Windows Taskbar: Quick Launch vs. Pinned

This post is classified as a Misstep because it describes a feature that was more usable in earlier versions.


In Windows 7, the Windows Taskbar was simple. Any open application would have a button on the taskbar, and a “quick launch” section would allow you to configure a set of buttons for quickly opening your favorite apps.

With Windows 8, Microsoft completely redesigned the taskbar. Instead of a Quick Launch section, they introduced the concept of “pinned” apps. In some ways it works better, but in many ways, it actually makes Windows harder to use.


How it Works

With an app closed, a pinned app works the same as a quick launch shortcuts. The icon size is the same, and clicking the icon opens the app.

Once an app is opened, there’s a big difference. Previously, the newly opened window appeared as an additional button on the taskbar.

With the new taskbar, the pinned-app button actually becomes the newly opened window. In theory, this was done to help save space on the taskbar. If an app only has two states (open/closed), then once it’s opened, the “open button” is no longer needed.


The Problem

Unfortunately, this new behavior complicates things for apps that are opened in multiple windows. For example, someone might be using multiple Microsoft Word documents or multiple Chrome websites. For those apps, users will frequently need to open another window even when one is already open. Replacing the “open button” with the newly opened window makes that harder: instead of one click, the user must now right-click the button for the open window and then left-click “new window”.


Our Proposed Solution

Microsoft should classify applications as “single window” or “multi-window”.   For multi-window apps, the pinned app and already-opened windows should be kept separate so that users can open additional windows with a single click.  Single-window apps can continue to function as they do now.

Ideally, it would be possible for users to customize these classifications.  It’s easy to imagine a user who uses a typical multi-window app (like Chrome) as a single-window app.  The reverse is a little harder to imagine, but definitely has use cases, especially for IT professionals.

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