Creating a new toolbar in Windows XP

Desktop screenshot

Here’s something that a couple of people recently have asked about when they’ve seen my desktop, either on my laptop or on my home PC. Many of you may know about this; this is posted for the benefit of those who don’t.

You may see from the screenshot above that I have an extra toolbar on the right-hand side of my screen, which holds icons for my most commonly-used programs. The toolbar is always on top, meaning that when I’m running a maximized application (that is, full-screen), such as Outlook, the toolbar is still visible on the right-hand side of my screen.

The reason I do this is three-fold:

  1. I like to keep as few icons as possible on the desktop and Quick Launch bar
  2. It is quicker to access these applications from my new toolbar than via Start > Programs
  3. It is less system resource hungry than using an application-equivalent such as the Microsoft Office 2000 toolbar or Lotus SmartCenter.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Create a new folder

Create new folder

The first thing to do is to create a new folder. On my laptop I created this on the C drive, e.g. “C:\ShortcutsToolbar”. On my home PC I have 10 partitions, so have created this on drive H. It doesn’t really matter where you create it, so long as you remember where it is and it doesn’t get in the way of other applications.

2. Copy icons into the new folder

Folder of icons

Next, copy your favourite icons from the Start menu into the new ShortcutsToolbar folder. You can either right-click Start and select “Open All Users” and drag and drop icons from there, or hold down Ctrl and drag the icons from the Start menu itself.

If you know at this stage which order you’d like them to display, from top to bottom, you may rename them with a numeral prefix, e.g. 01 MS Money, 02 Psion SDK, 03 DigiGuide, etc. That way the icons will by default appear in numerical order.

As a rough guide a 1280 x 1024 pixels resolution screen will accept 25 icons, a 1024 x 768 pixels screen will accommodate 18. Don’t worry if you don’t fill up the toolbar at this stage, you can always drag icons onto the toolbar at a later stage.

3. Unlock the Taskbar

Lock the taskbar

Next, right-click on an empty part of the Taskbar and if there is a tick against “Lock the Taskbar” click on it once to unlock it.

4. Create a new Toolbar

Create a new toolbar

Right-click the taskbar again and select “Toolbars > New Toolbar…”. This will bring up the following dialog box:

New Toolbar dialog box

In this box browse to the location of your ShortcutsToolbar folder, select the folder and click OK.

5. Reposition new toolbar

Shortcuts Toolbar on Taskbar

Your new Toolbar will be created on the Taskbar. Click on the new toolbar and holding down the mouse button drag the toolbar off the Taskbar. You’ll be left with a free-floating box called ShortcutsToolbar, like this:

Free-floating Toolbar

Click and hold the title bar of this new window (click on the words ShortcutsToolbar) and drag the window until it docks on the right-hand side of the screen.

Docked toolbar

It’s not perfect yet, but we’re nearly there.

6. Customize toolbar

Toolbar options

Right-click on the newly docked toolbar to make the following adjustments:

  • View > Large Icons
  • Untick Show Text
  • Untick Show Title
  • Tick Always on Top

If you have not already determined the order of the icons by renaming them with numeral prefixes you can now reposition the icons using the good old fashioned drag-and-drop method.

7. Lock the Taskbar

Lock the taskbar

Right-click the Taskbar and select “Lock the Taskbar” once again.

8. That’s it

And that’s all there is to getting a customized, always-present toolbar for launching your favourite applications. There are a few icons that I always, always have on the toolbar, while there are others that get changed depending on what I’m doing. I also have developed my own guidelines for determining what sits on the ShortcutsToolbar, what sits on the Desktop, the Quick Launch bar and which icons are pinned to the top of the Start menu.

Similarly, you don’t have to have the toolbar on the right-hand edge of your screen. You could dock it to any other sides (top, bottom, left or right) or simply keep it docked to your Taskbar, as shown in step 5 above. Whatever suits you best, make it yours.

Desktop screenshot

Another quick tip: take a screenshot of it, just in case you need to reinstall Windows or you have to recreate the toolbar again sometime. That way you can always be sure of the order of the icons. You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to certain icons in a particular location. I’m often getting caught out moving between my laptop, home PC and work PC.

UPDATE: Removing a toolbar

Create a new toolbar

To remove a newly created toolbar, simply right-click the Taskbar, click on Toolbars in the context-menu and then click on the toolbar you wish to remove, clicking on the ticked item will de-select it.

This will simply remove the Toolbar from display, but the underlying folder will still be there so you can easily restore it at will.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

28 thoughts on “Creating a new toolbar in Windows XP”

  1. Cool. Thanks.

    I thought it might be possible to do that sort of thing, but never tried. It’ll take me back to the good old days when I had a Mac SE running System 6 (It wasn’t generally known as MacOS until after this) – I had a cool extension called ‘Black Box’ that did all sort of useful things, including adding a line of buttons down the right side of the screen to activate various applications, etc.

    Ah nostalgia.

  2. maybe you can help me…i already new how to maek a toolbar and such but for some reason i cant get the toolbar to come away from the taskbar…when i click and drag i get the drag icon but when i let go nothing happens..?

  3. thx mate … i always wanted something like this without downloadin anything so yer this is really usefull, i will tell ma friends =)

  4. Hey,
    I found out about this a while ago, and I agree, it is so useful. However, if you tend to be icon crazy as am I, then go with viewing small icons. You can fit many more than the 18 or 25 you get with large icons. If that isn’t enough, you can just click the left edge of the toolbar and expand it to 2, 3, or however many rows you need. Also, if you right click the toolbar and select new toolbar from there, you can put folder bookmarks within the toolbar, so you don’t have to spend time double clicking a folder icon on the desktop or whatnot. It has made my life simpler and better. I could not go back to having a computer without this little trick!

  5. Thanks for the link Gaz, however that application needs a minimum of 10 MB free disk space to run, it says. I’m sure this method would be much less resource intensive, plus it’s neat that it’s built in to the OS. I’ll check out the software though.

    And Chase, that’s a good tip. I like having to make sure I don’t have too many icons there, so the big size at least helps me make that decision!

  6. Another useful one is the ‘Links’ toolbar… If you unlock your taskbar and add the links toolbar, then drag it to the TOP of the screen; clear it off and you can actually make cascading folders drop down which can have any content in them at all 😀 The reason I use the links bar is because its already set up to handle folders and content specially whereas ‘new’ toolbars don’t play as nice.

    I usually turn the title off and leave the text on and give my folders short names. This works as a side bar too but unless you want to give the folders no names (or different icons) then it’s kinda wide haha…

  7. Hi. loved your blog and took some advice re toolbar. If I want to delete extra toolbar(currently on bottom taskbar) how do i do this??

  8. Love the “new toolbar” dialogue.
    However, I am a “show desktoop” clicker (or windows key + “M”) , and when I do so my new toolbar minimizes too.
    Can one “lock the tool bar” like “lock the taskbar” so it is truly always visible?

  9. Brilliant! I now have a mute button on my taskbar – something I’ve been trying to do for months. I created a new tool bar, put a shortcut to mute.exe in it and left it on the taskbar after killing show title & show text.

  10. well i have been suspicious of the “new toolbar” button for a long time now, but never took the time until this morning to experiment with it, i have been a windows enthusiast for a long time and had no clue of the capabilities of a “new toolbar” reminds me of an old school version of the modern sidebar some what, i read this through step by step and have configured a new toolbar to dock on the right of my desktop!

    i cant wait to experiment with this more and try a few different things like some others have done!

    thanx a huge amount!


  11. this is really cool thing i was already using this toolbar but …now i have upgraded my machine to Win 7 but i am unable to make a toolbar. or to say i am unable to drag the toolbar out of taksbar and seprate it from taskbar….can this be done in another way ..or does win 7 support this thing or not.. please reply.

  12. Hello and thank you for your tutorial. I already knew how to create a new toolbar but I want to ask if there is a way to change the color. I already have uxtheme.dll patched. Thank you.

  13. @Tom – the colour is determined by the current theme, I believe. I don’t think you can change the colour of new toolbar separate from the general theme colours. For that you’d need to use a third-party toolbar, such as RocketDock.

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