Uncombining and ungrouping items in Windows 7

Windows 7 has a glaring propensity to bunch similar applications together.

Initially, this seems like the logical thing to do.  Corralling all your programs into one place seems like a coherent idea, I mean… why wouldn’t you want all your Internet Explorer tabs stacked into one icon that expands on mouse over?

Why? Because it’s annoying.  And let’s face it Microsoft has already given us enough fodder to fuel our choleric moods these days, do I really need to adduce Windows 8? <cough cough>

Microsoft’s predilection to huddle relevant apps into a neat little group can be vexing because when you have more than one instance of the same application – the only sane way to switch between instances – is to hover over the combined icon, wait a second for the thumbnails to materialize over the task bar and then pick the one you want.

Sure you could use Alt + Tab but that only works when you have three or four applications – but seriously: who has a paltry three or four applications open these days?  Dozens of concurrent instances are more realistic right?

Today, I’m going to show you a few obscure tricks you can use to tweak your intractable taskbar and make it less nettlesome.

Let’s start with the easiest stuff. I like easy.

Taskbar Dexterity

First, you can disable taskbar stacking by right clicking on the taskbar, diving into Properties and clicking Never combine.

Windows 7 Taskbar Never Combine

Now instead of stacking your program instances on top of one another like this…

Windows 7 Grouped Stacked Taskbar Icons

it spreads them out horizontally…

Windows 7 Unstack grouped icons

This might work for you but it’s not ideal because now the stupid taskbar buttons take up an inordinate amount of space.  Fortunately, we can hack Windows a little bit to force it to set the button width to a smaller value.  This way our taskbar icons will both remain ungrouped and also take up less screen real estate.

Click Start and type open the infamous Registry Editor

regedit

Before you do anything, click File, Export to save a backup then click through to the following registry path:

Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowsMetrics

Windows 7 Registry Editor Min Width

Now right click on an empty part of the screen, choose New and pick String Value

We’re going to create a new string called:

 MinWidth

Since I’m using large buttons, I set my value to 52; however, small button users should use 38.  These numbers must be exact or you’ll run into more problems than Nene Leakes on the Real House Wives of Atlanta.

Yeah, you don’t want that.

Windows 7 Registry Edit String

Click OK, close the Registry Editor then just log off and log on again to see the changes.

Windows 7 ungrouped icons with hacked MinWidth

Ahhh, isn’t that nicer?

And if you ever get tired of this hack, just kick open Regedit and slay the MinWidth key.

Now one other thing…

Ungrouping stuff for real

You might notice that the icons are no longer stacked and have the right width; however they’re still grouped.

In other words, when I try to drag Pictures to a new location it moves the entire Explorer group, (Libraries, Music and Pictures).   There’s still an invisible, uncanny link that joins your icons together.

Ram Michael concocted a beautiful solution that not only fixes this problem but also offers a veritable cornucopia of killer options. This program is freggin’ amazing because it… well it simply works.

It doesn’t bitch, it doesn’t get in the way, it just works and that’s why I exhort you to donate whatever dollars you can spare to Ram.  Jump over to his blog, grab the program, install it and you’re done in sixty seconds.

Windows 7 Taskbar Tweaker

The program barfs up a prodigious load of options all in your face…  all at once… all without warning…

But if you take a few seconds to look it over, you’ll notice that it makes a lot of sense.   There are three sections:

  • Taskbar items
  • Grouping and Combining
  • Miscellaneous taskbar options

Under the middle section, in Grouping I clicked Don’t Group and instantly saw my taskbar icons get ungrouped. It’s really that simple.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to peruse the Taskbar Tweeker.  Get acquainted with everything and reclaim your taskbar!

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