Over time, Windows’ taskbar and notification area can become an ocean of visible and hidden icons for installed applications.
Here’s a guide to taking control of those icons — how to weed them out, change their behavior, and even give them a new look.
How Windows’ notification icons proliferate
I hate clutter. At best, it makes things harder to find; at worst, important things get lost. This can be particularly true of the tiny icons that accumulate in the Windows notification area — formerly known as the system tray.
From the first day you use a new or rebuilt PC, notification icons begin collecting in the southeast corner of Windows 7 and Windows 8 desktops. Windows typically starts out with five icons: Clock, Power, Network, Volume, and Action Center. More icons are added by many of the applications you install: media players, AV apps, your email client, cloud-storage services such as SkyDrive and Dropbox, various utilities, etc.
Microsoft has general recommendations about what goes into the notification area (more info). In theory, applications should use the notification area only if they have events or status changes that might need user attention. And if an app does add a notification icon, it should be placed into the hidden icon-overflow bin by default (see Figure 1) and not take up valuable space on the Windows taskbar (or, more precisely, the notification area to the right of the taskbar).
In practice, many apps ignore Microsoft’s guidelines or apply them loosely. Skype, for example, uses a notification icon to display its current connection status and to show the number of missed calls and messages. Microsoft’s own OneNote uses a notification icon as a way for users to create quick notes. That’s handy, but it’s also technically a misuse of the notification area.
And while some apps use distinctive icons, many others use generic designs that make the notification area a game of “How good is your memory?” (Hovering your cursor over the icon will usually pop up its identity.)