Sunday, April 15, 2007

Moving the Taskbar

Whenever I log into a new computer, I go through an extensive script of customizing and tweaking the default settings to get everything just the way I like it. Since I have to do this quite often (because of getting new computers or reinstalling Windows), I try to keep this script short. I don't like to customize my environment too much because it becomes disorienting and frustrating when you use someone else's computer and your settings are not in place (and when someone uses your computer). This is the same reason many left-handed people don't switch their mouse buttons to make the right-click work like the left-click.

I know a handful of co-workers who dock their Start Menu to the left-hand side of their desktop. Whenever I would get "behind the wheel" at their workstation, it always takes a few seconds to figure out what the hell is wrong with their machine. Pressing the Windows key usually answers the question that I am asking in my head: Where is the friggin' Start Menu?

After cursing these co-workers for months, I decided to try it out for myself.

When you start using this layout, it can be a bit disorienting. When you look for the clock, it's not where you want it to be. When you go to click the Start Menu, your mouse will drift to the wrong corner. Of course, this is all to be expected and it only takes a few days to get used to.

The benefits become very obvious after just a few hours:
  • You are making better use of the desktop. When you are editing documents, you typically have a lot of wasted space on the left or right side of the desktop. This is especially true if you have a wide aspect-ratio display (e.g. 1920 x 1200 resolution).
  • You can fit a lot more applications in the Quick Launch section.
  • You can see more running applications in the Taskbar. This makes it easier to switch tasks.
  • You can turn off the annoying "Hide inactive icons" because you will have enough room to show all items in the Notification area (formerly known as the "Systray"). Seriously, how many times have you went to click on something in the Notification area only to have Windows hide it from you one nanosecond before clicking?
  • The clock will display the date and day of the week. It sounds like such a small benefit, but it really helps out a lot.

With every non-standard customization, there are always drawbacks.
  • Some applications assume that you are using the Start Menu at the bottom of your desktop. This will cause some windows to appear with the left side under the start bar.
  • When you click the Start Button, the popup menu will cover a large part of the Taskbar.
  • For some reason, the Taskbar resizes itself each time I restart my machine (this only happens on one of my machines).
  • Every time someone uses your computer, they will ask the annoying question, "Where is the friggin' Start Menu?"

I am now fully converted to the left-docked Taskbar camp. The biggest overall benefit is that you will end up using your desktop more efficiently. You'll be like the Native Americans who use every single part of the buffalo. Now go open a casino.


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