The psychology of the Windows 7 taskbar
One of the new features in Windows 7 that barely ever warrants a mention these days is the revamped taskbar.
This is the first version of Windows that not only allows you to ‘pin’ your favourite applications/folders directly to the taskbar, but also to place them in whichever order you choose (at least, without downloading Tweak UI).
What effect has the new taskbar had on the way we interact with the Windows desktop? Have people stopped piling application shortcuts on to the desktop? Are taskbars overflowing with icons? Or is the ‘pin to taskbar’ feature simply ignored?
A survey of the desktops of the PC Pro team reveals it’s a combination of all three, with different members of the team deploying different taskbar tactics. Here are the three different types of taskbar psychology deployed in the PC Pro office.
There are people, such as senior staff writer Mike Jennings, who simply refuse to pin anything to the taskbar. Instead, Mike’s decided to pin a dozen of his most frequently used programmes to the Start Menu. Which begs the question: why? “I don’t know,” said Mike, when asked to justify why he was the only member of the PC Pro team to operate with an icon-free taskbar. “It’s just the way I’ve always done it.” Proving habits are hard to break, even when new features arrive.
The Essentialists are people like deputy editor David Fearon, laptops editor Sasha Muller, and technical editor Darien Graham-Smith, who only keep a handful of oft-used icons pinned to the taskbar. Day-to-day applications such as Outlook, Word and our default browser. Curiously, David Fearon is the only member of the PC Pro team who hasn’t got either Outlook or Word pinned to the taskbar. “They’re always open,” he said, “so why do I need them on the taskbar?”.
THE KITCHEN SINKERS
And then there are the members of the team who flood the taskbar with icons, pinning pretty much everything they’ve got installed on their machine to the foot of the desktop. Reviews editor Jonathan Bray has no fewer than 19 running along the foot of his screen, Tim Danton has 13 and David Bayon 11.
Jon’s got so many taskbar entries, he’s been forced to reduce the size of the icons to squeeze them all in. For him, it’s pretty much replaced the Start Menu for firing up programmes; on Windows Vista he would have typed the application’s name into the search bar.
The Windows 7 taskbar gives you the option to drag and drop the icons into whichever order you choose. Yet, few people on the team actually bother. David Bayon says he groups different types of application together, with all the browsers alongside one another and all the Office apps in another batch.
It seems only I must have the applications lined up in a very specific order, with Outlook next to the Start button and the browser to its immediate right. If Outlook crashed in the days of Windows XP, I would have to shut down all my programs and load them all up again in the correct order, just so that Outlook was next to the Start button. But I’m weird like that.
Most popular programs
So which icons are most frequently pinned to the PC Pro team’s taskbars. Here’s our top ten:
1. Windows Explorer (7)
2 = Outlook (6)
2 = Word (6)
2 = Firefox (6)
5. Paint.Net (5)
6 = Excel (4)
6 = Windows Media Player (4)
6 = Custom PC Pro website database (4)
9 = Windows Calculator (3)
9 = Internet Explorer (3)
9 = Chrome (3)
So Windows Explorer wins unanimous support from everyone who actually bothers to use the taskbar. Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player are the other two apps pinned to the taskbar when you first install Windows, but the majority of the team have ditched both of those, with Firefox still by far and away the PC Pro browser of choice.
While the majority of those apps of course reflect our jobs as journalists (Word, Paint.Net and the PC Pro web database) perhaps the one surprise is the Windows Calculator down at number 9.
How do you use the taskbar? Let me know on comments below.