Monday, October 19, 2009

Taskbar not Grouping Buttons

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I can’t recall exactly when but at some point in the past year my Taskbar stopped grouping similar buttons.

In the past few months I’ve reinstalled XP at least once.  I also started docking my Taskbar against the left edge of the screen.  Being an efficiency junkie it occurred to me that most monitors have more horizontal space than vertical.  Docking the taskbar to the left seemed a natural response to this. :)

But undoing this micro-space-optimization didn’t correct the problem.  Similar Taskbar buttons were still not being grouped together.

For a while I turned on “open each explorer window in a separate process” to help debug a rogue shell extension; an in-process server that didn’t ever seem to want to unload.  Since that was fixed a while ago I disabled “open each explorer window in a seperate process”.  Alas, this had no effect.  Similar Taskbar buttons were still crowding out the Taskbar instead of grouping.

This might not be big deal for most people but I like to have a lot of windows open at once.  20 is a minimum, 30 – 40 is pretty typical.  Once the existing Taskbar space is exhausted the button size gets halved.  When docked to the left edge of the screen this makes it all but impossible to determine what any given Taskbar button represents (is that Windows Explorer opened to c:\documents and settings\<username>\Local Settings\Temp ?  Or c:\documents and settings\<username>\My Documents\someproj\somelogs.txt ?). 

Clearly this is monumentally important stuff.  Fortunately there’s a workaround.  It turns out that the Taskbar, by default, tries to figure out when it should group similar buttons based partly on estimates of how much space a button needs.  Perhaps this estimate doesn’t work well with my non-standard, docked-to-the-left-edge, Taskbar.  Serves me right for using a non-standard configuration.  Still, there’s a registry fix documented here that allows you to override this and force grouping whenever 3 or more instances of a Taskbar button appear.

Welcome back – Taskbar buttons, let’s group hug!

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