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Hacking the Windows Taskbar: Custom Toolbars

'Red Arrows' photo (c) 2009, Fiona Shields - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I have a love/hate relationship with the Windows Start menu. It's great that it tends to be self-organizing and all-inclusive, but the fact that it shapes itself automatically is a downer because that means Windows is deciding for me how it will be. And sometimes it just feels slow. What I want is full control of my main applications launcher menu, and maximum efficiency.

One can certainly wrangle and edit parts of the Start menu, but not completely. And then a new program or upgrade will go and change it on you anyway. One can try to avoid using Start entirely, and lots of folks do that by throwing umpteen shortcuts onto the Desktop. But did you know that too many Desktop shortcuts can slow down Windows?


Here's how to clean up your Desktop and avoid the Start menu. This should work for all current versions of Windows.

1. Create a new folder on your PC.

This folder can live anywhere that's convenient, but if you want to share the magic with other user accounts on the same computer then it should be outside of your user profile. For this example, let's call it C:\Toolbox. Keep the name short (you'll see why later).

2. Create application shortcuts in this folder.

There's lots of ways to go about doing this. One way is to left-click your way into the Start menu until you see the icon you want, then right-click that icon and drag it over to your new folder, choosing "Create shortcut here" from the menu that appears.

3. Right click the Taskbar and choose Toolbars => New Toolbar...

A dialog will open, asking you to choose a Folder. Navigate in this dialog to the location of your shortcuts folder. If you remember the path (like C:\Toolbox) you can just type that right in.

4. Click Select Folder.

Now look on the Taskbar near the clock and you should the name of your folder, followed by a little arrow symbol (>>). Click on the arrow and a menu will pop up from taskbar containing all your chosen application shortcuts. Ta-da! Easy access all the time, and Windows and program updates won't go around changing it on you. Basically, it Should Just Work (tm).


As an alternative to this technique, you can make an existing trove of Desktop icons into a Toolbar by simply right-clicking the Taskbar and choosing Toolbars => Desktop. However, that cheat won't keep your Desktop clean and efficient.

To remove or hide any Toolbar that you've activated, just select it on the Toolbars menu to clear the checkbox next to its name. This procedure also works with documents and web browser bookmarks, but I usually find that other methods are better for managing those things.

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