In addition to the well known Taskbar settings that everyone can easily change, there are some hidden Windows Taskbar settings that you can tweak to gain more control over the Taskbar. Let’s see them.
I won’t be covering all the hidden Windows taskbar settings. There are some less significant ones too but I will cover only the ones that I feel help in improving ease of use. All the settings are Registry-only and therefore you can use my provided optimum values and merge them into the Registry. Or you can do the Registry edits yourself using Regedit.exe. After doing the tweaks, be sure to log off and login again, or restart Windows Explorer (Explorer.exe) process using Task Manager.
Why Taskbar thumbnails are a bad idea and only get in the way
I find floating taskbar thumbnails, introduced in Windows Vista, to not be very useful – I feel they are just a gimmick for visual effects. The thumbnails are too tiny for you to actually identify an app window based on its thumbnail. The window title and tooltip (infotip) on the other hand are far more effective at identifying a window.
The thumbnails all look pretty much identical. The tooltip (infotip) is more informative. It appears when you hover your mouse pointer over the thumbnail preview (when button combining is on). When button combining is off, the tooltip appears when you hover over an app’s taskbar button. Additionally, you can keep only the tooltip and turn off thumbnail previews as I did in this screenshot.
Even when taskbar button combining is enabled (which I think is an awful idea because it prevents direct 1-click access to any window), multiple windows of the same app are shown as thumbnails under a single app button on the taskbar.
The thumbnails again are not useful in this case. It is the window title that is more useful in identifying it. With this in mind, let’s see how to optimize hidden Windows Taskbar settings so it becomes easier to recognize windows.
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Taskband] "NumThumbnails"=dword:00000001 "ThumbSpacingYPx"=dword:00000001
When windows are combined, the NumThumbnails setting controls the threshold at which the thumbnails get converted into a simple list with only window titles. This makes it very easy to identify a window, like it used to be in Windows XP.
Because of the list being vertical, it also reduces the distance the mouse has to travel vs when horizontally placed thumbnails are shown. I have set it to 1 so a single window will show a thumbnail.
As soon as more than 1 window of the app is opened and combined, it will show a list. The ThumbSpacingYPx value set to 1 reduces the vertical spacing (padding) added between each list item. If you are not using a touch screen, 1 is the ideal value.
When you’ve set the taskbar to combine buttons, this setting directly switches to the app window you last used in the group. When you click the same button again, it switches to the next window in the group and so on. So, it cycles through all combined windows of that app. And you still get the list for combined windows by simply hovering over it.
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced] ;Time after which thumbnail appears "ExtendedUIHoverTime"=dword:00000352 ;Disable live switching upon hover "DisablePreviewWindow"=dword:00000000 ;Thumbnail Hover Time after which it switches live: "ThumbnailLivePreviewHoverTime"=dword:00000000 ;Aero Peek Hover Time "DesktopLivePreviewHoverTime"=dword:00000190
These 4 are explained in the REG file itself.
ExtendedUIHoverTime is the time in milliseconds after which the taskbar thumbnail or list appears upon hovering with the mouse. You can set it in decimals using Regedit. I have set it in the REG file to a value data of 850 milliseconds (slightly less than 1 second). If you want to entirely disable taskbar thumbnail previews, set this to a high decimal value like 100000000. That will make sure only tooltips display for taskbar buttons.
DisablePreviewWindow – this, if set to 1, it fully disables the live switching which occurs when you hover over a thumbnail or a list item. I believe that window titles are enough to identify a window so I set it on my PC to 1, but this is a matter of personal preference. Set it to 0 if you prefer the live switching to preview and identify a window.
ThumbnailLivePreviewHoverTime – This is the time after which the above described live switching / thumbnail live preview will show. It will only have any effect if DisablePreviewWindow is 0. Expressed in milliseconds too. I have set it to 0 so it instantly previews a window.
DesktopLivePreviewHoverTime – This is the time in milliseconds for Aero Peek i.e. when you move your mouse to the end of the taskbar over the Show Desktop button and it previews your Desktop after hovering over it. I have set it to 400 milliseconds.
Adjust the size of taskbar thumbnail previews
There are settings to control the size of the taskbar thumbnail previews as well as the margins and spacing between two thumbnails. The main settings to control thumbnail sizes are MinThumbSizePx and MaxThumbSizePx. Try changing them in decimals to 300.
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Taskband] "MinThumbSizePx"=dword:0000012c "MaxThumbSizePx"=dword:0000012c
This was the result. There is no point in making the thumbnails too large though. The larger the thumbnail preview, the more area of your open app it will cover. That is why personally, I turn off thumbnail previews and button combining completely.
You can control other Taskbar thumbnail preview-related settings using Winaero Tweaker, a safe freeware app to change these using a GUI.