Using Windows 11

Using and customizing the taskbar

The taskbar is the valuable strip of real estate along the bottom of the screen. The taskbar made its debut in Windows 95, and in the years since, it has added features and buttons without changing its basic shape.

In Windows 11, Microsoft has rewritten the taskbar code from scratch, stripping away nearly three decades’ worth of cruft and starting fresh with a design that is deliberately clean and simple. Its initial arrangement contains a group of buttons in the center, with (from left to right) the Start button, a group of system shortcuts, and then a group of buttons representing apps; the Widgets button is on the far left and a group of notification icons and a clock are on the far right.

The Windows 11 taskbar continues to serve the same core functions as its predecessors—launching apps, switching between apps, and providing notifications—but the changes from its Windows 10 predecessor are profound. (For a partial list, see the sidebar, “What you can’t do with the Windows 11 taskbar.”)

The most obvious change is the starting position. By default, the Windows 11 taskbar is centered on the bottom of the display rather than aligning to the lower-left corner. For most people, the new position quickly becomes second nature, especially on large monitors; but if you’d rather not adapt, it’s easy enough to restore the taskbar to its traditional alignment. Go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar, expand the Taskbar Behaviors section, and change the Taskbar Alignment menu option from Center to Left. (An even faster way to get to this page is to right-click any empty space on the taskbar and choose Taskbar Settings.)

Every running app with a user interface has a corresponding taskbar button. (Apps that run exclusively in the background don’t offer a taskbar button.) When you close that app, the button vanishes as well, unless you pinned it to the taskbar. A short line appears underneath the icon for a pinned app that is currently running, and the app with the current focus has a longer line and a subtle but noticeable transparent shadow to identify it.

The Windows 11 taskbar offers a limited (but useful) selection of customization options, available through Settings > Personalization > Taskbar (or by right-clicking any empty space on the taskbar and clicking Taskbar Settings). Figure 3-10 shows an expanded view of the first two groups of options available on that page.

Figure 3-10

Figure 3-10 Taskbar settings are organized into four collapsible groups, including these options to show or hide buttons and icons.

Here’s a rundown of the available taskbar customization options:

  • Taskbar Items The four items in this group allow you to show or hide items that appear on the taskbar independently of app buttons: Search, Task View, Widgets, and Chat. If you don’t use one or more of these features, it might make sense to suppress their appearance on the taskbar. In the interest of saving space, you might even choose to hide the button for a feature you use occasionally and just rely on its keyboard shortcut instead. For example, you can hide the Widgets button and press Windows key+W when you feel the need to check news headlines or see the local weather forecast.

  • System Tray Icons On systems that are equipped with the requisite hardware (a pen and/or touchscreen), you can configure Windows so that the Pen Menu, Touch Keyboard, and Virtual Touchpad icons are always visible. We cover these features in more detail later in this chapter.

  • Other System Tray Icons Third-party apps (including some from Microsoft) can add their own icons to the system tray, which is the region just to the left of the clock in the taskbar. By default, most of these icons are hidden and available only in an overflow area visible when you click the upward-pointing arrow at the left of the system tray, as shown in Figure 3-11. You can drag icons from the overflow area onto the system tray (or vice versa), or use the switches on this Settings page to show or hide individual icons.

    Figure 3-11

    Figure 3-11 Drag icons out of this overflow area and onto the system tray to make them always available for notifications and access to shortcut menus.

  • Taskbar Behaviors The final section on this page (shown in Figure 3-12) contains a limited selection of options you can use to manage the appearance of the taskbar as well as the behavior of taskbar buttons.

    Figure 3-12

    Figure 3-12 Use the Taskbar Alignment setting to move the Start button to the left. Note that some options shown here are available only on PCs with multiple displays.

The following is a rundown of the options shown in Figure 3-12:

  • Taskbar Alignment By default, the Windows 11 taskbar buttons are centered at the bottom of the display, with the Start button on its left. Change this option to Left if you want the Start button to appear in the lower-left corner, with taskbar buttons appearing to its right, as in previous Windows versions.

  • Automatically Hide The Taskbar By default, the taskbar remains visible at all times. If that’s inconvenient for any reason, you can tell it to get out of the way. With this option set, the taskbar retreats into the bottom edge of the desktop whenever a window has the focus. To display the hidden taskbar, move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the desktop. On a touchscreen, swipe from that edge toward the center of the screen.

  • Show Badges On Taskbar Apps Badges are small circular notifications that can appear over taskbar buttons to indicate that something in that app needs your attention. Badges on the Clock icon, for example, indicate that an alarm has been set, while badges over the To Do and Mail buttons indicate that you have overdue tasks and unread messages, respectively.

  • Show Flashing On Taskbar Apps This option allows Windows to flash a taskbar button when it requires immediate action on your part to proceed. If you turn this option off, the taskbar button changes color to alert you, without calling any additional attention to itself.

  • Show My Taskbar On All Displays If your PC is configured to use multiple displays, you can choose whether you want each display to have its own taskbar. If this option is off, the taskbar appears only on the main display. (You specify the main display in Settings > System > Display. For details, see “Configuring displays and graphics adapters” in Chapter 13, “Managing hardware and devices.”)

  • When Using Multiple Displays, Show My Taskbar Apps On If you’ve chosen to show taskbars on all displays, you can choose whether you want buttons for running apps to appear on all taskbars, on the main taskbar and the window where the window is open, or only on the taskbar where the window is open. Note that the last option can be confusing if you have an app’s button pinned to the main taskbar, but it’s open on a secondary window.

  • Share Any Window From My Taskbar This option allows you to share a window in a Microsoft Teams meeting using a menu on the taskbar icon. Note that this feature works with the Microsoft 365 version of Teams, not the free consumer-focused version included with Windows.

  • Select The Far Corner Of The Taskbar To Show The Desktop With this option (called Peek in previous Windows versions) on, clicking in the lower-right corner of the display (beyond the Notification Center button) hides all open windows, giving you the opportunity to see the underlying desktop. Click again to restore the previous arrangement.

Pinning apps to the taskbar

Pinning apps to the taskbar makes it easy to find and run favorite apps without the need to open Start or use the search box to find the app’s shortcut. To pin an app to the taskbar, simply drag its icon or a shortcut (from Start, from the desktop, or from any other folder) to the taskbar. Alternatively, right-click a pinned app (in any location) or the taskbar button for a running app and then click Pin To Taskbar.

To remove a pinned app from the taskbar, right-click the pinned app and then click Unpin From Taskbar. This command also appears on other shortcuts to the app, including those on the desktop and on Start.

You can use taskbar buttons to launch an app that’s not currently running or to switch from one running app to another. You can also click a taskbar button to minimize an open window or to restore a minimized window. If those features sound too obvious, here’s a trick you might not know: You can open a new instance of an app that’s already running—a new Microsoft Word document, for example, or a fresh File Explorer window—by right-clicking the taskbar button and then clicking the app name; alternatively, hold Shift and click the app’s taskbar button.

Changing the order of taskbar buttons

To change the order of buttons on the taskbar, drag them into position. Pinned apps retain their order between sessions, allowing you to quickly find your most used apps in their familiar (to you) location.

Using Jump Lists for quick access to documents and folders

A Jump List is the official name for the set of additional menu options that appear when you right-click a taskbar button for an app that supports this feature.

For Microsoft Office programs, Adobe Acrobat, and other document-centric apps, Jump Lists typically include links to recently opened files as well as pinned shortcuts to files and folders. In Microsoft Edge, these groups are labeled Top Sites and Recently Closed. Jump Lists can include shortcuts to common tasks that can be performed with that program, such as New Window or New InPrivate Window on a Microsoft Edge Jump List, and New Email Message or New Appointment on the Jump List for Microsoft Outlook.

Figure 3-13 shows the default Jump List for File Explorer.

Figure 3-13

Figure 3-13 Right-click a taskbar button, such as File Explorer, to see a Jump List showing recently opened files and folders with the option to pin items for quick access.

Individual files and folders can’t be pinned directly to the taskbar, but you can add them to Jump Lists on any program that supports this feature. Opening a file or folder from File Explorer adds an entry for that to the Recent list in the app where it opened. Right-click the taskbar button, point to its entry, and click the pushpin icon to move the file or folder to the Pinned section of the Jump List:

  • To open a pinned document or folder, right-click the taskbar button and then click the name of the document or folder.

  • To remove a pinned document or folder from the Jump List, right-click the taskbar button and point to the name of the document or folder to be removed. Click the pushpin icon that appears.