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Working with the Taskbar

The Taskbar is the area at the bottom of your display. It holds the Start menu at one end and the clock at the other. In between these two extremes, you see all of your applications. Many of us take this part of Windows for granted. The following sections will discuss the Taskbar in detail. You may find that you have new uses for this feature that you didn't think of in the past.


Everyone is familiar with the Quick Launch toolbar that appears on the Taskbar. However, few people realize that the Taskbar has three additional toolbars that you can use to create a more efficient environment: Address, Links, and Desktop. In addition to the standard toolbars, Windows XP provides the means for adding new toolbars of your own design. By adding just the right toolbars, you can create an environment where everything you need appears right at the bottom of your display. This section shows you how to accomplish this task.

Existing Toolbars

Windows XP comes with four standard toolbars. The Quick Launch toolbar is the only one of the four that most users see. It has a lot of potential that people never use. For example, I place my common applications, the ones I use every day, on this toolbar. I don't include applications that I start using a data file, just those that I start by themselves. Unfortunately, you can't just drag an icon over to the Quick Launch toolbar and expect it to work. You need to manually add the icon to the \Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch directory. It's more than likely that you'll need to restart your system to see the effects of the changes you make.

The Desktop toolbar is another one that I use regularly. If you use a data-oriented approach to managing your work, you can place the folders for your various projects on the Desktop and clear everything else off. Now, when you add the Desktop toolbar to the Taskbar, what you'll see is a list of your projects. Click on a project file, and it'll open. All you need to do is double-click a file, and you're ready to work.

The Address and Links toolbars come in handy for those who spend a lot of time on the Internet. The Address toolbar looks the same as the one you use within Windows Explorer. Just type the location you want to find, click Go, and Internet Explorer will open. Likewise, the Links toolbar looks the same as the Links toolbar in Explorer. Depending on how well you customize this particular feature, you may find that you don't open Internet Explorer for standard needs again.

Adding New Toolbars

As nice as the four toolbars that come with Windows XP are, you may find that you want something of your own design. Windows XP allows you to create toolbars of your own. The first step is to create a directory with the content of your toolbar. Add everything that you'll want to display on the Taskbar.

After you create the directory, you have to add its contents to the Taskbar. All you need to do is right-click the Taskbar and choose Toolbars | New Toolbar from the context menu. You'll see a New Toolbar dialog box. Find the directory you created in the hierarchical list and click OK. Windows XP will add the new toolbar to the Taskbar.

Window Management

Sometimes you create a mess on the Desktop and want to clean it up quickly. The Taskbar context menu contains four options for creating order from the chaos that is your Desktop:

  • Cascade Windows Lines the applications one on top of the other at an angle from the upper left corner to the lower right. This arrangement allows you to see all of the open applications and choose the one you want by clicking the title bar.

  • Tile Windows Horizontally Places the applications one on top of the other from the top of the display to the bottom. Windows XP resizes each application window to fit as much of it as possible within the allocated space.

  • Tile Windows Vertically Places the applications side-by-side from the left side of the screen to the right. Windows XP resizes each application window to fit as much of it as possible within the allocated space.

  • Minimize All Windows Clears the Desktop by minimizing all windows. You can select the window you want to view from the Taskbar.

Taskbar Properties

The Taskbar allows you to set certain operational parameters. For example, it allows you to decide if it stays out in the open all the time or hides until you need it. You access the Taskbar properties by right-clicking the Taskbar and selecting Properties from the context menu. You'll see the Taskbar tab of the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box shown in Figure 3.32.

Figure 3.32 The Taskbar allows you to adjust how it interacts with you.

As you can see, the upper half of this dialog controls how the Taskbar appears to the user. You can tell it to hide itself so that you can gain some additional Desktop space for your applications. Of course, when you do need the Taskbar, you'll want to ensure it sits on top of the other windows so that you can actually see it. Windows XP includes a new feature called grouping. We discussed this idea briefly during Day 1. Essentially, it places like items together so that you can more easily find them. After you arrange your Taskbar to your liking, you'll probably want to lock it so that none of the features are moved out of place by accident.

The bottom half of the display configures the Notification area (Taskbar tray for those upgrading from previous versions of Windows). The first option displays the Clock when checked. The second option determines if Windows XP hides icons in the Notification area when not needed. The idea behind this feature is that you'll free additional Taskbar space for application and other toolbar icons. Clicking Customize will display the Customize Notification dialog box, which allows you to set how Windows XP handles each icon.

Date/Time Adjustment

Nothing much ever changes with the date and time adjustments for Windows. This dialog box has remained essentially unchanged from the very early days of the product. Double-click on the clock, and you'll see the Date and Time Properties dialog.

The Date and Time tab of the Time Properties dialog allows you to set the current calendar date manually. You can also set the time by using either the analog or digital clock.

The Time Zone tab contains a map of the world and a drop-down list of time zones. You select your current time zone so that Windows knows how to change the time as required. There's also an option that tells Windows XP to automatically compensate for daylight saving time.

Windows XP comes with a new feature. You'll find it on the Internet Time tab. This feature allows you to select a universal time coordinator (UTC) site online to synchronize the time on your computer. Every time Windows XP detects a live Internet connection, it will poll the site you select for the current time and date. If either value is incorrect, Windows XP will automatically adjust it for you.

Task Manager

Anyone who's used Task Manager in the past will recognize the Windows XP version. You use Task Manager to track applications on your system, monitor performance to an extent, and even check up on people using your system. The following sections tell you more about Task Manager.

Application Management

The Applications tab of the Windows Task Manager window contains a list of applications currently running on your system. The application information includes status. Most applications will simply say they're running. If you see an application with Not Responding as its status, you'll probably need to highlight it and click End Task. In short, Task Manager provides this method for recovering from an application error.

You can also use Task Manager to start a new application. Just click New Task and provide an application name. Likewise, you can highlight one of the tasks in the list, click Switch To, and Task Manager will give it focus.

One of the features that you won't see immediately will come in handy when we look at games during Day 7. Right-click any running application and look at the context menu. You'll notice a Go to Process entry that allows you to find this application on the Processes tab.

Working with Processes

There are two types of processes on your machine. Applications create the first type. Every application has at least one process associated with it. A process is a thread of execution. Think about it as a single task that you have given the application to do. The system creates the second type of process. Services normally create the processes, which execute in the background.

Monitoring processes on your system can tell you a little about system performance. For example, if you see one application grabbing all of the CPU cycles and memory, then you know that you need to monitor that application. Sometimes you need to end an errant process before it crashes the system.

The default Processes tab display includes the name of the process, the process owner, and the amount of CPU time and memory the process uses. You can add more columns by using the View | Select Columns command. For example, you might want to know how much time the application spends reading from and writing to disk. Task Manager provides columns that contain this information.

Monitoring Performance

Task Manager provides two tabs' worth of performance information. The Performance tab appears in Figure 3.33. It provides about the same information as previous versions of Windows. The Network tab is new. It provides statistics on your network, such as the number of bytes read and the current level of activity.

Figure 3.33 You can use Task Manager to perform some high-level performance monitoring.

Notice that the Performance tab display in Figure 3.32 shows two windows for CPU Usage History. That's one window for each processor on the test machine. You can also set Task Manager to display just one window with the combined average for both processors using the options on the View | CPU History menu.

The View | Update Speed menu allows you to adjust the interval between performance monitoring checks. A longer interval enables you to see trends with greater ease. A shorter interval allows you to see instantaneous peaks in activity. This feature can tell you if a performance problem applies to a certain application. It also allows you to see the effects of system performance tweaks faster. We'll discuss the whole issue of performance in detail during Day 9.

Managing Users

Have you ever wondered who's lurking on your system looking for information they shouldn't have? Windows XP provides a new Task Manager tab that allows you to monitor user activity on your system with greater ease. The Users tab shows everyone who's logged into your system and their status.

This tab also allows you to disconnect, log off, or send messages to other users. You could use this feature to send all users connected to your machine a message that you'll shut down in a few minutes. After the interval is past, you could use the Disconnect or Log Off buttons to remove the users from your system before you shut it down. Theoretically, this should reduce the amount of information that's lost because someone doesn't get off your system in time.

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