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What is the Difference Between a System Tray, Quick Launch and Taskbar?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

In computing, a taskbar is a toolbar that typically runs along the bottom border of the computer screen. The taskbar is a function bar provided by the main operating system (OS) to make navigation of programs, windows and processes more convenient. The taskbar originated with Microsoft® Windows® 95 and continues to evolve. Other operating systems that followed might use other terminology for the taskbar.

The Windows XP® taskbar is divided into three areas: the quick launch bar, task button area and system tray, which Microsoft refers to as the notification area. By default the left end of the taskbar contains the quick launch bar, the middle portion displays the task buttons, and the right end holds the system tray. Learning how to utilize the taskbar effectively can make working or playing on your computer more efficient and enjoyable. Lets take a quick look at each function.

Even when users are working in other programs, the taskbar typically remains at the bottom of the screen.
Even when users are working in other programs, the taskbar typically remains at the bottom of the screen.

The purpose of the quick launch area is to hold shortcuts to programs frequently used. Since the taskbar is always visible, any program icon in the quick launch area is just a click away. If you repeatedly require a particular program throughout the day, placing an icon here will save you from having to switch to the desktop or fish through the many programs listed under the Start menu button. To place a shortcut on the taskbar, simply drag and drop an icon from the desktop to the quick launch area.

Some programs suitable for the quick launch area might include your favorite Web browser, email client and word processor. A shortcut to Notepad will allow you to type quick reminders or paste bits of text, and a calculator and conversion utility can also be handy to place here. Some programs will automatically put a quick launch icon in this toolbar when installed. To save valuable taskbar real estate, click and drag unwanted icons to the desktop.

The center portion of the taskbar displays task buttons to easily switch between opened programs. Each time you open a new program a new task button appears. You might also open multiple windows in the same program, launching multiple task buttons. Since this can crowd the taskbar, Microsoft designed XP to group window buttons into a single program button that, when clicked, pops up a menu of task buttons. Vista® can display thumbnail previews on task buttons, making navigation even easier.

The system tray occupies the far end of the taskbar, displaying icons for utility and services that are running. Here you will see the system clock, battery indicator, network indicators, Bluetooth® services, and firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware icons for programs that are actively protecting your computer. The system tray can also hold optional shortcuts to configurable utilities that are running, like speaker volume and graphics card settings. In Windows Vista® the notification area separates system utility icons from program icons.

The system tray or notification area provides critical information at a glance. You can quickly confirm that your firewall and other protective services are up and running. It might also show unneeded services that are running, wasting valuable system resources. To shut down a service, right-click on the icon and choose “exit” from the popup menu. If the service is configured to run each time Windows starts, the icon will reappear at the next boot. You can use a free startup manager utility to easily change this behavior and manage which programs have permission to launch at startup.

If you execute a print job, you should see a printer icon appear in the system tray. Should a problem occur double-click the icon to jump to the print queue where you can read details about the error. This is particularly handy if printing through a network where the printer is not visible from your desk. Nobody likes arriving at a printer only to discover the print job needs to be resent!

Customizing the taskbar and familiarizing yourself with it can make life easier if you spend significant time on a computer. Seconds saved here and there add up to less repetitive gestures, less hassle, and more time and energy for being productive. Make your taskbar work for you and see what a difference it can make.

Discussion Comments


What is the similarity between a menu and an icon?


More clicks to get to the shortcut on the Start menu. You must click the Start or Orb button, then navigate to the program, and click again. If the program is nested, you have more clicks to drill to the executable.

With a shortcut on the Quicklaunch bar, the shortcut is always visible, no matter what windows are open, and needs only one click to start the program: hence the term *Quick*launch.

Since the Start menu has unlimited real estate and the Quicklaunch does not, QL is typically reserved for those handful of vital programs that you use regularly, verses occasionally. Browser, email, word processor, etc. QL is also handy for a shortcut to oft-needed tools like notepad, a calculator and a conversion tool. HTH


What's the difference between having a shortcut in the quicklaunch bar and one in the start menu?

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    • Even when users are working in other programs, the taskbar typically remains at the bottom of the screen.
      By: WavebreakmediaMicro
      Even when users are working in other programs, the taskbar typically remains at the bottom of the screen.