Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once

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1 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once Your Best Friend at the Bottom of the Screen How to Make the Most of Your Taskbar The taskbar is the wide bar that stretches across the bottom of your screen, with the Start button at one end and the clock at the other. To many PC users, that s all it is, and they don t take much notice of it. In this article, I ll explain the real point of the taskbar how it helps you to work with programs and windows, see at a glance which programs are open and easily switch from one program to another. By Rob Young Why the Taskbar Can Make Computer Use Easier and Quicker... Control Multiple Windows at Once Using the Taskbar Here s How... Why Having Multiple Programs Open at Once Can Be a Great Idea... Dealing with Windows that Don t Have Taskbar Buttons?... Taskbar Troubleshooting Common Problems Solved... This article shows you:... Why the taskbar can be a computer user s best friend... How to save time by keeping multiple programs open at once... How to switch from one window to another, instantly and with ease T 040 / 1 T 040 / 2 T 040 / 4 T 040 / 7 T 040 / 11 T 040 / 13 65

2 T 040 / 2 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once The taskbar contains the Start button and the tray 66 Programs add a button to the taskbar when you run them The button matches the program s title bar for easy recognition Why the Taskbar Can Make Computer Use Easier and Quicker Even if you ve never taken much notice of the taskbar in your day-to-day use of the computer, there are a few things you ve certainly noticed about it. First, you know the taskbar is home to the Start button, your first port of call when you want to run a program or do just about anything in Windows. Second, you re aware of the tray, the area at the right of the taskbar that contains a row of small icons and the clock. Third, you ve noticed that the taskbar is always visible, and always in the same place, whatever you re doing. Actually, that third point isn t always true: it s possible to set the taskbar to hide itself when you re not using it, and it s also possible to move the taskbar to a different edge of the screen rather than having it along the bottom. We ll explore these options later in this article. Between the Start button on the left and the tray on the right, there s a wide expanse of empty space. This empty space is important, and, as you may also have noticed, it doesn t stay empty for long. To do anything useful with your computer, you have to start a program. When you start a program, you ll see its window appear on your desktop and you re ready to do some work. If you look at the taskbar now, you ll see that a narrow rectangular button has appeared at the left of that empty space on the taskbar. Now have a look at the title bar of the window you just opened (the bar that runs along the extreme top of the window). At the left of the title

3 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 3 bar you ll see a small icon, and beside that the name of the document you re working on and/or the name of the program you re using. Compare this with the rectangular button that appeared on the taskbar: you ll see that the button shows the same icon and the same text. Here s a quick illustration of that before we go further. As I m writing this article, I m typing into a document named T040 in a program named Microsoft Word. The title bar of this program looks like this: The title bar contains the window s icon and caption You can see the Microsoft Word icon in the top left corner with the name of my document and the program beside it. On the taskbar I can see a matching rectangular button: By looking at this button on the taskbar, I can tell straight away that I have Microsoft Word open, and that I m working on a document named T040 in Microsoft Word. Of course, that doesn t seem particularly useful at the moment because I can see the Microsoft Word window clearly on my screen it s the only program I ve opened. However, what if I had several programs open? Moreover, what if one of those programs were covering the whole desktop so that all I could see is that one program and the taskbar? This is where the taskbar comes into its own, and it s really the whole reason for the taskbar s existence. Taskbar buttons are most useful when more than one window is open 67

4 T 040 / 4 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once The taskbar shows all open programs, even if their windows are hidden Control Multiple Windows at Once Using the Taskbar Perhaps that last paragraph caught you by surprise? Maybe, like a great many PC users, you hadn t realised you could have several programs open at once? Indeed, perhaps you can t think of any good reason for doing so! We ll delve into some of these issues later in this article for now, just trust me that you can have lots of windows and programs open at once, and there are plenty of occasions when this might be useful. Let s look at how the taskbar enables you to deal with them. Have a look at the following screenshot. You can see that I have a large Control Panel window open, and that another window ( My Computer ) is mostly hidden behind it. Now look at the taskbar in this screenshot: there s a button for the Control Panel window, and another for the My Computer window. Look further along, though, and you ll see two more buttons: Outlook Express and Calculator. The presence of these two buttons tells us that there are two more windows open but where are they? 68

5 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 5 We can t see those other two windows, but that doesn t matter at all. Their buttons on the taskbar serve as a reminder that these two programs are still open, and they also give us an easy way to get back to those programs when we need to. If I wanted to see the Outlook Express window, all I have to do is click the Outlook Express button on the taskbar. Its window will reappear, right in front of the two windows I can see at the moment, and I can start using it. In the next screenshot, you can see the result: I ve clicked the Outlook Express button and the Outlook Express window has appeared. It s a large window that almost fills the screen and completely covers the two windows I could see before. Is that a problem? No, not at all! I can still see the taskbar buttons for the Control Panel and My Computer windows, and if I want to use one of those windows again I just click the appropriate button. Click a button to make that window visible and ready to use Don t worry if it covers up your other windows! Make a window visible by clicking its taskbar button 69

6 T 040 / 6 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once Buttons resize themselves to make room for new ones Move the mouse over a button to see its full caption What happens when the taskbar is full? If you look at either of the previous screenshots, you ll see that the four buttons on the taskbar completely fill it up. However, this doesn t mean that I can t start another program. If I do, the buttons on the taskbar will simply squash up automatically to make room for a fifth button. (This new button will be placed to the right of the Calculator button new buttons are always placed on the right rather than at some random position among the others.) If you close one of the windows, its taskbar button will disappear as well (because the program is no longer running). The remaining buttons adjust their positions accordingly, moving left to fill up the space that button was occupying. If the remaining buttons had been squashed to a smaller size, they ll also get a little wider again now that they have extra space to play with. When the taskbar fills up and the buttons have to resize themselves, the one drawback is that you may not be able to see the whole of the caption on each button, because the buttons aren t wide enough. For example, the Outlook Express button may say Outlook Exp instead. This shouldn t be much of a problem: you can still see the icon on the button and some of its caption, so you can probably tell which window the button belongs to. If you can t, just move the mouse over the button and pause there briefly; a little tooltip will appear above it showing the full caption, as in the screenshot below. 70

7 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 7 Why Having Multiple Programs Open at Once Can Be a Great Idea Now we reach the crux of this article: you can have numerous windows open, and the taskbar is designed to make them easy to deal with, but why on earth would you want to do that? Well, obviously there s no good reason for opening lots of windows and starting lots of programs willy-nilly! You decide for yourself what needs to be open and what doesn t. Let s take an example of a situation that might arise: You want to write someone a letter about a financial matter, so you start your word processor and begin typing. A little way in, you want to do a quick calculation and type the result into your letter, so you need to start the Calculator program (found on the Start menu in the Accessories section). Do you close your word processor before starting the Calculator? Actually, I don t think you would (I hope you wouldn t, anyway). I think you d just start the Calculator and do your sums. But do you now close the Calculator again to go back to your letter? Before you do that, ask yourself whether you re likely to need the Calculator again in a moment. If you are, why not leave it open instead? You can return to your letter by clicking its button on the taskbar, and next time you need the Calculator program you won t have to navigate to the Start menu again to find it: it s right there on the taskbar, just one click away! In a similar way, perhaps you have some figures in a spreadsheet document that you need to refer to while writing your letter. Once again, Keep a window open if you ll need it again Much quicker than repeatedly opening and closing the same document 71

8 T 040 / 8 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once don t open that spreadsheet every time you need it and then close it again after referring to it. Keep it open and available until your letter is finished it s much quicker and easier. Your window is unchanged even if it s hidden behind others These are just examples, but if you ve never thought of using your computer like this, try keeping an eye on what you do while you work. I m sure you ll find lots of occasions when you close a program, knowing in the back of your mind that you ll probably need it again in a moment! Avoid Cluttering Up Your Desktop by Minimising Windows I mentioned earlier in this article that many PC users aren t aware they can have multiple programs running at once. Other users are aware that they can do this, but they tend to shy away from doing it. They do this for two main reasons, which I ll deal with in the short sections below. 1. I don t want to lose what I was working on There s a fear (and quite a rational one) that if you start another program, particularly one whose window completely covers up the program you were just using, you ll lose the work you were doing in that program. You won t honestly. Even though you may not be able to see the program you were using, it s still there, and still easily accessible by its taskbar button when you want to return to it. It s certainly a bit unnerving to have your important document disappear behind another window, but it s just like the effect you have on 72

9 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 9 BBC1 when you switch to ITV no effect at all! BBC1 is still alive and kicking, you re just not watching it any more. To avoid taking unnecessary risks, it s a good idea to save the document you were working on before you start another program. In most programs you do this by choosing File > Save or by pressing Ctrl+S. This way, if something unexpected does go wrong, your document has been stored safely on your hard disk and you can simply open it again without losing any work. Really, though, you should be in the habit of saving a document frequently while you work on it, regardless of whether you have one program or several running. 2. My screen gets cluttered and confusing with a lot of windows open I completely understand this one. I m a neat and tidy chap, and I find it distracting to see little bits of other windows poking out from behind the one I m using! The solution is easy: just minimise the windows you re not using. When a window is minimised, it disappears from your desktop so that all you can see is its button on the taskbar. There are two ways to minimise a window: Click the window s Minimise button.you ll find this in the top right corner of the window it s the button on the left of the group of three, indicated in the screenshot below. You can minimise windows to reduce screen clutter Click this button to minimise the window 73

10 T 040 / 10 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once Minimise a window using its taskbar button Only one window at a time is active Clicking a window s taskbar button brings that window to the front, making it ready to use, as you already know. In Windows 98 / Me / 2000 / XP, you can click the taskbar button a second time to minimise the window. (This doesn t work in Windows 95.) A minimised window is no different to one that s been hidden behind other windows. It s still there, unchanged, and can be brought back by clicking its button on the taskbar in the usual way. There s one extra little benefit to minimising a window when you re not using it. If a window is simply hidden behind other windows, your computer has to spend a certain amount of time and effort keeping track of what it should look like on the screen (even if you can t see it). If you minimise the window, the computer knows it s now completely invisible and doesn t need this regular attention. The computer can then put a bit more effort into the program you re actively using. The Active Window and Inactive Windows If you ve only ever used one program at a time, there may be another thing you re wondering about at this point. If you have several windows open and you start typing, what happens? Which window does your text appear in? Or does it appear in all of them? Well, your text will definitely only appear in one window! When you have two or more windows open, only one window will be active and all the others will be inactive. Anything you type goes into the active window. 74

11 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 11 The active window is the last window you opened or switched to the one at the front. There are two things that tell you which window that is: The title bar at the top of the active window will be brighter and more colourful than the title bars of the other windows. In Windows XP, the active window s title bar will be bright blue and the title bars of other windows are a pale blue-grey. In Windows 95/98/Me/2000, the active window will have a blue title bar while the other windows have a grey title bar. (Of course, you may have changed your colour scheme, giving you different colours from these, but you ll still be able to see that the active window looks brighter and more lively than the others.) The taskbar button of the active window will look pressed down and darker than the taskbar buttons for the other windows. So if you re typing into one program and you want to type something in another, just bring it to the front by clicking its taskbar button. Incidentally, if you can see a part of the window you want to use, you don t have to click its taskbar button. Instead, you can just click on a visible part of the window: that will bring it to the front and make it active. However, if you do that, avoid clicking on a button or command in that window, because the button may do something you didn t want to do! Dealing with Windows that Don t Have Taskbar Buttons There are some windows that don t put a button on the taskbar when they appear. To give you an The brighter title bar indicates the active window 75

12 T 040 / 12 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once A dialog never has a taskbar button The dialog will be there when you switch back to the program Some dialogs can disappear behind other windows example of these, start your favourite word processor program and choose File > Print. When you do this, a window with the caption Print will appear. If you look at the taskbar, you ll see a button there for your word processor, but you won t see another one for this Print window. You ll also notice that this window doesn t have a minimise button either. (If you followed this example to have a look, click Cancel to close the Print window now.) This type of window is known as a dialog box, or just a dialog. A dialog is a window that s intended to be used only briefly. It may be a tiny window that presents you with a short piece of information or asks you a question, or it may be a larger window (like this Print dialog) that lets you choose some settings and options. Either way, you ll close the window after reading the information, answering the question, or choosing the settings you want. In the example I just gave you, you could ignore the Print dialog that appeared, and switch to another program and work with that for a while. If you switch back to your word processor later, the Print dialog will still be there in front of it, waiting for you to do something with it. This dialog is part of your word processor, and it won t let you do anything else with the program until you deal with this dialog and close it. As a result, there s no way you can lose track of this dialog. Some of the dialogs built into Windows itself don t work this way, and it s quite easy to lose them behind another window! Let s take an example of that: right-click the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop and choose Properties. A dialog will appear with the title Recycle Bin 76

13 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 13 Properties. Now open another program that usually has a large window (perhaps one that fills your screen). It s quite possible that the Recycle Bin Properties dialog has now vanished behind that one! There s no button on the taskbar for that dialog either, so you ve lost it! It s still there, of course, because you didn t close it. The trick is finding it again. There are two ways to bring that Recycle Bin Properties dialog to the front again: Minimise any window you can see that may be covering it. If that just leads to another window that s also covering it, minimise that too. Eventually you ll have minimised everything and that dialog will be the only thing visible. You can then click Cancel to close it. Hold down the Alt key and press the Esc key several times (keeping Alt pressed all the time). This combination of keys cycles through all the open windows, bringing a different one to the front each time you press Esc. When the window or dialog you wanted appears, let go of the Alt key and it will stay at the front, letting you work with it. (The easiest way to do this is with the left hand, using the thumb for the Alt key and the third finger for Esc.) Taskbar Troubleshooting Common Problems Solved Earlier in this article I mentioned that the taskbar is normally at the bottom of your screen and always visible. It s possible to change both of these aspects, and (more importantly) to change them back again if they are altered by accident! Minimise everything until the dialog is visible Use Alt+Esc to work through all windows until you find it 77

14 T 040 / 14 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once How to recover a hidden taskbar Auto-hide, and what to do if the taskbar has disappeared If the taskbar seems to have vanished, this means that it s been set to hide itself when it s not being used. Move your mouse to the very bottom of the screen and the taskbar will slide back into position. (If you move the mouse away again, it will slide downwards and disappear.) With the taskbar visible, right-click a blank space (not on a button or an icon) and choose Properties. This will display the dialog shown in the next screenshot. To prevent the taskbar from hiding itself like this, remove the tick beside Auto-hide the taskbar (or, in some versions of Windows, Auto-hide) and click OK. Of course, if you d like to try this auto-hide option you can tick the box instead; this will give you a little extra space on your desktop, but remember you ll only see the taskbar when you move the mouse to the bottom of the screen. Remove the tick beside Autohide the taskbar 78

15 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once T 040 / 15 Another way to display the taskbar if it s hiding is to press one of the Win keys on your keyboard (either of the keys showing the Windows flag at the bottom of your keyboard). This actually makes the Start menu open, but in doing so it also causes the taskbar to reappear. Moving the taskbar to a different edge of the screen The taskbar must always be along one edge of the screen top, bottom, left or right but you can choose any of those. If it isn t at the edge you d like it, here s how to move it (which varies slightly in different versions of Windows): Windows XP: 1. Right-click a blank space on the taskbar and look at the option labelled Lock the Taskbar. If there s a tick beside it, click it (which removes the tick). The taskbar can be along any edge of the screen In Windows XP, click this item if there s a tick beside it 2. Follow the steps given at the end of this article for Windows 95/98/2000 to drag the taskbar to a different edge of the screen. 79

16 T 040 / 16 Taskbar: Working with Several Windows at Once 3. After doing this, it s a good idea to lock the taskbar again to ensure that it can t be accidentally moved. To do this, right-click a blank space on the taskbar and click Lock the Taskbar. Windows Me: 1. Try following the steps given at the end of this article for Windows 95/98/2000. If the taskbar doesn t move, follow the remaining steps below. 2. Right-click on a blank space on the taskbar and choose Properties. 3. Select the Advanced tab in the dialog that appears, scroll to the bottom of the list and tick the box labelled Enable moving and resizing then click OK. 4. You should now be able to drag the taskbar to a new position successfully. 5. After doing this, it s a good idea to go back to that Enable moving and resizing option and remove the tick from it. This ensures that you can t accidentally move the taskbar somewhere else. Windows 95/98/2000: 1. Click on a blank space on the taskbar (not on a button or an icon) and, keeping the mouse button down, drag the mouse towards whichever edge of the screen you d like the taskbar to be on. 2. At first nothing will happen, but keep dragging, and the taskbar will suddenly jump to the correct edge when the mouse gets close enough to it. 80

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