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The taskbar icon changing color means that it is trying to tell you something. If not, it shouldn't have changed color.

My operating system is Windows XP with SP3. I got all the updates. When I open WinFast PVR, it shows yellow when it sets on the taskbar. If you right-click on it, it turns back to the normal color. So why does it do this?

In this excerpt from Answercast #71, I look at the way Windows programs are set to flash a different color when they need to get your attention.

Yellow taskbar icons

I'm not at all familiar with WinFast PVR, so I can't speak to that program specifically, but what I can tell you is that:

  • When an application is not in the foreground (in other words it's not the application that you're currently looking at on your screen);

  • When such an application throws up an error message, or a dialog, or a little alert box that says, "Hey, something's going on,"

  • What Windows does... instead of dramatically swapping whatever you're working on with this error box, it actually turns the icon or the little taskbar item a different color.

  • Typically something like a yellow.

It's to get your attention without necessarily interfering with your current work.

When you click on it, Windows immediately says, "OK. Fine, he's looking at the app, we'll turn this off; we'll set it back to its normal color."

But that's all it really is. It's Windows telling you that the application is trying to say something to you, but Windows doesn't want to interfere with what you're currently working on.

Trying to get your attention

Now, an application can also cause this to happen itself through different mechanisms. But the bottom line is it's typically the application trying to get your attention.

Now, if you were to regular-click on it and the application goes to the foreground, and there is no error message, I'm not really sure what to tell you - other than to say that the application itself seems to be messing with this setting, somehow causing it to happen for reasons that don't really make sense. Because if the taskbar item goes to that color, the application should be trying to tell you something.

If it's not trying to tell you something, then it shouldn't have changed color.

So that's what's probably going on. I recommend when you see something like that happen on your taskbar (when it's convenient, you don't have to interrupt what you're doing but when it's convenient), click on it, see what the application is trying to tell you, and then carry on with your work.

Article C6042 - November 18, 2012 « »

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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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1 Comment
Mark J
November 19, 2012 12:15 PM

It's not always an error or a warning that causes the Taskbar icon to change color. Any time a program in the background expects some kind of input, it will change the color of the icon.This is an alert state, but sometimes the input is expected on the programs normal window. Other times it changes color just to let you know that the program is simply ready for use.

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