How to Customize Windows Taskbar

It’s easy to overlook the Windows taskbar, but it’s packed with features and settings that can make your life easier. The taskbar is a great feature that allows you to access your most used applications, search, notifications, and system settings. By making a few small changes, you’ll be able to take advantage of hidden features and customize your experience in no time.

You probably use the taskbar daily without realizing how much power it has behind its simple design. However, it can be difficult for some people to use all of its features effectively. Since when I first wrote about this feature in 2007, Microsoft has made some nice improvements and allowed for more customization. You can see an example of the taskbar from Windows 7.

For example, if you use multiple monitors, you can decide whether the taskbar should show on both. The taskbar has also adjusted for different device types, but I’ll be sticking to the desktop view.

The Taskbar Parts

The beauty of the Windows taskbar is that it’s customizable. For people who keep the default settings, the Windows taskbar is the one that appears on the bottom of the screen. Most people associate it with the Windows logo key that shows on one end and the Notifications area on the other end. In between, you have the ability to change it to suit your work style. I’ve outlined 5 major areas below that map to the screen snap.

  1. Windows button windows icon
  2. Search box or icon
  3. Shortcuts to Pinned and Open programs. Open programs have a horizontal line under the icon.
  4. Section Divider (if the taskbar is unlocked)
  5. Notification area
Example WIndows 10 taskbar
Taskbar example with open programs

In my case, I kept the default location, but some people prefer to have a vertical orientation or to place the bar at the top of the screen. Microsoft Windows doesn’t care about the placement.

When you do your customization, you’ll rely on taskbar settings and unlocking the taskbar. You can see these options when you right-click on an empty section of your taskbar.

Taskbar menu from right-click.
Taskbar menu and options

Adding Programs to the Taskbar

A key taskbar benefit is the ability to launch programs quickly or to see recent files. If needed, you can add countless programs and increase the width. I tend to add items that I use daily.

The easiest way to add a program is to grab the program icon and drag it onto the taskbar. Alternatively, you can right-click on the program icon and select More and then Pin to taskbar.

Pin to taskbar option.
Pin to taskbar option

There is no limit to the number of programs you can add. The taskbar will adjust and you can adjust the height if you wish to have multiple rows.

Working with Taskbar Toolbars

While not apparent, the taskbar can also show additional toolbars. These optional toolbars appear to the left of the Notification area. In some cases, additional controls provide access to the submenus. The toolbar’s width can also be adjusted when you unlock the bar.

The process for adding or removing toolbars is the same.

  1. Right-click an empty section of the taskbar. A menu appears similar to the one above.
  2. From the pop-up menu, select Toolbars.
  3. From the sidebar menu, select your desired toolbar.
  4. A checkmark appears to the left if the menu is active. To hide a toolbar, click the toolbar again.

Address Toolbar

This is a dual access toolbar. You can navigate to a folder in Windows File Explorer. Or, you can type a web address. However, to clear entries from the list, you need to Clear File Explorer History.

Address toolbar area on Windows taskbar.
Address toolbar

Links Toolbar

This toolbar allows you to access favorite webpages without first opening your browser. The easiest way to add a page to the toolbar is to grab the icon that shows to the left of your browser’s address bar and drop it on top of the word Links. If you click the >>, you can see your items.

Minimized Links toolbar.
Links toolbar (minimized)

In the snapshot above, you can’t see any entries yet. However, if you unlock the taskbar, you can adjust the toolbar’s width to provide more context. By default, the page name will use the page’s title. However, if you right-click an URL, you can rename or delete the entry. I prefer to shorten the names.

Links toolbar showing page titles.
Links toolbar with Page titles

Desktop Toolbar

As you might expect, this toolbar provides access to the items on your desktop. Unlike pressing the Windows key + d, which shows your desktop icons; this view shows the file names. If you have many items on your desktop, this may be a faster way to find them.

If you wish to view the desktop instead of the file list, use the Peek function.

Custom (New Toolbar)

Windows also allow you to create a new toolbar based on a folder. Once you click New toolbar…, Windows File Explorer opens. You can select any folder. The name of the new toolbar will match that folder’s name. If you unclick the menu to deactivate, you’ll need to recreate it.

Custom toolbar from images folder.
New toolbar created from Images folder

This might be an example where you think how you organize your files. For example, I use both SnagIt and Affinity Photo when dealing with images. I could keep the default folders for each application or put all the images in one folder.

How to Hide the Taskbar

Some people may prefer to hide the taskbar because they want more screen space or want it to show on one display if they have multiple monitors. This can be handy if you’re presenting a webinar and you don’t want to be distracted by notifications or the clock. You can hover over the bottom of your screen to see it again.

  1. Right-click an empty area of the toolbar.
  2. Select Task settings.
  3. From the Setting dialog, toggle the button for Automatically hide the taskbar in desktop mode.
Toggle setting to hide taskbar.
Hiding the desktop taskbar
  1. Click the X in upper right corner.

How to Change Taskbar Colors

Another customization people like to change is the bar color. This color is referred to as an “accent color.” Again, this is done through Taskbar settings. However, the option to apply your new color seems to work with the Dark or Custom setting. If you keep Light mode, you can’t change your taskbar color.

  1. Right-click an unused area of your taskbar.
  2. Select Taskbar settings from the menu.
  3. From the left side, click Colors.
  4. From the Choose your color drop-down, select Dark or Custom. (If you choose Custom, select Dark for your Windows mode.)
  5. Scroll down to Choose your accent color.
  6. Click one of the Windows colors tiles. Or, you can click Custom color and add RGB or HEX values.
  7. Scroll down to Show accent color on the following surfaces.
  8. Tick the box for Start, taskbar, and action center.
  9. Click the X in the upper right corner.

How to Move the Windows Taskbar

One taskbar feature is that you can dock it to places other than the bottom. For example, you may prefer to have it appear on the side. This undocumented phenomenon can also happen when friends or relatives have borrowed your computer and you forgot to lock the taskbar. There are two ways to relocate the bar, but I’ll use the option within task settings.

  1. Right-click an unused area of your taskbar.
  2. Select Taskbar settings from the menu.
  3. From the left side, click Taskbar.
  4. From the Taskbar location on screen, select your option from the drop-down menu. Your options are Left, Top, Right, and Bottom.
  5. Click the X in the upper right corner.

Although we’d like to say these problems only occur when small children are around, we know better. Yes, keeping your Windows taskbar unlocked does increase the odds of it moving around. As a big kid, I can attest to this.

Changing How Windows Appear

I’m not the biggest fan of changing how the windows appear. This is mostly because I work with two monitors. On occasion, I had displayed Windows File Explorer side by side when I was moving files to different folders. That’s not to say there isn’t a use-case that works for you. I might think differently if I had a huge monitor. The options are all available by right-clicking the taskbar. These include:

  • Cascade windows
  • Show windows stacked
  • Show windows side by side

Right-Clicking Program Icons

Through out these instructions, we’ve right-clicked an unused are of the taskbar to get to the settings. However, the real power comes when you right-click on a taskbar icon. Based on the program, you’ll get a context-aware menu. For example, if I right-click on my Visual Studio Code icon, I can get easy access to my recent folders and files. This can be much faster than navigating within the program.

VS Code menu options.
Right-clicking an icon shows more options

The same behavior appears if I were to right-click my Microsoft Edge icon. I would see a list of my most recently viewed URLs. These menus are also where you can remove any programs from the taskbar.

Peeking at the Desktop

This useful feature is so well hidden, I thought it didn’t work with my monitor setup. I kept seeing a reference to a Show Desktop icon that would be at the far-right. I kept looking for something the size of the other icons. It’s actually a very narrow vertical band. When you hover over the bar, your desktop will appear. However, you need to turn on Use Peek to Preview the desktop in your settings.

Vertical bar to show your desktop.
Show desktop icon

Icon Order & Taskbar Height

Another personalization option is the ability to change the order of your icons. For example, you might want them grouped by function or frequency. When you unlock the taskbar, you can drag your icons around.

If you have lots of program icons, you might wish to adjust the bar’s height. Again, in an unlocked state, hover over the top portion of the bar until your mouse turns into a double-headed arrow. Left-click and drag upwards to the desired height.

As you can see, there are countless personalization options you can do with Windows Desktop. And this article didn’t cover them all, such as the task view and the timeline. They deserve a separate tutorial. In the meantime, open up your taskbar settings and see what other things you can customize.

Windows 10 All-in-One For Dummies,, 4th Edition (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))
Leonhard, Woody (Author); English (Publication Language); 992 Pages - 01/27/2021 (Publication Date) - For Dummies (Publisher)
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Disclaimer: Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. I may receive an affiliate commission on these products if you buy. Updated: 2021-03-07