Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tip: Expand your Windows Taskbar

A quick tip to make your Windows Taskbar a lot more usable is to expand its area and make it two rows high instead of one.  A pair of pictures are worth 2000 words:



These two images show the same Windows XP Taskbar with 12 applications running, and a bunch of icons in the system tray.  The difference is that in the second image, the Taskbar has been expanded to be two rows high instead of just one.

With the increased area available on the Taskbar, it's much easier to read the text that accompanies the icon on each application button, making it a lot easier to find (for example) a specific Firefox window or Word document.

To increase the number of rows in the Taskbar in this manner, just use the mouse to drag the top edge of the Taskbar upwards.  (You'll need to temporarily unlock the Taskbar first if you have it locked: Right-click an empty portion of the Taskbar, and uncheck the "Lock the Taskbar" option from the context menu that appears.)

Increasing the Taskbar area to two rows has a few other benefits as well:

  • The system tray icons are grouped into three rows instead of just one, saving a lot of horizontal real estate on the Taskbar.  As a result, there's even more room available for application buttons to be shown.
  • Windows shows the day and date in addition to the time on the right edge of the Taskbar; no need to hover over the time display with the mouse to see that information anymore.
  • Although it isn't shown in the screen cap above, I've found that the bit of empty space below the Start button is a great place to tuck a SlickRun command line into.

With the large screen resolutions (and hopefully, multiple monitors) available on modern machines, the additional screen real estate consumed by increasing the Taskbar size to a second row is trivial compared to the usability and productivity gains realized by doing so.

(You might also note that I have the "Group Similar Icons" option from the Taskbar's Properties dialog turned off.  That option does save some Taskbar real estate, but at the significant cost of not being able to identify or access specific application windows from the Taskbar with a single-click.  Again, with the large amount of screen real estate available on modern systems, I don't see the benefit in ever having that option enabled.)


  1. I roll with THREE monitors and my task bar THREE rows high. I'm a total lunatic.

  2. You (Jeremy) were actually my initial inspiration a few years ago for going to two Taskbar rows!

    I would like to go three monitors at work as well, but my current laptop and docking station (for my Thinkpad T60) only supports two monitors... apparently there is a fancier docking station out there which can hold an external expansion card (which I could use to plug in another video card and get an additional monitor that way), but I'm not sure I want to invest the extra couple of hundred dollars in a docking station that I probably won't be able to use anymore after I upgrade to a new laptop at some point in the future. So I'm content with two monitors for now.

  3. I have that advanced docking station and am rolling with 3 22" externals along with the LCD display from the laptop.

    What I want to know is if there is a way to get my taskbar on each of my monitors? Is that possible (without cloning my display)?

  4. @Jeremy:

    The only way I've seen to do what you're describing is a utility called Ultramon (non-free, but has a free trial).

    I don't use Ultramon myself, but a lot of folks with multiple monitors do seem to like it a lot.

  5. My laptop has a widescreen display. I actually moved by taskbar to the left edge of the screen (seeing that i have more horizontal space). This has a similar effect tot he two-row taskbar. I get the full date/time, 3 rows of systray icons and a lot more space for running applications in the taskbar. It works pretty good. :-)

  6. @Graeme,
    yes, I use it even at work on 4:3 monitor. By the way, if you have "Group Similar Taskbar Items" on - it works little different, from how it works when the taskbar is horizontal.


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