he Start menu is part of a blue strip that sits at the bottom of your desktop called the taskbar. The taskbar contains a number of individual elements called toolbars. Right now it displays any open programs or windows, enabling you to quickly switch between them. It may also display the language bar, which is useful if you have two or more languages installed on your PC, but is otherwise largely redundant.
The right-hand edge of the taskbar is packed with icons, plus the date and time. This is known as the Notification area (if you've upgraded from an earlier version of Windows you'll know it better as the System tray). Here you'll find icons representing programs that are currently running like your anti-virus tool, graphics card. You can double-click or right-click these to get access to these programs.
Choose a toolbar
Like the Start menu, you can customise the taskbar so it performs extra functions. The step-by-step guide reveals how to unlock, resize and add the Quick Launch toolbar to your taskbar. This enables you to place shortcuts to programs in an extremely accessible location - more convenient even than the Start menu.
Add the Quick Launch toolbar, plus stretch your Taskbar
1. UNLOCK THE TASKBAR
Start by right-clicking a blank area of the Taskbar and choosing Lock the Taskbar to remove the tick and unlock it. You'll see the top edge of the Taskbar change, indicating it can now be moved or altered.
2. RESIZE, THEN ADD A NEW TOOLBAR
Click and hold the mouse button on the top edge and you'll see the cursor change to a double arrow. Drag this up so the Taskbar takes up two lines instead of one. Right-click the Taskbar again and choose Toolbars > Quick Launch.
3. MOVE TOOLBARS
As things stand the two toolbars sit side by side - we want the Quick Launch to sit on top of the other. To do this, click and hold on the spotted border to the right of the Quick Launch icons and drag it into place as shown opposite. Once you're done, right-click the toolbar and choose Lock the Taskbar again to lock it into place.
You can copy shortcuts from anywhere on to the Quick Launch toolbar - just click and drag the shortcut (while holding the [Ctrl] key) from the desktop or Start menu into place and it'll show up on the taskbar.
Other toolbars worth looking at are the Address bar - which works in the same way as the Start > Run box - and the Desktop bar. This latter places a small shortcut to the Desktop on the taskbar - click the >> arrow next to its name and you can access any file or folder on the desktop even if the desktop is currently hidden from view. If you select a folder you'll see its contents pop up - select My Computer for example and you have access to any file or folder on any attached drive.
If you have Windows Media Player 10 or later installed you'll also see a Windows Media Player bar - when selected, you can minimise Windows Media Player to a small bar containing the key playback controls. Again, you can play any song from here - just click the small button to the left of play/pause to access your music collection.
Customise the taskbar
Right-click an empty space of taskbar and choose Properties. You'll see some familiar options - locking the taskbar and adding the Quick Launch toolbar - but there are three others too. Auto-hide means the taskbar disappears when your mouse isn't at the bottom of the screen while Keep the taskbar on top of other windows ensures the taskbar is always visible, so we recommend leaving it ticked. The final option - Group similar taskbar buttons - means that if you have a large number of windows open at once then windows from the same application will pile up together.
You'll also see options for the Notification area. You can hide the clock and also undo the default setting of hiding inactive icons (which forces you to click the < button to view them, but does help keep things tidy). To tweak the behaviour of individual icons click the Customise button - you have three choices: always hide, always show and hide when inactive. Choose the second option to make an icon visible at all times before clicking OK.
Customise the Windows desktop
When you view XP's desktop for the first time it's incredibly bare. The Recycle bin sits in the bottom right-hand corner, but that's it. Let's start by placing key shortcuts like My Documents and My Computer on the desktop: right-click on the desktop itself and choose Properties to open the Display Control Panel. Switch to the Desktop tab and click the Customize Desktop button. Tick the items you'd like to appear on your desktop and click OK twice.
If you're not a fan of the Quick Launch toolbar, you can place shortcuts directly on to the desktop too: right-click the file or shortcut in question and choose Send to > Desktop (Create shortcut). A shortcut will then be copied to the desktop.
You can tweak other aspects of the desktop from the Display Control Panel. If you've upgraded from an earlier version of Windows and miss the old classic look, switch to the Themes tab and select Windows Classic from the list. To make less drastic changes, use the Desktop and Appearance tabs - pick a new background image for example, or change the colours of the bars surrounding windows and menus.
The Start menu, taskbar and desktop form a core part of your Windows XP experience, so take the time to learn how they work and interact and you'll be able to quickly get to the parts of your PC that you want to be working with.
WHERE'S THE ADDRESS BAR?
If you have Service Pack 3 installed on your PC, the Address Bar will no longer be available due to a ruling from the US Department of Justice. To get the functionality back in the form of a free third-party program, click here to obtain MuvEnum Address Bar.
Working with shortcuts
If you right-click on a shortcut icon - whether it's on the desktop, All Programs menu or your taskbar - and choose Properties, you'll discover there's a lot more you can do with your shortcut. One is to choose the size of window you want to run the program in - if you find yourself having to increase the size of the window each time you run the program, set this to Maximized. You can also assign a key to the shortcut, so instead of clicking the icon to launch the program, hold down the [Ctrl] and [Alt] keys as you hit the key you've assigned, which is much quicker. This way you have complete control over the way your shortcuts run the programs mentioned. It's also a way to gain quick access to a program that, for whatever reason, you don't want a visible shortcut to.
For example, rather than place a shortcut to the Windows calculator on the desktop or Taskbar, you can open the All Programs > Accessories folder on the Start menu, right-click the Calculator shortcut and choose Properties, then assign a shortcut key (how about C?) to the program.