Changing the look of the Windows 7 taskbar

By default the Windows 7 taskbar combines all open applications within its taskbar icon, like this:

20110908-windows7taskbardefault

The only way to tell whether an application is open or not is to notice that its icon is subtly highlighted.

Icons and titles

A few weeks ago, however, I stumbled upon a setting in Windows 7’s Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog that did this to my taskbar:

Windows 7 taskbar

The open applications have now expanded and include something of its title. And I have to say that I rather like it. In my opinion it combines the best of both the Windows XP taskbar and Windows 7 taskbar.

What to do…

  1. Right-click the Start orb.
  2. Click on Properties.
  3. A dialog window will appear. Click on the Taskbar tab.
  4. The “Taskbar buttons” drop-down has three options. The default is the first one, choose the second or third depending on whether you ever want just the icons.
  1. Always combine, hide labels.
  2. Combine when taskbar is full.
  3. Never combine.
  • Click OK.

And that’s it.

Restoring the Up button in Windows 7

explorer-upbutton

One of the things that puzzled me about Windows Vista and Windows 7 is why Microsoft removed the ‘up’ arrow icon in Windows Explorer. I’m now delighted to be able to restore it using Classic Shell by Ivo Beltchev.

Now, I do appreciate that Vista introduced the breadcrumbs in the address bar which allows you to move quickly between directories, and there is a keyboard shortcut (Alt+Up arrow) to move back up the tree. But sometimes it’s just quicker to use a button, rather than moving back and forth between the mouse/trackpad and keyboard.

Mavis Up Button

I have tried Mavis Up Button in the past. While it’s not free, its cost of US $4.95 (approx. GBP £3.10) isn’t exactly prohibitive. But it does have a few shortcomings.

The first is one of user-experience. While it looks beautiful (a shiny green colour) it doesn’t disable when you reach the top of the path tree, which makes things a little disorienting (“can I go up any further or not?!”).

The second relates to reinstalling Windows. Because the registration requires you to match a software-generated hardware ID, username and registration key, if you’ve made any significant changes to your computer these will not match and you’ll either need to ask Mavis technical support to generate another registration key or you’ll need to purchase the application again.

Which brings me to the Mavis technical and customer support, which in my experience is dreadful. I waited over a month for a reply to an email and am still waiting. And the last time I tried to purchase the button I was sent an email of the HTML of their Error 404 Page Not Found page when they were meant to send me the registration code!

Classic Shell

Classic Shell is free, hosted at SourceForge and doesn’t require any registration key to make it work. I now have it installed on my laptop.

As the name might suggest, it does more than add an Up button within Windows Explorer, but the options are nicely organised (with two views: basic and advanced) and you are not forced to use the features that you don’t want to use.

See the features page to find out what else it offers.

classic-shell

So far I’ve been impressed with Classic Shell, even though all I want is the Up button in Explorer, and it works on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

Now playing–Windows 7 gadget that works with Winamp

Yesterday I discovered a Windows 7 gadget that I had been wishing for months someone would write. It turns out that it has been around since 2007, I’d just not found it yet.

The gadget is called Now Playing – With Lyrics by Lawrence and it shows in a small window the song you are currently listening to, including album art and, on hover, track details and player controls:

20110605-windows7gadgets20110605-windows7gadgets-hover

Compatible media players

The gadget works with a number of media players:

using custom plugins, but it would appear that the website where the plugins were all hosted has been taken down and so on first-run the gadget now returns an error.

Plugins

This is the point where I uninstalled the gadget the first time I looked at it a few months ago. This time I went to investigate and discovered that they’ve been moved to this basic site: Now Playing plugins.

Once downloaded, and with the gadget installed, place them in this Windows folder:

%HOMEPATH%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets\nowplaying.gadget\plugins

Then open your media player and click on the gadget. When I did that with Winamp  5.61 I was prompted to install the plugin. And then, as if by magic, I could see the album art in the gadget.

It’s really handy to, at a glance, see what track/album/artist is currently playing. I wish I’d found this before.

Since Microsoft have taken down the gadget gallery, I’ve had some folks asking me where they can download the gadget. So I’ve uploaded it here:

Download gadget and plugins (2.85 MB)

Fixing the audio problem with Spb Mobile DVD on Windows 7

20110408-spbmobiledvd

I’ve been preparing for my trip to Luxembourg next weekend and given that I’m going to be spending many hours on a train I’ve been converting a couple of DVDs into a format that I can play on my phone running Windows Mobile 6.x.

I’ve been using the rather excellent Spb Mobile DVD, however I ran into a slight problem: since upgrading my PC from Windows XP to Windows 7 the DVD I can no longer hear
any audio on the DVDs (either previewing in Spb Mobile DVD or on the ripped
movies) but the video is superb quality.

I contacted Spb’s technical support who replied the same day saying that I should install the AC3Filter audio codec and try again.

Sure enough after the installation of the AC3 Filter codec Spb Mobile DVD is working once again: superb video and audio too.

I thought someone else might find this information useful.

Decoding driver versions

I’ve never had a great deal of success with my PCs at work. I’m currently on my 5th machine and even this one isn’t behaving itself.

Graphics cards issues

The issue appears to be to do with my graphics cards.  I have two running under Windows 7 Professional (64-bit):

  • NVIDIA Quadro FX 1400
  • NVIDIA Quadro NVS 285

And every couple of days when I boot up my PC at the start of the day I get a Blue Screen of Death complaining that there is an issue with my graphics card.

Of course, it took Windows 7 about 6 months of doing this before it gave me a clue that it was related to my graphics card.

So this morning I took the plunge and upgraded my graphics card drivers. After the post-install reboot everything appears to be OK; even the NVIDIA Control Panel is working again, which is good.

Versions

But the thing that often confuses me is the numbering system of a lot of hardware drivers.

For example, today I downloaded “Quadro driver release 265”, which also describes itself as “version 267.17” but once installed Windows reports that version “8.17.12.6717” has been installed.

Which is a bit like running the installer for version “banana” and then discovering that version “coconut-chipshop-apple-hamster” has been successfully installed.

Why do hardware manufacturers do this? Aren’t computers complicated enough? All I wanted to do was to make sure that the drivers had updated successfully.

It took a minute or two of staring at the two groups of numbers and a little Googling to discover this:

  • Installer version 267.17
  • Installed version: 8.17.12.6717

There are the installer version numbers at the end of the installed version numbers.

How obvious!

Dates

At least the dates should be the same, shouldn’t they?

  • Installer release date: 02 March 2011
  • Installed driver date: 17 February 2011
  • Release notes date: 22 February 2011

Maybe I should just go back to using my Psion 5mx for everything.