Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

“My Taskbar disappeared” and other simple tweaks (updated)

Some of the support calls I deal with remind me that some of the simplest of  ‘glitches’ (the easiest to fix) can be quite frustrating to a computer user when you do not understand what is going on — like the call I get every so often, “my Start button is gone and I can’t shut down my PC!” I mean, that sounds pretty troubling, doesn’t it? Start button: gone. Yikes. What happened? Somehow, the “Auto-hide the taskbar” feature has been turned on. Move your cursor to the bottom edge of your screen and the familiar Start button and clock will reappear (if it doesn’t, hit Ctrl+Esc, or try moving your cursor to the top, and each side, your taskbar may have “jumped” to one of those edges).

Tip of the day: Set your Taskbar to the way you like it, and then lock it down. To get started, we need to get into the Start Menu and Taskbar Properties options menu. To do so, right-click on any open part (darker blue) of the Taskbar and select Properties.

Now you will see the options we can ‘tweak’. Please note that I have the top one, “Lock the taskbar”, selected. You want to uncheck this while you make your changes, and then when you have everything set to your liking, lock it again. While we’re here, make sure “Auto-hide” is deselected, and the taskbar is unlocked.

By selecting and deselecting the checkboxes you tell Windows how you want the taskbar to behave.
Auto-hide will, well, “hide” the bar after you move to another task — the idea being to give you more screen “real estate” for what you’re currently doing. Hovering your cursor over where it should be will cause it to un-hide. Personally, I don’t like this feature, and would rather keep my eye on the clock than gain a half-inch or so of screen. (This feature has been the source of many inter-office practical jokes, which we tech support types don’t find funny at all.)
Keep the taskar on top of other windows is very similar, but its purpose is the opposite. Selecting this will prevent (or try to prevent) programs that launch in “Full-screen mode” from covering up the taskbar. If you’re a clockwatcher, select this one.
Group similar taskbar buttons changes the default behavior of opening a tab/button for each program you have running in the middle area of the bar. Say for instance you have several (let’s say three) Excel spreadsheets open; with this feature activated, instead of having three buttons labeled “Excel” — which can cause you to run short of taskbar real estate — you will see one, labeled “3 Excel”. Clicking on the tab/button will open a menu naming the three documents.
Show Quick Launch will activate the Quick Launch area of the taskbar. That’s on the left side, just to the immediate right of the Start button. These are ‘single-click’ shortcuts for launching your favorite programs. To remove icons for programs you never actually use; right-click on them and select Delete (you are removing a shortcut, not the program itself). To add a program to this area, right-click on its icon and drag it into the Quick Launch area (taskbar must be unlocked), let go, and select “Create shortcut here”. Quick Launch — especially if Auto-hide is deactivated, and Keep on top is activated — keeps you from having to minimize all your open windows just so you can see your desktop.
Show the clock allows you to turn on or off the digital clock on the far right side. Though, I cannot imagine why you’d want to do that…(I kid.)
Hide inactive icons refers to those icons next to the clock, an area known as the “System Tray”. The system tray shows you (some of) the programs running “in the background” on your PC. Activating this option makes the icons for programs that have ‘gone idle’ disappear, giving you more taskbar real estate. To see them again, just click on the little “<” button.

But wait! We’re not done! Did you know that the taskbar doesn’t have to be on the bottom? You can move it to the top, to simulate the “Mac experience” if you prefer. Or you can move it to either side. To do so, unlock it and place your cursor on a blank space (on the taskbar) and click-and-drag it to the top and let go. If you like it there, and some people do, lock it again. If you don’t, simply drag it back to the bottom.

If you still don’t see the taskbar, you may have ‘squashed’ it to zero height. Move your cursor to the very bottom edge of your screen (you may have to try all the edges) until it changes to up-and-down pointing arrows — click and “drag” upwards until the bar reappears.
Also, you can give yourself more taskbar real estate by expanding it to a bigger size. By default the taskbar is one “row” high, but you can make it two rows, or three rows high. One of the advantages of doing so is the clock changes from time-only to time+date+day-of-the-week…which some people (like yours truly) find convenient.

To finish up the job, click “Apply” and then “OK”, and please remember to “Lock the taskbar” when you’ve got things ‘tweaked’ to your liking.

Today’s free link: You may have looked at my icons and wondered what some of the programs shown are. I am not going to go through and list them all, but I will tell you about the orange ball: it’s Novatix’s Cyberhawk, a free hueristic anti-malware program I run on all my machines
[update 09/08/07
: Cyberhawk was purchased by PC Tools and is now called “Threatfire“.] From their website: “…Traditional antivirus solutions cannot protect you until after they’ve discovered a new threat and produced a signature to counter it. Cyberhawk ThreatFire is different. It does not rely on signatures, but instead constantly analyzes your computer’s behavior to detect and block any malicious activity.”

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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July 16, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, System Tray, Taskbar, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , | 73 Comments