In Windows XP, the taskbar was where running programs were listed, so you could get to them easily. That’s still true with Windows 7. Each time you open a program, its icon appears on the taskbar. You can click this icon to make the program appear. There is one big difference though, with Windows 7: When you first start Windows 7, you’ll notice that there are icons there, even though you haven’t started any applications. Unlike Windows XP, the Windows 7 taskbar contains a mix of running programs (if you’ve started any) and pinned programs.
Pinned programs are essentially shortcuts. Right out of the box, Windows pins Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player to the taskbar. You can remove these, or you can add others. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
Below, is a view of the Windows 7 taskbar. You can see the Start Button on the left, followed by the pinned shortcuts for Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player. To the right of these, are the icons for two running programs, Calculator and Microsoft Word. You can tell when a program is running, because there is a box around its icon.
Most people have one or two programs they use daily. Since these programs are going to be constantly taking up space on the taskbar anyway, we might as well pin them there. That way, all we have to do is click the icon to start the program. We don’t even have to go find them on the Start menu.
To pin a running program to the taskbar, simply right-click the program’s icon, and select Pin this program to taskbar.
You won’t see anything change, that is, until you close the program. Once the program is no longer running, you’ll see that its icon doesn’t disappear from the taskbar. Notice how, in the picture below, the Microsoft Word icon doesn’t have a box around it. That means it’s not running, yet it’s still available on the taskbar. All it takes to start it again is a single click.
Applications that are pinned to the taskbar will stay there until you remove them, so you only need to pin them once.
Of course, you can unpin applications as well. For example, most people don’t use Windows Media Player. Since it will almost never be running, there’s no reason to let it take up valuable space on your taskbar. To remove it, right-click the icon, and select Unpin this program from taskbar. Now, that program’s icon will only appear on the taskbar when it’s running.
You don’t have to start a program to pin it to the taskbar. The option is available from the Start menu as well. Just right-click any shortcut on the Start menu, and you’ll see Pin to Taskbar, right above Pin to Start Menu. This way, you can add items to the taskbar directly from the Start menu.
Try it out. Work on your computer for a bit, as you normally would. Then, look down at your taskbar to see what programs are running there. Pick one or more that you know you use a lot, and pin them to the taskbar. You can’t hurt anything by doing this, so it’s a great feature to play around with. If you unpin a program by accident, you can always find it on your Start menu.
When you pin programs to the taskbar, they all collect over by the Start button, left-to-right, in the order you pinned them. You can change the order just by dragging the icons around. One little-known benefit of this is that you can use a keyboard shortcut to launch (or switch to) any of the first ten programs on the taskbar: Pressing the Windows key along with one of the ten number keys will start, or switch to the program in that numbered space on the taskbar.
Using the last sample taskbar image from above, pressing Windows+1 would switch to Internet Explorer. Windows+2 would launch Windows Explorer. Windows+5 would launch Microsoft Word. (Pressing the Windows key by itself brings up the Start Menu.)