XNeat Windows Manager: Tweak your taskbar

We hate to say it, but this freeware application for customizing your taskbar, task tray, and system tray is pretty darn 'neat.' Here are a few reasons why.

I'd say that XNeat Windows Manager is tooting its own horn a little much if it weren't for "neat" being the first descriptor to bubble up when using it. Perhaps some new descriptors are in order.

A semitransparent system tray. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Regardless, XNeat (as the application shall henceforth be known) tweaks XP and Vista's shell to unlock customizations in the appearance and behavior of your task bar and system tray. With XNeat, you can assign important windows always-on-top status, can hide windows, and can adjust the transparency of windows when you hover or focus on them. That's small potatoes if you're using Vista, but XP-jockeys get the benefit of Vista's simulated effect without having to trade in an OS, but with access to XNeat's other commendable features.

For instance, with my usage patterns, the feature to drag-and-drop buttons on the taskbar (the open programs) is enormously helpful. I often have so many applications open that they spill into two or three layers. Instead of closing instant-message conversations and auxiliary programs to have my applications in obsessive order, I can sort them with a click and a drag. No joke, if I can keep the first four programs in my lineup the same every time, I save seconds by going straight to them and avoid hunting for the application I want in the process. Closing an application with a click of the middle mouse button is also convenient--unless you're using my mouse.

Choosing the contents of the context menu. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Others will find it extremely useful to futz with system tray's appearance. You'll be able to play with transparency for the entire icon strip, and nix any element that drives you batty, including the clock and Start menu. I'm not sure why anyone would want to do that--Launchy fans with something to prove?--but it's cool knowing you can.

By now, you're starting to get a feel for the shape of this application that treats nearly every aspect of the task tray and task bar family as a separate, optional entity. One last pointer--to save an important application for later, you can temporarily minimize it to the system tray. Let's say it's an open Word document. Right-click on the title bar, select "Send to tray," and from the tray, click once to open the document anew. If you minimize it the normal way, it'll sink back onto your taskbar. That's definitely 'neat.'

It would be nice if XNeat ran quietly in the background instead of implanting itself in your system tray, and the options interface wouldn't hurt from a makeover. I'd also like to see functionality to drag-and-drop buttons from the first taskbar layer onto subsequent layers, but it's hard to scrutinize a freeware application that makes for smoother handling.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.