The Windows 8.1 Taskbar - dummies

By Woody Leonhard

The Windows 8.1 taskbar is a key tool for anyone who uses the desktop. In fact, with the demise of the old Start menu, the taskbar and shortcut icons on the desktop are your only ways of getting at programs, without slipping into the Metro Start screen.

The Windows taskbar appears at the bottom of the screen.


If you hover your mouse over an icon and the icon is associated with a program that’s running, you see thumbnails of all the copies of the program. For example, Internet Explorer 10 is running, and two tabs are open. Hover your mouse over the IE icon, and you can click a thumbnail to bring up the specific tab.

The taskbar consists of two different kinds of icons:

  • Icons that have been pinned there: Windows ships with two icons on the taskbar, one for Internet Explorer and one for File Explorer — three, if you count the Start screen as an icon. You can see them on the left in the figure.

    If you install a program and tell the installer to put an icon on the taskbar, an icon for the program appears on the taskbar. You can also pin programs of your choice on the taskbar.

    Some older programs have installers that offer to attach themselves to the Quick Launch Toolbar. It’s a Windows XP–era thing. If you agree to put the icon on the Quick Launch Toolbar, the icon for the program actually gets put on the far-more-upscale taskbar.

  • Icons associated with running desktop programs: Every time a program starts, an icon for the program appears on the taskbar. If you run three copies of the program, only one icon shows up. When the program stops, the icon disappears. Tiled apps don’t appear on the taskbar at all.

In general, you can’t differentiate between the pinned icons and the ones that are just coming along for the ride, except by noting which ones are on the right (the running programs) and which ones are on the left (the pinned programs). You can, however, tell which icons represent running programs: Windows puts a little box around the icon for any running program.

If you have more than one copy of the program running, you see more than one line on the right. It’s subtle. In the figure, the second icon has two running programs.