Tab your Windows Taskbar

Windows Taskbar has been around longer than mainstream tabbed browsing, so why does the latter work so much better? Learn how to trick out your Taskbar to work like your browser tabs.

It's easy to make your Windows Taskbar work like your Firefox tabs.

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Tabbed browsing is one of those software features that didn't seem like a big deal at its inception, but later went on to become more popular than sliced bread. It's simply must-have functionality for any respectable Web browser. Who among us hasn't had 40 different Web sites open in one browser window...and loved it?

Fans of Mozilla Firefox and Opera might claim that their favorite browser invented tabs. However, according to most accounts, tabbed interfaces have been around since the 1980s and in browsers for at least 10 years. Arguments will persist as to the first tabbed browser, but the Internet Explorer shell Netcaptor featured tabs as early as 1997.

Regardless of who invented the feature, once tabs hit Internet Explorer 7 two years ago, tabbed browsing became as much a part of the Web as spam, blogging, Rickrolls, and LOLcats. Favorite extensions for Mozilla Firefox such as Tab Mix Plus, Colorful Tabs, and Tabbrowser Preferences added an entirely new level of customization and control over tabs.

Tabs have become so successful in managing our Web browsing that I've often wondered why Microsoft couldn't apply the same set of features to its Windows Taskbar. After all, the main functionality is very similar--managing unique applications (or sites) in a singular work space.

It turns out that there are several products that beef up your options for managing the Windows Taskbar like browser tabs, and two of the best are free. Today, I'm taking a look at some of my favorite Taskbar enhancement software, including Taskbar Shuffle, XNeat Window Manager, and Taskbar Manager.

Taskbar Shuffle

There's not a whole lot to Taskbar Shuffle, but sometimes simple is better.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Taskbar Shuffle

Speaking of tabbed browsing, this cool freeware application applies the same basic functionality with your Taskbar tiles. Drag-and-drop buttons to whatever location you'd like, close windows by middle-clicking their buttons, or automatically group windows when they reach a customizable number. Taskbar Shuffle is lightweight, installs/uninstalls easily, works the way it promises, and that's about it.

You'll notice that some of the other programs mentioned have a larger feature set than Taskbar Shuffle, but if (like me) all you want is the capability to drag-and-drop programs in the Taskbar and close them by middle clicking, this software is my top pick.

The only minor niggling complaint about Taskbar Shuffle is that it automatically inserts itself into your startup menu, which may raise a few hackles. However, to be fair, that option is very easily turned off from the sparse Settings dialog window.

 

XNeat Windows Manager

XNeat includes a variety of cool features, and each of the options includes an integrated help file.

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XNeat Window Manager

Recently covered in-depth by CNET's Jessica Dolcourt, XNeat Windows Manager gives you the same drag-and-drop and middle-click closing features as Taskbar Shuffle, but also includes other interesting niche features like the capability to adjust the opacity of the Taskbar or send open windows directly to the system tray. That last feature isn't as cool as it sounds, by the way.

Right-clicking on the Taskbar with XNeat Windows Manager enabled offers up a host of additional customization options. Go ahead. Hide the Start Menu. Open recent items. View your hidden tray icons. Kill your clock!

XNeat also has some potentially interesting file management options such as saving clones and adding date stamps to files, but neither of those features worked well for me. However, the rest of the functions worked fine, and integrated support material will help newer users figure out what each setting actually does.

There's a lot to like about XNeat Windows Manager. If Taskbar Shuffle didn't give me all the features I need, I'd give it some serious consideration for riding shotgun on my Windows Taskbar.

 

Taskbar Manager

Taskbar Manager adds the capability to manage startup items and shutdown your PC at a certain time.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Taskbar Manager

More properly named Askarya Task Manager, this shareware application includes some unique features that separate it from other Taskbar customization tools. Along with providing the capability to position Taskbar buttons and to save and load arranged orders, the software also lets you customize your startup items and schedule system shutdowns.

The main interface of Task Manager is divided into three tabs: Taskbar Manager, Startup Manager, and Shutdown. Taskbar Manager provides the same sort of functionality that you'll find in software such as Taskbar Organizer and Taskbar Commander, and it works at least as well as those two in that regard. The capability to manage startup menu items is a nice bonus, if a bit superfluous, though the shutdown features are welcome for me. You can either Power Off, Log off, Reboot, or Shutdown at a specific time such as 8 p.m., May 8 or after a custom time interval, such as 12 hours.

Unfortunately, Task Manager isn't free, but the trial lets you use the full functionality of the program for 30 days before asking for your cash. Whether it's worth it or not to you will likely depend on the ease and convenience of having those three specific features packaged together. Each of them separately is easily replicated in freeware.

Do you have favorite tricks or software for customizing the Windows Taskbar? Tell me about it in the comments.

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