Windows and Desktop in Windows 7

Where’s the “Show Desktop” icon gone in Windows 7?

"Show Desktop" icon for XP
“Show Desktop” icon for XP
In Windows XP there was an option on the Start Menu that allowed you to show a desktop icon on the taskbar. Clicking on that icon immediately showed the full desktop without closing the windows that had previously obscured it. Those windows could be accessed by just clicking on their icons in the taskbar. The icon changed in Windows Vista, but it was still there.
"Show Desktop" icon for Vista
“Show Desktop” icon for Vista

However, in Windows 7 it disappeared. Well, actually, it didn’t. Some bright spark at Microsoft decided to (a) move it from the lefthand side of the screen to the right and (b) disguise it as part of the taskbar by turning it into a completely nondescript rectangle. It’s now the area to the right of the clock on the taskbar. On my own desktop it’s the rectangle at the bottom right of this image:

"Show Desktop" icon for Windows 7
“Show Desktop” icon for Windows 7

As well as moving it and disguising it, Microsoft also added the “feature” that if you just hover your mouse over the icon (without actually clicking on it) then it shows you a view of the desktop showing through the outline of any windows you currently have open. Maybe someone, somewhere, has found a use for this “feature”, but every time I show clients how to use the “show desktop” icon, they are a little nonplussed when this “feature” activates just before they click on the icon. I advise them to just ignore it and click the icon to reveal the desktop in the normal way.

Irrespective of the version of Windows, there are other ways of immediately getting back to the desktop. These are:

  • Press the Windows logo key and, while this is down, hit the letter “d”


  • Take your mouse down to the taskbar, right-click, and then left-click on “Show the desktop”

Arranging Windows Side By Side

Windows Logo Key
Windows Logo Key
OK, having whinged a bit about fixing something that wasn’t broken, here’s a feature introduced in Windows 7 that is much more useful. It’s the ability to (reasonably) easily arrange two windows so that each occupies half of the screen. Very useful, for instance, if you need one window open for writing, and another for reading. It’s also very useful when dragging things from one window to another.
Cursor Keys
Cursor Keys
A small tip, here, is that when I’m dragging stuff between windows I always arrange the windows so that the “source window” (where the content starts off) is at the left and the “destination window” is always at the right. I find that sticking to this convention just makes it that bit harder for me to get it the wrong way round during a senior moment.

So, how do you arrange windows side by side?

  • Make one window the “current” window by clicking in its “title bar” (the coloured bar at the top of the window).
  • Depress the “Windows” key and, while this is down, tap either the “cursor left” or “cursor right” key.
  • Depending on which cursor key you tapped, the window (now occupying half of the screen) will be either down the left or right side of the screen.
  • Repeating the key-tapping combination will move the window to the other side of the screen.
  • Repeating it again will put the window back into the size and position it occupied before you started playing with this (except that if you had previously had the window “maximised” it will now be “restored down”).
  • Now just click onto the other window (that you want on the other side of the screen) and repeat the same procedure.

I found that it’s worth practising this a bit and committing it to memory as I often feel “better organised” in what I’m doing if I have two windows neatly set up side by side.

You might wonder if there’s any easy method – or software – available so that you can immediately and automatically re-arrange a set of windows in a way that you like. As far as I know, there isn’t. I’ve looked before but never found anything. To my mind, this is one of those extraordinary omissions in Windows. You really would have thought that someone at Microsoft would have noticed some time over the last 20 years or so that it’s really annoying having to repeat the same actions time and again to get the windows back to where you want them every time you want a particular arrangement.