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Using Toolbars

Windows XP is bristling with toolbars of all shapes and sizes. Even the Taskbar has several toolbars you can use. What's the purpose of all these toolbars? They make it easier for you to move around Windows XP. The toolbars in Windows XP reflect a continuing effort on Microsoft's part to enable you to customize every part of an application as you see fit.

As with most toolbars, you can move these around and resize them as necessary. Unlike most toolbars, those provided with the Taskbar aren't free floating. You can't move them off the Taskbar and have them sitting around like a dialog box. This makes sense. Consider all the confusion that would occur when a user tries to figure out where a free-floating toolbar belongs.

Peter's Principle: Don't Bury Windows XP in a Pile of Toolbars

Some people will most likely go crazy with the toolbars Microsoft provides. After all, if one toolbar can increase efficiency a little, and two toolbars a little more, why not have a toolbar for every purpose? If you look at toolbars as the sole method for improving your Windows XP efficiency, such logic might actually look good.

The problem is that you can end up cluttering your screen with more toolbars than you'll ever use. Think what will happen to the Taskbar if you add four or five toolbars and have that many applications open besides. Will you really be able to figure out what's going on without checking each icon individually? When a toolbar begins to get in the way of the work you're doing, it's no longer a method of improving efficiency, but rather a hindrance to that efficiency.

The trick to using toolbars is to look for a few tasks you perform regularly. I'm not talking about once a day; I'm talking about tasks you perform hourly or perhaps even more frequently. An efficiency-enhancing toolbar is one that makes getting the most from Windows XP a matter of a single click.

The next few sections will help you learn more about the Taskbar toolbars. I'll show you how to add, create, remove, and destroy toolbars.


Windows XP comes with four standard toolbars (although your toolbars may not necessarily appear in the same order mine did). The first is the Quick Launch toolbar, which enables you to view the desktop, to launch Internet Explorer, or to check out the channels to which you've subscribed. The second toolbar, Desktop, replicates all the icons on your desktop so that you can access them without minimizing your current application. Just select the Desktop icon you want to see from the toolbar, and Windows XP displays it. The third toolbar, Address, displays a list box in which you can type an address of something you want to see. (You also can type the name of a file on your local or network drive as a location on the Internet.) The list box keeps track of your most recent requests so that you can select them rather than type them. The fourth toolbar, Links, displays a list of the links you've defined for Internet Explorer. A single click takes you to one of your favorite locations.

You can access any of these toolbars by right-clicking the Taskbar and then selecting Toolbars from the context menu. To place a standard toolbar on the Taskbar, add a check to its context menu entry.


Just because Windows XP comes with standard toolbars doesn't mean that you have to keep things that way. You can create your own toolbars to meet specific needs. For example, you might want to create a toolbar that gives you access to the various projects you're working on. Another toolbar might contain the applications you use on a daily basis. The list could be endless.

It's a good idea to keep the number of items on your toolbar as low as possible. I usually keep the number of items to 10 or fewer. A toolbar can really start to clog things up when you get past that level. If your toolbar starts to reach 10 items, you should consider alternatives to listing every item. For example, you could place the items you use less often in a folder and then place that folder on the toolbar.

Creating a toolbar is easy. All you need to do to start the process is create a folder containing shortcuts to the items you want to access using the toolbar. For example, you might create a folder named Common Applications that contains shortcuts to your favorite applications. After the folder is completed, right-click the Taskbar. Select the Toolbars | New Toolbar option from the context menu. You'll see a New Toolbar dialog box containing a field for the link name or Internet address and an Explorer-style directory listing you can use to choose the folder containing the shortcuts.

The capability to use an Internet address means that you can create a toolbar of the Web sites you visit on a daily basis. You even can include your company intranet as a potential toolbar item. You can get only one site per toolbar when specifying an Internet or intranet location, so you should use toolbars for only the most important sites.

After you type a folder name or URL, Windows XP displays it on the Taskbar. Figure 3.11 shows an example of both types of toolbars. The toolbar on the left points to a local folder. The one on the right points to Microsoft's home page on the Internet.


You might find it a bit difficult to view Web sites on the Taskbar, especially if you have more than one. To see the Web site in a window, right-click the toolbar you want to see and select Open in Window from the context menu. You also can save room on the toolbar by right-clicking it and removing the check from the Show Title option in the toolbar. This removes the Web site title from the toolbar and creates more space for actually viewing the Web site.

Figure 3.11 Toolbars provide a great deal of flexibility when it comes to accessing local or remote resources, even those on the Internet.

Getting Rid of a Toolbar You Don't Need

After a while, you might find that all those toolbars you created really don't do as much as you'd like, or you may find that you want to get rid of some old toolbars to make room for new ones. Whatever the reason, getting rid of an old toolbar is easy. Simply right-click the Taskbar and then select Toolbars from the context menu. Find the toolbar you want to remove, and then remove the check next to its name by selecting it.

Customizing the Quick Launch Toolbar

I consider the Quick Launch Toolbar a substitute for the simplified Start Menu, discussed in Chapter 2, for the advanced user. It can hold all of the applications you use regularly, but doesn't change dynamically. You should include all of the applications you use daily, but not those that you start by double-clicking application files.

To give you a better idea of how the Quick Launch Toolbar should work, consider the way I use Microsoft Office. I almost never open Access as an application; it's common for me to double-click one of the database file shortcuts in my work folder. Likewise, I seldom open Word as an application because I usually open an established file, such as an outline or existing manuscript file first. Neither of these applications is a good candidate for the Quick Launch toolbar. On the other hand, I always open Excel as an application because I use it to modify so many files. It's easier to open the application and load the data files I need using the File | Open command. Excel is one of the applications on my Quick Launch toolbar because I use the program almost daily and usually open it by using the application icon.

There are many ways to modify your Quick Launch toolbar. For example, you could open a copy of Windows Explorer and locate \Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch. Personally, I prefer not to dig that many layers down the drive hierarchy if I don't have to.

An alternative to using Windows Explorer is to locate in the Programs folder of the Start Menu the application you want to place in the Quick Launch toolbar. Right-click the application icon and drag it to the Quick Launch toolbar. You'll see a context menu with Copy Here, Move Here, and Cancel in it. Notice that Move Here is the default option, which is why you don't want to use a standard drag to move the application icon. Choose Copy Here from the context menu, and you'll see the application icon appear in the Quick Launch toolbar.

If you later decide that the application doesn't really belong in the Quick Launch toolbar, you can right-click it and choose Delete. The icon will still appear with your programs under the Start Menu. However, if you had used the normal drag method, the icon would now be gone for good. In short, always create copies of icons you move to one of the toolbars.

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