Windows has had a taskbar at the bottom of the screen since its inception. That position used to make sense, but it is not the case on modern computers. I’m here to tell you that the taskbar should be on the left.
The origin of the horizontal taskbar
To understand why the taskbar should be on the left ̵
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Windows 95 was actually the first version to support moving the taskbar as well, but it wasn’t really necessary at the time. Until about 2003, computer monitors primarily used a 4: 3 aspect ratio, which meant that there was almost as much vertical space as horizontal space.
Since the vertical and horizontal dimensions were similar, the taskbar that stretched across the bottom didn’t cut very much on the screen, so it was fine at the time. But what does all this have to do with modern Windows 10 PCs?
There are a number of different trends with monitors and computer screens today. 16: 9 was the standard for a while – and is still the most popular – but things are evolving. Desktop monitors are getting wider, with 21: 9 “ultra-wide” becoming more common. 3: 2 is slowly becoming more common on laptops.
The question of why you should put the taskbar to the side can be answered in two ways: mathematical and practical.
Sidebars use less screen space: the math
If we look at this from a mathematical point of view, the question is really this: how can we get the most screen real estate minus the taskbar?
Common sense suggests that any screen wider than the standard 16: 9 aspect ratio is better suited to a sidebar (vertical). 3: 2 displays, which are similar to the 4: 3 displays we talked about earlier, may work best with bottom (horizontal) task bars.
Let’s see how much of the total screen area is occupied by the taskbar in both positions. First, the popular combination of 1080p and 16: 9; here’s how many pixels the taskbar occupies in each direction, and how many of a percentage of the screen that is.
- Taskbar on the side: 1,080 x 62 = 66,960 (3.2%)
- Lower task bar: 1,920 x 40 = 76,800 (3.7%)
By a small margin, the side taskbar wins. It uses less of your screen than a taskbar at the bottom.
That means a wider screen will be even more of a benefit to the side taskbar. Here’s an ultra-wide 21: 9 screen.
- Taskbar on the side: 1,080 x 62 = 66,960 (2.4%)
- Lower task bar: 2560 x 40 = 102,400 (3.7%)
Because the taskbar horizontally occupies 2556 pixels, it takes up more of the total screen area. Now let’s look at the same thing on a 3: 2 screen.
- Taskbar on the side: 1,440 x 77 = 110,880 (3.6%)
- Lower task bar: 2160 x 32 = 69,120 (2.2%)
In this case, we can see that the taskbar at the bottom is the best choice to maximize the screen space.
So the numbers clearly indicate that placing the taskbar on the side will give you the most screen area on widescreen displays. But here I don’t think the math tells the whole story. I think you should also use a side taskbar on 3: 2 screens.
Screen space Aside from, vertical toolbars are just better
The numbers above show that on a 3: 2 screen, placing the taskbar at the bottom takes up the least amount of screen space. However, the numbers don’t take into account how people actually use their computers.
What do most of us do on our computers every day? Surfing on the Internet. How are most websites formatted? For vertical scrolling. Allow me to explain.
The How-To Geek homepage is formatted like many websites on the Internet. There is empty space on both sides and the content runs down the center of the page. You can cut into that horizontal width and not affect much, but if you cut into the vertical space, you’re blocking some of the content.
As you can see, the taskbar on the side shows most of the content vertically. The page can stretch from the top of the browser tab to the bottom of the screen. On the other hand, having the taskbar at the bottom limits that vertical space and doesn’t get you extra content on the side.
The same is true if you are using a 3: 2 screen. The only difference is that you see even more content vertically and less empty space on the sides. That’s a win / win in my book. If you’re looking for the best web browsing experience, the taskbar on the side is the obvious choice.
Why the left side?
Okay, I think I’ve come up with a pretty good argument as to why you should put the taskbar on the side, but why specifically on the left? Granted, this doesn’t really matter. The main thing is to put it on each side. However, I think left makes the most sense.
Many of the things you do on a computer are left justified. For example, an Excel spreadsheet starts at the top left. It is normal for websites to have their logos and toolbars aligned to the left as well. When you run out of computers, smartphone apps almost always have their sidebar menus on the left.
We naturally seem to be drawn to the left as a starting point. After all, English is written from left to right. It just feels good to have the taskbar on that side too. My mouse is naturally pulled that way when I need to start an app or open the Start menu.
Not just for Windows
I’ve talked a lot about Windows and showed the Windows taskbar in examples (it’s in the title, after all), but you should know that any major desktop operating system can do this.
The Mac OS dock can be moved left or right. Chromebooks can also place the ‘shelf’ on the left or right side. The Ubuntu Linux distribution already has a “dock” on the left by default.
Give it a try
So give a vertical taskbar a try. I think you will like it. Even if it seems a bit strange at first, you might find yourself preferring it over that traditional bottom taskbar.
To move your taskbar on Windows 10, all you have to do is right-click on the taskbar and remove the check mark from ‘Lock the taskbar’. You can then click and drag an empty area on your taskbar to move it around your screen.
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