In Microsoft Windows, the area of the screen including the Start button, boxes for each open window, and the System Tray, including the clock. Traditionally, but not necessarily, on the bottom of a Windows screen.

Some versions may also have a Quick Launch toolbar on the taskbar, which provides a small area for one-click program launching.

The Windows Taskbar is an object of Microsoft Windows XP Operating System* (OS) to which most of us give little thought.


The purpose of the Windows taskbar ("taskbar") is to create ease of operation of the operating system (OS) for the user aside from the desktop icons. This is accomplished by providing a prominent link (the "Start" button) to the essential functions and programs of the Windows OS ("Windows"); current taskbar spaces of applications of Windows ("taskbar buttons"); icons of immediate value to some of those applications ("System Tray Icons"); and, the current information informing the Windows user of the time and date according to the taskbar's orientation. Read further for more information on the Start button, System Tray Icons, and the taskbar's orientation.

Start button

The link or Start button is the catch-all button for all program applications installed to Windows. By clicking the Windows logo / "Start" button (by default in the lower left corner of the screen), one is exposed to a variety of choices including any choice available that has been made available as a result of an installation of a program ("All Programs"), the most popular choices the user has visited in the past ("Recent Recently Opened Documents"), and choices the user may learn to make use of to quickly execute advanced shortcuts within Windows (e.g. "Run...".)

Most important is the list of "All Programs." Users mouse over this text to reveal a list of all programs that have been installed on the computer. Here the user can expect to access programs he or higher level administrators have installed.

The Start menu also exposes a list of "most recently of accessed programs" by that user. This aids in providing links that the user will not have to navigate to through the "All Programs" link because he as recently used these programs. Review these links prior to searching manually through the "All Programs" option if you have recently accessed a program you wish to access again shortly after.

Additionally the advanced user will make use of specific options available through the Start Menu. The most frequently accessed option is the "Run..." option. Advanced users will highly appreciate this to quickly access such useful tools as "msconfig," "notepad," or "regedit," which he or she may simply enter into the "Run..." dialogue box to execute that particular program. Note that access to these programs with the exception of "Notepad" could result in an instability or operation that results in the inoperability of the OS and computer as a whole. Only advanced users are recommended to access these commands to ensure the stability of Windows.

Orientation of the Taskbar

Of interest to either the advanced user or the beginner is the following evaluation of the orientation of the Windows taskbar. The taskbar has the option of either being orientated at the bottom, right side, top, or left side of the screen. To access this option, right-click an empty area of the taskbar and click "Lock the Taskbar" if it is selected. This provides the ability to click, hold, and drag the taskbar to either the top, right, bottom, or left of the screen. There are advantages to each, but clear advantages are obvious to the experienced user. These options other than default may seem awkward at first but will pay off through ease of use and the savings of time in the long run, especially the right-side orientation.

The bottom orientation position the Start menu button in the lower left corner is default. Task menu buttons (referring to the titles of programs running) are displayed left to right, which provides a much more limited number of programs to be displayed due to longer titles displayed of those programs. System tray icons are displayed before the time; the day of the week and date are not displayed.

The top orientation position displays again the Start menu button in the left but top corner. Nothing is changed except this. Task menu buttons of open programs are displayed to the right along with the task menus icons and time; the day of the week and date are not displayed

The left orientation of the is quite different. Here the Start menu button is provided at the top left of the screen. Task menu buttons are provided top to bottom. The important difference here is that there is a shorter display of the title of the buttons of the programs, and a higher number (up to down) of buttons. Simply this means one can open many menus without task bar buttons being "grouped" or compacted (see **) Here, also, note that not only is the time displayed but also the day of the week and the date! With the orientation to the left or the right (explanation follows), content displayed in webpages is easily read because often web pages are constrained in width and longer in length.

The right orientation is most sensible of all. By selecting this orientation, one is exposed to more information (upper to lower) than the default bottom orientation. Similar to the left orientation the Start button is at the top. Taskbar buttons follow from top to bottom. Time, day of the week, and the date are displayed at the bottom of the screen. Because English readers read from left to right, it is very natural for users to easily adapt to the display of the contents of the windows to the left side of the screen. At this orientation the user is allowed to view content from top-left to bottom-right, which is our natural tendency as we read books in a similar nature. It is therefore most natural that the taskbar be positioned to the right side of the screen. Imagine more Quick Launch icons, more Windows' taskbar buttons open without clutter, and greater detail of time and date information.

Upon experimenting an deciding upon a given orientation of the Windows taskbar, users are suggested to then lock the orientation of the taskbar by clicking on an empty area of the taskbar and deselecting "Lock the Tarkbar" if it is now selected. This will provide fracations of measurement to the overall display allowed by the size of the display of the monitor.

Additional Options

Also, laptop users faced with smaller screens may opt to "auto-hide" the taskbar. This will save a specific amount of space by reducing the taskbar to only a few pixels. This option requires a few clicks to access: right-click an empty space on the taskbar, left-click "Properties," check "Auto-hide the Taskbar."

"Group similar Taskbar buttons" is an options that allows the user to view his or her taskbar buttons grouped together according to the program used. For example, all Firefox program buttons may be grouped. When multiple instances of a program are opened, the taskbar buttons may be grouped into a single taskbar button that displays the number of buttons for a particular program. Unfortunately, this option is the default in the installation of some versions of Windows. The disadvantage to this option is that taskbar buttons are not displayed in the order by which they were opened in time. The result is that buttons can be difficult to find.

System Tray Icons

System tray icons are icons displayed to the immediate left of the time (in the case of top or bottom orientation) or above (in the case of left or right orientation.) These icons are meant to be of high importance to the user and are usually made available without the Windows user opting that they display. Useful examples of system tray icons are Internet Connection icons, Volume icons, or Anti-virus icons. The purpose of System Tray Icons is to provide access to programs or options that run "in the background" that do not have taskbar icons. System tray icons may be unnecessary in many instances, though. When installing a program, if you have the option to do so, consider the frequency you will access the program and choose wisely. Programs that load icons into the system tray increase the time it takes for one's computer to load and are usually not as important are they are convenient.

Optional Toolbars

Additionally, optional toolbars can be added to the taskbar by right-clicking the taskbar and mousing over "Toolbars," then making a choice from the resulting menu. "Address," "Links," and "Desktop" are featured, but  the "Quick Launch" toolbar is a favorite among users. This option allows users to drag shortcuts from the desktop or other locations to the Quick Launch toolbar***. Immediately the shortcut's icon is added to the toolbar. From now on the user can simply click the icon below or to the right of the Start menu to access the frequently used program. Popular icons within the Quick Launch icons include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Show Desktop, and Notepad.


*in this particular article Windows OS refers only to Windows XP Home User Editions (OS). Other Windows OS may vary in relation to the content of this article.

**by default Windows XP will "group similar taskbar items." This means Windows XP will group together all Internet Explorer windows then any Windows Word documents then any other multiple instances of programs - in no particular order.

***to drag a shortcut of icon to the Quick Launch toolbar, click, hold, and drag an icon to the location of the other Quick Launch icons. Done properly, a new icon will appear amongst the old.


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