Windows 2000 is a multitasking operating system, which in English means that you can run multiple programs at the same time; the computer divides its processing power among them. This makes it easy to work on a letter or spreadsheet while an email program is open and operating, or while downloading a file from the Internet. However, when multiple windows or programs are open, they start to overlap and hide each other, sometimes making it difficult to find the window you want. The Taskbar alleviates this problem (Figure 4-12) by representing all currently open programs or windows as labeled buttons.
Figure 4-12. The Taskbar is usually divided into three chunks, according to its three functions. To identify an icon, point without clicking to view an identifying tooltip.
The Taskbar has several important functions:
It shows you what's happening. The right end of the Taskbar—the Tray—contains little status icons that show you the time, whether or not you're online, whether or not your laptop's plugged in, and so on.
It lists every open window and program. Each time you launch an application or open a desktop window, a new button appears on the Taskbar. A single click makes that window pop to the front—a terrific tool in your fight against window clutter.
It gives you quick access to buried functions. The left end of the Taskbar—the Quick Launch toolbar—lists the icons of programs, folders, disks, and files you use a lot.
This section covers each of these features in turn.
The System Tray is the small area on the far right side of the Taskbar where you see the current time, a speaker icon, and other icons. Windows 2000 and various small programs maintain unobtrusive status displays here, or icons whose shortcut menus can configure the system or a program. Here are some of the icons you may find:
The current time, which, when double-clicked, opens to display the Date/Time control panel programs.
Click the speaker icon to summon a slider that you can use to adjust the volume of your speakers. Double-click the icon to open a dialog box that controls speaker balance and the volume level for all sound devices.
A display icon, which you can use to change the resolution of your screen.
A battery meter icon, which shows how much battery power your laptop has left.
A network icon (two overlapping monitors), which appears while you're connected to the Internet.
A printer icon, which appears while you're printing something.
A fax icon, which appears while you're sending or getting a fax.
In addition, instant messaging, music players, and other programs may place their own icons in the System Tray.
Some computer manufacturers preinstall icons in the Tray, most of which you'll rarely use. Unfortunately, you may have to hunt for their Off switches. Sometimes you can right-click the icon to open a configuration dialog box; sometimes you may have to configure the options of the responsible application itself; and sometimes you may have to remove a shortcut to the application from your Start→ Programs→Startup folder, as described in Chapter 3.
The Taskbar buttons make it easy to switch between open programs and windows; just click one to bring its associated window into the foreground, even if it had been minimized (see page 60).
Some programs, such as Microsoft Word, also display the name of the document you're working on. However, the button is almost always too small to show the full document name. The solution: Use the cursor to point to the button without clicking. A tooltip pops up to identify the full name of the document.
You can also manipulate windows directly from the Taskbar button. Right-click the button to see the Control menu, which offers Minimize, Maximize, Close, and other useful window-control functions. It's a real time-saver to close a window without having to first bring it into the foreground.
The left end of the Taskbar shows little icons that represent files, programs, and Windows you open frequently (see Figure 4-12); one click does the trick. For details on this toolbar and the others in Windows, see Section 4.4.1.
You're not stuck with the Taskbar as it came from Microsoft. You can resize it, move it, or hide it completely.
You can move the Taskbar to the top of your monitor, or, if you're a true rebel, to either side. To do so, just drag it there, using any blank spot in the central section as a handle. Release the mouse when you see a red line appear near the edge.
When the Taskbar is on the left or right edge of the screen, Windows widens it automatically. That's because the Taskbar buttons are horizontal; if you're expected to read their names, you need the added width.
When the Taskbar accumulates a lot of buttons and icons, you may want to enlarge it so you can see what's what. Here's how to adjust its size:
Position your pointer on the inside edge of the taskbar.
That is, use the edge that's closest to the desktop.
When the pointer turns into a double-headed arrow, drag the edge of the Taskbar in the appropriate direction.
Drag it toward the desktop to enlarge the Taskbar, or toward the edge of your monitor to make it smaller.
If you're resizing a Taskbar that's on the top or bottom of the screen, the Taskbar automatically changes its size in increments of its original size. You can't fine-tune the height; you can only double or triple it, for example. If it's on the left or right edge of your screen, however, you can resize the Taskbar freely.
You can further adjust the Taskbar's behavior in some interesting ways; for example, you can make it invisible until you request it. To do so, choose Start→Settings→Taskbar and Start Menu. (Or right-click a blank spot on the Taskbar, and then choose Properties from the shortcut menu.)
The Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box appears, offering these options:
Always on top. This option makes sure that no other window can cover up the Taskbar. Your programs automatically shrink their own windows as necessary to accommodate the screen bulk of the Taskbar. (If you deselect this option, full-screen application windows don't make room for the Taskbar; they overlap it.)
You may find it useful to turn this option off when you need extra screen space, such as when you're running games and graphics programs. Some people like the additional lines they gain in a word processing window, or the additional Web-page space they can see in a Web browser.
Auto hide. This feature makes the Taskbar disappear whenever you're not using it. This is a clever way to give your entire screen to application windows, and yet have the Taskbar at your cursor-tip when you need it.
When Auto hide is enabled, the Taskbar disappears when you click anywhere else, or when your cursor has moved a short distance from the Taskbar. You can see a thin line along the edge of your screen, which represents the edge of the Taskbar.As soon as your pointer moves close to that black line, the Taskbar reappears. (This feature can be inconvenient when one of your programs comes complete with its own toolbar or status bar at the bottom of the screen; you may keep inadvertently activating the Taskbar instead of the application control you need.)
Show clock. The "Show clock" option shows or hides the current time from the Taskbar Tray.
You may occasionally want to dedicate all your desktop space to an application window. Perhaps you're designing a complicated set of graphics, or you need to see more rows in a spreadsheet. In these situations, you can hide the Taskbar like this:
Position your mouse pointer on the inside edge of the Taskbar.
When you reach the right spot, the pointer turns into a double-headed arrow.
Drag the Taskbar edge toward the edge of the monitor.
When the Taskbar disappears, you can see a thin line representing the hidden edge. To bring the Taskbar back, move your mouse toward this line until the usual cursor turns into a double-headed arrow, then drag the Taskbar back onto the screen.