Sociologists say that multitasking has shortened our attention spans and made us more easily distracted than ever. The problem is especially noticeable on modern PCs, where it's possible to open dozens of windows at once. The challenge for Windows users is how to keep track of all those windows without losing focus.
In this week’s Windows 7 screencast, I offer a closer look at the new taskbar, which represents a striking departure in form and function from its predecessors. Its design is clearly intended to make it easier to manage large numbers of programs and open windows.
The biggest change, as I demonstrate here, is the ability to “pin” a button to the taskbar. That eliminates the need for a separate Quick Launch bar, because you can pin your favorite programs to the taskbar so that they can be launched with a single click. You can also move buttons (pinned or not) into preferred positions on the taskbar by dragging left and right. The thumbnail previews available as part of the Aero interface get a major upgrade too. As you move the mouse pointer over each thumbnail, a feature called Aero Peek gives the corresponding window temporary focus and lets you see it in its actual size and position instead of having to squint at a small snapshot. Another noteworthy Windows 7 feature that I show off in this demo is the Jump List, a shortcut menu that provides ready access to common tasks, favorite files and folders, and recently opened documents.
Some critics have accused Microsoft of stealing the design of the Windows 7 taskbar from features in OS X Leopard, specifically, the Dock and Exposé. But anyone who uses either system for any length of time can spot the differences and can also chart the separate evolutionary paths for each one. (Ironically, Apple could easily be accused of borrowing from the Windows 7 taskbar for some of the improvements in the Snow Leopard version of Exposé.)
In this screencast, I mention in passing one of my favorite aspects of the new taskbar: Each of the first ten buttons has a corresponding keyboard shortcut, consisting of the Windows logo key plus a number (1 through 9 for the first nine shortcuts, and 0 for the tenth). By default, Windows Explorer is in the second position on the taskbar, so pressing the Windows logo key + 2 opens Explorer. If you already have multiple windows open for one of these top ten buttons, pressing the shortcut cycles through all available windows quickly.
If you have trouble adjusting to the new taskbar layout, several customization options are available. The most noteworthy option adds labels and combines open windows under a single button, giving a look that is comfortingly similar to the XP/Vista taskbar.
This is the second of four Windows 7 demos I’ve done in this series. Look for a new screencast next week at this time.
Last week’s installment: A smarter way to manage windows
More coverage of Windows 7: