choose other options for shutting down Windows 7, including Switch User, Log Off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, and Hibernate. Sleep is used to put the computer in a low-power state so you can quickly recover and continue working from where you left off, while Hibernate writes the contents of the computer memory to the hard drive and powers off the computer, so it can be left unattended for longer periods of time without fear that a power failure will wipe out any work you might have in memory at the time. It is important to note that the Hibernate option is available only if Hybrid Sleep is disabled (see Chapter 3 for more information on Hybrid Sleep). Hybrid sleep is enabled by default on desktop machines but not on laptops. The Lock button locks the computer so no one else can access it without the proper password—obviously, your user account will need a password set for this option to do any good.

Clicking any of the items listed on the Start menu either launches an application or opens a new dialog box or menu. Most of the items on the top level of the Start menu are discussed later in this chapter. Clicking All Programs scrolls to a second page of programs, while leaving the quick links such as Control Panel still visible, which is the same behavior as in Windows Vista.

You can add new items to the Start menu by dragging an item from Computer or Windows Explorer over the Start menu button, then over All Programs, and then to the location where you want to drop it. You can even manipulate the Start menu as a set of files and shortcuts through Computer or Windows Explorer. You need to go to the system root (usually C:, but it could be anything on multiboot systems) and drill down to \Users\< username >\Start Menu\Programs (where < username > is the name of the user account whose Start menu you want to modify).

To the far right on the taskbar is the notification area. Some services, OS functions, and applications place icons into this area. These icons provide both instant access to functions and settings, as well as status displays. For example, when you're working on a portable system, a battery appears in the notification area indicating how much juice is left. The clock is also located in the notification area.

Notice that the far-right portion of the taskbar, to the right of the clock in the notification area, is blank. Microsoft has done away with the classic Quick Launch bar in Windows 7 and put the Show Desktop button in its place. If you hover over the Show Desktop area of the taskbar, all the currently open windows will "turn to glass" and allow you to see what is currently hidden on the desktop. Never fear, however, as the applications will come back just as quickly once you move the mouse away from the Show Desktop section of the bar. You can also click the Show Desktop button to quickly minimize all open windows (much like the classic behavior of the Show Desktop button), and restore them just as quickly by clicking the button a second time.

Between the Start button and the notification area are the active application buttons. These are grouped by similarity, not by order of launch. Notice that instead of the traditional application buttons you have grown accustomed to since Windows 9x, applications that are running in the Windows 7 GUI are represented by a square icon, with no accompanying window title text. This is a major change from previous Windows versions, but once you get used to it you will see that it is quite superior to the previous methods of organizing the running applications.

As previously mentioned, the Quick Launch bar that has been around since Windows 9x is missing, much to the chagrin of Quick Launch bar enthusiasts everywhere. In Windows 7, Microsoft has replaced the Quick Launch bar functionality with "pinning," which enables you to take an application shortcut and place it permanently on the taskbar. You can then click any of the pinned applications to launch an instance of that application. You can also pin frequently used documents to the pinned applications on the taskbar (how's that for recursion?) for quick launch at any time. To accomplish this, you simply drag a file onto its respective application on the taskbar, and the application file is now pinned to the taskbar application. You can access these pinned applications by right-clicking the pinned application and choosing one of the application files.

With practice, most users find that this is a superior alternative to the Quick Launch bar. There is, however, a way to get the Quick Launch bar back:

  1. Right-click an open section of the taskbar and choose Toolbars, New Toolbar.
  2. In the Folder: bar at the bottom of the dialog box, enter %AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch .

You'll now find the Quick Launch bar on the far right of the taskbar, and you can move it anywhere.

Each running application has a gray border around the application icon. If you hover over the application icon, you will see thumbnails of each of the windows that particular application has open. Unless you have super-human eyesight, you probably won't be able to read the text in those thumbnails, which can make for an interesting time trying to figure out which of those tiny thumbnails was the email you were just working on. Windows 7 comes to the rescue with an enhancement called Aero Peek. Simply hover over one of the presented thumbnails, and all the other open windows "turn to glass" and the selected window rises to the foreground so you can see exactly what is in that window. You also have the option of closing any of the application's open windows directly from the thumbnail view.

You can further control and modify the taskbar and Start menu through their Properties dialog boxes.

Uninstall or Change Programs

As with Windows Vista, Windows 7 doesn't include an Add or Remove Programs applet. Instead, Windows 7 provides you with the Uninstall or Change a Program applet, which enables you to uninstall, change, or repair a program.

Uninstalling a program is analogous to what we called "removing" a program in earlier versions of Windows. Changing a program enables you to make changes to the functionality and features of the program, such as installing Microsoft Access from the Microsoft Office CD if you didn't install that program previously. Repairing a program enables you to repair any problems you're having with a program, such as a word processing program not saving files.

You've probably noticed that not all programs show up in the Uninstall or Change a Program applet. They don't appear because only programs that comply with the 32-bit Windows API standard for installation get their filenames and locations recorded in the system database, allowing them to be reliably erased without adversely affecting the operation of Windows. Many older or less-sophisticated applications simply install in their own way and don't bother registering with the OS.

What's more, the built-in uninstaller lets you make changes to applications, such as adding or removing suboptions (assuming that the application supports that feature).

Using the uninstall feature of the applet is simple:

  1. Click Start, Control Panel, click Programs, Uninstall a Program.
  2. Check the list of installed applications. A typical list appears in Figure 4.9. Note that you can sort the applications by clicking the column heading.
    Figure 4.9

    Figure 4.9 Choosing the program to uninstall or change.

  3. Select the program you want to change or uninstall.
  4. Click the Uninstall/Change button.
  5. Answer any warnings about removing an application, as appropriate.

Some applications (for example, Microsoft Office) prompt you to insert the program CD when you attempt to change or remove the app. These prompts can be annoying, but what can you do? The setup, change, and uninstall programs for some large suites are stored on their CDs, not on your hard disk. Just insert the disc when prompted.

Add New Programs

So how do you install a program on a disc in your CD or DVD drive from the Control Panel in Windows 7? You no longer can as you did with Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows. Nearly all software written for Windows comes with an autoinstall program that runs when you insert the CD or DVD into the appropriate drive. Microsoft obviously believes that adding software from the Control Panel is now superfluous, but if you have a program that won't open the autoinstall program automatically, consult your software installation instructions or search for the autoinstall file on your CD using Computer or Windows Explorer. Autoinstall files usually have the name setup.exe or install.exe.

Using Older Programs

As I said at the beginning of the chapter, Microsoft is constantly moving people toward upgrading to the newest version of Windows. If you still have Windows 3.x, you will be dismayed to learn that Windows 7 64-bit versions will not run DOS and Windows 3.x programs.

If you have programs written for Windows XP or earlier that worked correctly in those older OSs but don't work well in Windows 7, Microsoft was kind enough to include the Program Compatibility Wizard in Windows 7 so you can select and test compatibility settings that could identify the problem(s) and hopefully get your program working again.

Here's how you open the Program Compatibility Wizard:

  1. Click Start, Control Panel, Programs.
  2. Under the Programs and Features section at the top of the window, click the Run Programs Made for Previous Versions of Windows link. The Program Compatibility Wizard window appears; you can use it to pinpoint the problem(s) with your application. Additionally, Microsoft is making available a free download named Windows XP Compatibility Mode, which enables you to run programs written for Windows XP much more easily under Windows 7. For more information on Windows XP Compatibility Mode, see Appendix A, "Using Virtualization on Windows 7."
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