The Windows interface has gone through many ups and downs over the decades. Some developments, such as Start Menu, is beloved. Others, such as the ugly Windows 8 Metro interface, are largely disliked.
The taskbar, which houses your minimized windows, is hardly the target of such hate. However, it can get quite crowded. Not all of your programs, especially those that have to run continuously, need to take up space there. Sadly, Windows doesn’t provide a native way to minimize a window to another useful space – the notification area. Formerly known as the system tray.
Longtime Windows users have always known the small dedicated area containing the clock displayed in Windows as “system tray“. We still mostly call it that, but the proper name for this part of the Windows user interface is actually “notification area”.
What’s in a name? Not much to be honest, but knowing the official name of the system tray will be helpful for any future Google searches related to it.
Use Minimize to Tray to, Rub, Shrink to Tray
Minimize To Tray is a free and open source mobile application. Since it’s a portable device, you don’t actually install anything. You just need to download and run the program. It also means that it won’t start automatically every time you start Windows. So you might want to create a shortcut and pin it to your taskbar or Start Menu.
Using Minimize To Tray is quite simple, here are the main steps:
- Download Minimize to tray and extract it to a location of your choice.
- Run the program from its directory or from the shortcut you created.
- Switch to whatever window you want minimized to the tray.
- Press Alt + F1 and that window will minimize to the tray.
To restore a window you can use Alt + F2or right click on the tray icon of the application shown here.
Then select the Window you want to restore from.
Use RBtray to quickly minimize almost any window to the tray
RBtray is a small open source applet that works in the most ingenious way. While RBtray is running, all you have to do is right-click the window’s minimize button. That’s the opposite of a regular left-click, which minimizes the window on the taskbar.
You will find the program icons in the notification area and you can restore the program windows by left clicking on them there.
RBtray does not install to the system. So you will have to start the program whenever you want to use it. This is a small problem. You can simply pin a shortcut to the program on the taskbar or start menu. Alternatively, if you’re feeling a little bit fond of it, you can set it as your startup app so that it automatically launches every time Windows starts. Here’s how to use the program:
- Download RBtray and extract it to a location of your choice.
- Run the program from its directory or via a keyboard shortcut.
- The first time you run RBtray, you will get a window with some instructions, choose ALRIGHT continue.
- RBtray is running now, but it has no icon or other indication that it is doing anything.
- Right click on any minimize button to minimize its window to the notification area.
- Also, keep Change while right clicking Title bar of any Window for the same effect.
- You can minimize the active window with keyboard shortcuts WIN + Alt + Down Arrow.
- To close RBtray, run it again and the program will ask if you want to close the running copy.
It’s really simple.
Actual Windows Minimizer ($19.95)
Both the previous tools are completely free, but if you are willing to spend a little money to get your windows into the notification area, then Actual Windows Minimizer could also be a good choice.
There is a trial version of the software that you can try for yourself to see if the extra polish and extra features are worth it. The first distinguishing feature from the previous two applications is a preset option to run the program at startup. You can of course configure any application to run at startup with a little elbow grease, but a one-click solution is welcome.
Another very cool thing about Actual Windows Minimizer is that it adds an extra button to application windows. This way you keep the normal minimize button functionality. You also have the option to change how the standard minimize button works. You can also mark specific applications to run at startup to automatically minimize windows to the tray.
Another important feature is controlling the application whose icons are always displayed in the notification area. If there’s an app that you want to stay visible no matter what, you can set it to “permanent mode” so you have quick one-click access to it. .
Once you check out all the different functions Actual Window Minimizer has to offer, the price tag doesn’t seem unreasonable. Assuming, of course, that they are functions that you will actually use.
The application has the function of minimizing the functionality of the Native tray
Developers have realized that some apps are more suited to the notification area than to the taskbar. So you should check in that app if it has the option to minimize to tray.
You might even get lucky when you submit a feature request, if your favorite app doesn’t have this option. Not all apps work well with the extensions we mentioned above, in which case direct support from the developer is needed.
A minimalist solution
With a little luck, Microsoft may one day add the ability to minimize any application to the tray as a built-in Windows feature. It’s not unprecedented for OS developers to adopt functions from users’ favorite third-party apps.
So, if you really can’t live without the ability to minimize apps to the tray, it might be worth it for Microsoft to know that this is a feature you’d love to see baked directly into Microsoft Windows.