Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Vertical Taskbar for a More Efficient Widescreen Desktop

When you have a widescreen display like I do (in my case, a 24 inch 1920x1200 widescreen LCD), you often find yourself with far more horizontal space than you do vertical space. This applies when you mainly use your computer for browsing and word processing (as opposed to watching movies and gaming). As such, I've become very sensitive towards tools that let me maximize the viewing experience.

One big change I did recently was switch to a vertical taskbar. Before, I had a normal horizontal taskbar as most of you do:

(My real taskbar is much wider than that image, I cropped it to be more viewable.)

(Check my post on why I decided to stick with the Windows taskbar versus an OSX-like Dock)

While I was perfectly happy with the layout I'd worked for the taskbar, I was still using up about 50 pixels on the bottom of the screen.

Finally, I decided to give a vertical taskbar a try. I'd tried this in the past but I was too impatient to get it to look any way acceptable to me, so I'd always switched back. Looking back on it now, I highly stress that making this switch will require quite a bit of customization for you to get it to look the way you want to, and will take even longer for you to get used to it.

So here's how to do it. First, right click on your taskbar and click "Lock this taskbar." This then allows you to drag the taskbar to the side of your screen. I personally chose to drag it to the left, because I have a 2nd monitor to the right of my primary display, and the start button faces to the right.

As you can see on the image to the right, I've then been able to add far more icons to the Quick-Launch (I decided to stick with shortcuts in the multiples of four, to make full rows). Click here to learn how to attach the Recycle Bin into the Quick Launch.

Below that, I have a toolbar set up for My Computer. To insert or create a custom toolbar, right click on the taskbar, then "Toolbars," and there you can click on My Computer, or select your own folder to create a new toolbar. As you can see, at the bottom of my taskbar I have a folder called "Desktop," where I can access files that go into my Desktop, without having to display the actual files on my desktop.

Here are some more notes on customizing your Taskbar. With the taskbar unlocked, you can drag the width of the taskbar to fit your needs. However, if you make it too narrow, the word "Start" in the start button can and will disappear if it's not wide enough to fit. Likewise, if it's too narrow, your taskbar items might be too short for you to read the name of the windows also.

If you want to change the vertical order of your various toolbars, first keep the Taskbar unlocked. Then, click and hold on the name of the toolbar (like click on the words "My Computer," or "Quick Launch," etc). Now here's where it gets tricky. If you just drag the mouse up and down, all it'll do is increase or decrease the toolbar's height, but not reorder it with other toolbars. Instead, drag your mouse to the side, where the toolbar will snap into a 2nd column on the right. From there, you can click and drag it back into the one column, this time in the place you want it to be. This process can be a headache sometimes, and this is where I insist you practice plenty of patience. It's going to be worth it.

Finally, if you right click on the Toolbar name again (with the taskbar unlocked), you have several other options, including increasing the icon size (making your taskbar look even more like a dock), showing the text of the icon, and showing the title of the Toolbar. Again, you have to play around with this stuff.

Here're some other specific reasons why I like a vertical taskbar.

  1. First of all, I can fit 25 windows in the taskbar before it gets too cramped. Not that I've ever gotten close to having that many windows open, but it's good to have the option.
  2. Secondly, I love having even more one-click access to my most important programs and folders. I can even see how much space is left in my hard drives by just hovering over their icons in the My Computer toolbar.
  3. Thirdly, if you look at the system tray, you'll see that the clock now shows the clock, then the day of the week, then the full date. It's a small but appreciated addition.
  4. And finally, I feel less like I'm wasting my desktop this way. Especially since I switched to a vertical Tabbar for Firefox, I feel like I've just got so much vertical space now to browse online, perfect for when reading long blog posts. It's even better when I've got my instant messaging buddy list dock to the side as well. I've got so much information at my disposal without it becoming too cluttered.

Have you made the switch yet?

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Anonymous said...

hello there! since this article is from may, Im not expecting any answer. But anyway, Ill give it a try. I just switched to a vertical taskbar and I love it on the widescreen. But one thing is annoying me and here comes my question: Is there a chance to have the Windows Media Player Toolbar in a horizontal position in a vertical taskbar?
Nice article btw ;)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to chime in and say I love the vertical taskbar too, it allows more programs to be neatly stacked and stationary (instead of moving around when more apps are opened or closed.

Also I tend to like a narrow vertical taskbar, with just the icon and first letter of the window, it's enough for me to identify which window is which, if I wanted more info, i hover the mouse over that window and I get the complete window name. GUI designers should take advantage of these subtle nuances instead of designing everything for the horizontal taskbar on the bottom.

jrause said...

I gotta also leave a note because I've been vertical for almost a year now and horizontal makes little sense to me any more.

To me, Vertical is so intensely superior (ESPECIALLY, with these widescreens we have now) that I dont even understand why the standard is to have it on the bottom.

Mine looks very similar to yours but there are a few little things that kinda bugged because they haven't fully optimized it to be used vertically, and in Vista those things are a little bit more annoying because they've further ignored us Vertys.

I should mention, I am not just some guy who saw something someone else wrote about Verticling and decided to try it out for a couple days.

Anonymous said...

I've been using a vertical taskbar for over a year, and I couldn't work the other way now. I've tried it under XP and Win 7. There are still plenty of programs thatvhave obviously never been tested with it, and can start overlapping the taskbar. And the Start buttun is still up the top while the All Programs button is still right at the bottom - has MS ever tried using it?