Windows 7 Taskbar: Most Interesting Part of New OS?

Microsoft is sharing details about the Windows 7 Taskbar after not including it in pre-beta software. Will this be Microsoft's speediest, most clutter-free taskbar to date? Here's an early look at what you'll get.

Tue, November 25, 2008

CIO — Among Microsoft Windows 7's features, a taskbar overhaul is arguably the feature in Microsoft's upcoming OS that has aroused the most interest. But it's also the most cloaked in mystery, as it was not part of the pre-beta Windows 7 software handed out to attendees at Microsoft's PDC (Professional Developers Conference) last month.

More taskbar details emerged late last week on Microsoft's Engineering Windows 7 blog. Despite some criticism that the Windows 7 taskbar looks too visually similar to the Mac OS X dock, Microsoft does seem to be trying to break new ground with the look, feel and functionality of the Windows 7 taskbar. It's different, yet familiar, as Microsoft emphasizes in the blog post. Time will tell if it is actually better.

Check out the blog post for more details on new features such as Jump Lists, Interactive Grouped Thumbnails, Aero Peek, Thumbnail Toolbars and Color Hot Track.

The goal, as always, is faster and easier management of application windows. But this time around, Microsoft may be adding visual flair and the coolness factor to its list of goals. Just don't tell that to Mac users.

Here's a summary of the four most notable new Windows 7 taskbar features:

Unified Quick Launch and Taskband

Microsoft has merged Quick Launch and the taskband into a big happy launching and switching family. Buttons in the Quick Launch bar that open a program (for example, Internet Explorer) turn into a window switcher when launched.

This may not be a new concept, but Microsoft says that the difference with Windows 7 is that no matter how many, say, IE browsers you have open, and whether or not they are minimized or maximized, there will only be a single representation of IE on the taskbar. This is the default setting and you have the freedom to have as many buttons as you want.

Microsoft also says that the Quick Launch/taskband union allows one of the most requested features to be put into play: the ability to move taskbar buttons. Quick Launch has always allowed this, but now you'll be able to move running windows around.

Interactive, Grouped Thumbnails

The Windows Vista taskbar shows corresponding thumbnails when you mouse over a taskbar button, but in Windows 7 these thumbnails are clickable, allowing you to open, close or switch between windows right from the thumbnails. Also, each thumbnail looks like a mini version of the window it is representing, be it a Web browser, Word document or Power Point application.

Windows 7
Interactive, clickable thumbnails appear when you mouse over a button. (Courtesy of Microsoft Corp.)

Microsoft compares this feature to having a "contextual Alt-tab surfaced directly off the taskbar." Windows 7 will still allow you to have individual buttons for each window if you so choose (though I wonder why anyone would want this, given the disorganization that ensues when button after button lines up in your taskbar).

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