Windows Tips: Customize Taskbar, Add Passwords to Folders, Zip Files

If you've recently made the move from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7, one big change you've probably noticed is the way the operating system displays icons in its taskbar (the row along the bottom of the screen).

Specifically, it shows icons only, without any text labels identifying what they are. This screenshot is what you typically see:

Although some icons are pretty self-explanatory (like those for Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, etc.), I like to have the accompanying labels--at least for programs that are currently running. Fortunately, it's an easy matter to tweak this option in Windows 7. Here's how:

  1. Right-click an open area of the taskbar, then choose Properties.
  2. In the Taskbar tab, find the Taskbar buttons pull-down menu.
  3. Choose Combine when taskbar is full or Never combine, then click OK.

The first option, which is what I use, keeps the text labels visible until the taskbar gets so crowded as to make that impractical, at which point Windows will ditch the labels and merge multiple instances of running program (like, say, a bunch of Firefox windows) onto a single taskbar icon.

Here's an "after" shot so you can see the taskbar with text labels:

Password-Protect a Folder in Windows 7

Reader Ash wants to know if there's a way to password-protect individual folders in Windows 7:

"I have a PC and I am the main user of it 95 percent of the time. As such, I don't have it request a password from me when it boots, and haven't setup any user accounts. Occasionally, other people will use this PC, but there are a few documents and personal files I'd like to keep hidden with a password."

Seems logical to me. Alas, Windows lacks any kind of file- or folder-specific protections. You said you wanted to accomplish this without third-party software, but I'm afraid that's the only real option. (With multiple user accounts, it's possible to prevent selected users from accessing designated folders--but that's a hassle to set up. Besides, you said yourself you don't have multiple accounts.)

If you don't want to spend any money, consider going the zip route. Most zip managers, including popular freebie 7-Zip, give you the option to password-protect any zipped files and folders. Yes, you have to jump through the hoops of compressing and decompressing folders, but perhaps that's not a big deal for stuff you access infrequently.

No good? Then drop a few bucks on a utility like Folder Lock, which is designed solely for the purpose of, well, locking folders. It's a little pricey at $40, so you might also want to check out Iobit's similar Protected Folder, which costs half as much.

Of course, all these options overlook one of my favorite methods: misdirection. You could create a folder with the world's most boring name--Widget Sales Projections 2007, for example--and nestle it a few folders deep where no one would ever find it. For someone in your situation, with a computer that's used by you 95 percent of the time, that might be the simplest and most effective solution.

Compress Files in Windows

Need to send someone a big batch of files? Don't attach one after another after another to your e-mail. Instead, compress the files into one smaller, easier-to-manage file. In other words, zip them.

The Zip file format has long been used to compress and archive data. Suppose you have, say, 50 Word documents that have a combined size of 5MB. By zipping them, you end up with a single file that's much smaller--maybe 1MB or even 500KB. Imagine stuffing all your clothes into a tiny, lightweight suitcase--that's what compression does. Even better, when you open the suitcase, everything comes out wrinkle-free.

If you're already using a utility like PKZip or WinZip to compress and decompress files, there's little point in changing. But did you know Windows has zip capabilities built right in? Here's how to use them on the fly, using the aforementioned e-mail as an example:

  1. Compose your e-mail message, then click Attach File (or whatever is your mail client's equivalent).
  2. Using the file selector that appears, find the files you want to attach. (They all need to be in the same folder.)
  3. Select all the files you want to zip. (To select multiple files at a time, hold down the Ctrl key while clicking each one in turn.)
  4. Right-click any of the selected files, then choose Send to, Compressed (zipped) folder.
  5. Windows will quickly compress the files and create a new, zipped file that's immediately ready to be renamed (if necessary--if not, just press Enter).
  6. Attach your newly created Zip file to the e-mail.

That's all there is to it!

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com . You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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