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Many applications like to add an icon to the system tray or notification area. Unfortunately, controlling what goes there isn't as easy as we'd like it to be.

How can I permanently get rid of Systray Icons that get put there when software is installed? MSCONFIG sometimes gets rid of them until the first time you run the software, then it's back again. Just takes up room in the background.

Oh how I wish I had an easy answer for you.

Well, I do. The easy answer is: you can't.

Not easily.

However, you can make things better, but it's a somewhat complicated process.

Here's the area of the task bar that we're talking about:

The notification area, or 'tray' in Windows XP
The notification area, or 'tray' in Windows XP

The notification area, or 'tray' in Windows Vista
The notification area, or 'tray' in Windows Vista

The notification area, or 'tray' in Windows 7
The notification area, or 'tray' in Windows 7

"Of course what's 'important' is up for debate ..."

The "tray", or more officially the "notification area" is typically the right most portion of the task bar that contains various icons placed there by various programs so as to notify you of important things as you use your system.

Of course what's "important" is up for debate, as is the need for every application in the world to put something in the notification area at all. It can get very full, and very frustrating, very quickly.

There are three general solutions.

  • Don't run the software that places the icon in the tray.

    It's important to realize that each icon in the tray represents a running process of some sort on your computer. In a sense, a cluttered tray is an indication that you have a lot of software running on your machine; software that in my experience often doesn't need to run at all - at least not constantly.

    There are several problems. What should you allow to run and what should you disable will vary from machine to machine. It's all based on what software you're running, what you use and what you need.

    For those you elect to disable, how to prevent these from running will vary from application to application. Sometimes it's an auto-start MSConfig entry, sometimes it's an option in another application, sometimes it requires more in-depth configuration changes in system services.

    Most annoying are those applications which, when updated or reinstalled, insist on placing themselves back in the tray, at which point you'll again need to take whatever steps you took to turn it off.

  • Turn off an option to display in the tray.

    Sometimes the application being run actually has an option to display in the tray or not. In the examples above, items like the speaker icon for volume control, or the network icon for network activity are actually choices I've made in the respective sound or network control panel applications. They can just as easily be turned off.

    The downside: not all applications that appear in the tray support this kind of configurability. Some, like in the prior step, will reset it should they be updated or reinstalled.

    But I'll admit that I've come to really appreciate applications that allow me to choose, and then continue to respect that choice.

  • Let Windows Hide Inactive Icons (and configure it).

    I'll admit, I'm a control freak. I turn off "hide inactive icons", in part, because I want to see what's on my machine, and in part because it always seems like the icon I want to interact with is hidden. However, it is one way of controlling the clutter a little.

    All versions of Windows allow you to control to some degree which items are automatically hidden.

    In Windows XP: right click on the Start button, click on Properties, click on the Taskbar tab, make sure that Hide inactive icons is checked, and then click on Customize...

    In Windows Vista: right click on the Windows "orb" (aka the old Start button), click on Properties, click on the Notification Area tab, make sure that Hide inactive icons is checked, and then click on Customize...

    In Windows 7: right click on the Windows "orb" (aka the old Start button), click on Properties, click on the Taskbar tab, click on the Notification Area's Customize... button

Unfortunately, there's really no easy way to deal with all the icons at once, or truly control exactly what happens with each and every one there.

But at least this is a start.

Finally, I do have to say this: many icons in the tray are useful, and there on purpose. Not all can be turned off, and not all should be. Quite often the programs that they represent are programs that you want. And sometimes it's just more effort than it's worth to try and figure out all the details for that little bit of screen real estate.

Article C3871 - September 17, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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14 Comments
ERandall
September 22, 2009 9:00 AM

Is there a way to split the taskbar parts? for example: quicklaunch icons on the side and the rest on the bottom?

Nope.
Leo
23-Sep-2009

Jm Ewing
September 22, 2009 10:05 AM

I've been successful in stopping this "tray" icon stuff. Many programers think that their program is the most important thing on anyone's computer so they put a starting stub into memory so the program will start faster when you launch it. The icon in the tray tells you that it has loaded. Hense, your available RAM memory has been reduced. To remove this permanently, you have to use a utility, such as Iolo's System Mechanic. It will allow you to access the startup area where you either disable or delete it. I recommend disabling vice deleting.

Dennis Jackson
September 22, 2009 10:25 AM

While having a bunch of icons in the Taskbar is annoying, the more important issue (as was pointed out in the response to the question) is the number of programs(many unnecessary) running in the background - each one consumes memory and CPU cycles. Many programs and drivers when installed seem to think that you can't live without their background process to at least check for updates for their application, so they install a background utility to start up automatically when the OS boots. One of the best ways I've found to control this behavior, without having to become an expert in MSConfig and/or Services.msc is to install and use Mike Lin's Control Panel (currently version 2.8), a freeware utility available over the internet. This little program installs in the Control Panel in XP or as a standalone utility in Vista (be sure to set the utility to run with administrative privledges in Vista) and allows the user to easily control what background programs are allowed to start up when the computer boots up. You have to be careful what you turn off (look up what each listed program does by Googling it on the internet first), but the more unnecessary background programs you disable, the less icons will appear in the Taskbar, and the faster your computer will run. If, after turning off a background program, you decide that it's necessary after all, you can just turn it back on to start on boot-up through Startup Control Panel.

karl medisch
September 22, 2009 11:03 AM

I am having the opposite problem with the icons for the network connection and volume control (Vista Home Premium) (Motorola SM56 Speakerphone Modem) disappearing. I updated the drivers for it and the icons were gone. When I right clicked the task bar/personalize/notification area the places to check/uncheck them was greyed out -- no way to restore. I did a system restore (and yes it did restore) and the icons were back. I haven't re-installed the update for the modem. One other update (unrelated to the modem) and the icons disappeared and were greyed out -- no way to get them back so I did a system restore and again the icons were back.
Is there any other way to get the icons back when some piece of software decides to remove them and not let them be put back? System restore is a bit extreme and doesn't always have a happy ending. I prefer having the icons in the notification area so I know what is running -- and to be able to access the volume control as needed.

Sound and network specifically have options in their control panel application or in the network connection configuration that indicate whether or not you want a tray icon. Sounds like those are just getting reset.
Leo
23-Sep-2009

Prabhu
September 22, 2009 11:39 AM

Two possible payare solutions -

XNeat (it can hide taskbar windows; need to check for system tray) - http://www.xneat.com/

SysTrayX - http://www.xdesksoftware.com/systrayx.html

Also in the Windows customize notifications option, one can choose "Always Hide"

Ephraim Purcell
September 22, 2009 1:20 PM

Windows Defender has a handy software explorer option. In this, select "startup programs". It's easy then to disable the annoying auto startup programs thus freeing up the sys tray and memory. PC runs more efficiently also. When required the programs can simply be started the old-fashioned way.

Dave Markley
September 22, 2009 2:48 PM

As Leo pointed out, there are a few solutons here. Personally, I use Startup Inspector for Windows (freeware) to keep programs from automatically starting when Windows starts. You have to 'turn on' most programs anyway, so why let them run in the background when you're not using them? By not letting them run all the time you are also conserving valuable RAM and CPU availability.

Also, if you use 'quick-launch'(next to the Start button) you are stuck with 3 icons. You can choose which 3 by 'dragging and dropping' your 3 favorite icons here. Otherwise Windows decides which three you get. This allows you to get rid of three 'Desktop' icons as well. (I can't stand my desktop cluttered with icons personally).

Gary
September 22, 2009 3:29 PM

For the lost of your volume and internet icon, microsoft has a hot fix. Check out Microsoftfixit 50229.msi also winpatrol is a very good program to disable what exactly starts and sits in the system tray, just give it a try.

Mark
September 23, 2009 5:37 AM

I usually get rid of the stubs with MSConfig which can let me decide which start-up programs to stop from running when windows boots up. Be careful. If you don't know what you are doing you may stop a necessary program from starting. Stopping most apple applications is ok as they are usually the result of installing quicktime.

snail
September 23, 2009 6:56 PM

I choose to hide all but "Safe to Remove...,"volume, power, and Networks(Internet).

As for the separate QuickLaunch, you can actually have a rectangle area separate from the rest of the task bar if you unlock that area and drag it around how you want it(I'm not surd if I understood your question, ERandall at September 22, 2009 9:00 AM)

Patty Bennett
September 25, 2009 8:33 AM

I use a program called PS Tray Factory to control the system tray icons. It givce a list of all the current icons and allows one to check a box beside each one indicating that that icon is to be hidden. Right-clicking on the PS Tray Factory icon quickly shows a list of the hidden icons for those times that one *does* need to access them. It's a wonderful program and I highly recommend it.

karl medisch
September 28, 2009 12:17 PM

Leo, just got back to the post. When the two icons disappeared I would right click taskbar, properties, notification area tab -- and the places to check/uncheck the icons is greyed out and no way to restore. I cannot find any settings in the Control Panel application settings for them.

Robert M.
October 10, 2009 9:44 AM

CCleaner.exe has an excellent Startup tool. It not only gives the option of disabling a startup item but it also can delete it entirely.

Of course, some items repopulate themselves, and Java for me is one of the biggest offenders. Anytime Java is updated, it loads the startup item again. So anytime I've updated Java, I immediately turn off automatic updates for Java, and then also go into startup (using msconfig or CCleaner) to disable it there, as well.

Yeppers
April 22, 2011 7:46 AM

Are the user’s Customize Notifications settings (in XP SP3) supposed to remain locked in after you reboot the PC? I find that a couple of my “Always Show” behavior settings will frequently revert to its “Hide When Inactive” default settings, and the icons become hidden after a reboot (this includes, strangely enough, Norton Security which provides "active" real time protection). Also, what is the purpose of listing the “Past Items” icons and allowing us to change their behavior settings? Thanks…

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