The computer helper: Grouping taskbar buttons in Vista


Washington : Some things have changed for the better in Microsoft’s Vista operating system. Others have not.

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Those who have grown accustomed to the efficiency afforded by XP’s taskbar button grouping feature will probably not be happy with Vista’s handling of the feature. There is, though, a way in Vista to group taskbar buttons the XP way.

Read on to find out how.

Q: I’ve used XP’s “group similar taskbar buttons” feature for a long time, and I love it. Vista has the same feature, but refuses to group taskbar buttons unless the taskbar itself becomes full. Is there a way to make Vista group taskbar icons when two or more instances of an application are open?

A: This is the kind of configuration option that Microsoft’s developers provided for Windows XP in the TweakUI application, which was freely downloadable. Unfortunately, no TweakUI for Vista has been released for Vista. And you’re right: taskbar button grouping has been messed up in the new operating system.

If you have 10 Microsoft Word windows open, for instance, the operating system should “group” those icons together under one icon on the taskbar.

Clicking the one icon will then show you a flyout menu with all of the open instances represented. You can then choose which instance you wish to switch to.

In XP, grouping kicked in much sooner than it does in Vista, and by installing the free TweakUI application from Microsoft, you could control exactly how many instances of one application could be opened before grouping would start.

In Vista, unfortunately, taskbar buttons are left ungrouped until you have so many applications open that you no longer have room on the taskbar to hold them all.

Currently, the only way to get back the ability to determine how many instances of an application may be open before grouping begins is to edit the Windows registry – the cryptic file that holds configuration settings for Windows and most of the applications that run under it.

Editing the Windows registry is not difficult, but you should be sure that you create a restore point before doing so.

To create a restore point, hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and tap the Pause/Break button. The System dialog box opens. Click System Protection from the list of tasks in the left-hand pane. In the resulting System Properties dialog box, click the Create button on the System Restore tab. Type a restore point description, and then click Create.

If you should ever need to revert to a particular restore point, just click the Window Vista Start orb, and type “restore,” without the quotation marks, and press Enter.

Now, to edit the registry so that your taskbar buttons group as you want them to, open the Vista start orb, and type “regedit,” without the quotation marks. Click Continue if prompted, and Regedit will open. Regedit is similar in navigational structure to Windows Explorer.

Locate the HKEY_CURRENT_USER entry in the left-hand pane of Regedit, and click the arrow to the left of the label to expand the branch. Now locate and expand the following branches in succession: Software, Microsoft, Windows, CurrentVersion, Explorer, Advanced. Select the Advanced branch to reveal a long list of entries in the right-hand pane of Regedit.

In the right-hand pane, find an empty spot and click your right mouse button. A context-sensitive menu will appear with the word “New” on it. Click New, and then from the resulting flyout menu, click DWORD (32-bit) Value. A new entry will be created with the label “New Value #1.” Just delete that label by typing the following: TaskbarGroupSize. Note the capitalisation and lack of spaces in-between words in the label. Press Enter. Your new label is created.

Now double-click the newly-created label. A dialog box will appear called Edit DWORD (32-bit) Value. There will be a Value Data field with the number 0 in it. Remove the 0 and type 2 in the Value Data line.

The “2” means that any time you have two or more identical applications open, their taskbar buttons will be grouped. If you would like grouping to being only if you have 3, 4, or more instances of a program running, type “3,” “4,” or a number of your choice instead. Press the OK button after you’ve typed your number.

That’s all there is to it. The change is automatically saved, and you can close Regedit. Reboot your computer, and from that point on, your taskbar buttons will group when you want them to.

Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at [email protected].