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Windows 7 tips and tweaks

Missing the taskbar network activity icon? Add it!

Windows XP and Vista had a useful icon at the right-hand side of the taskbar that indicated when the computer was connected to the internet or a local area network (LAN) and it would light up when there was any activity taking place.

It was a useful indicator that something was actually happening because when you are waiting for a web page to load, a video to start, or a file to download, it isn't always obvious.

Windows 7 doesn't have the animated network icon at the right-hand side of the taskbar and so sometimes the computer just sits there and you don't know whether the network is working and it's just slow or whether the connection has died completely.

How do we get the animated network activity icon back? There are actually several solutions.

Network Activity MonitorThe network icon in Windows 7 is static and that's it. You can't do anything about it. However, there are alternatives that can be used instead. Network Activity Indicator is a utility that adds an XP/Vista-like icon to the taskbar that flashes when there is network activity. It is actually more flexible than the one that used to be in Windows and it can be set to display TCP, UDP or ICMP traffic. The blink duration is customisable too.

The same author has a slightly different version called Network Lights and this program flashes the Scroll Lock and Num Lock LED indicators on the keyboard when network activity takes place. That's an interesting variation.

Another utility you can use is LanLights. This is actually a Windows XP program judging by the screen shots, but it works OK in 32 and 64-bit Windows 7 too. Minimise the program and it appears at the right side of the taskbar and lights up when there's network activity. There are some useful scrolling charts if you open the main program window too.

The final option is to use a desktop gadget. Right click the desktop and select gadgets. There is a small selection of gadgets you can display on the desktop, but there are many more online. Wired Network Meter, Wireless Network Meter, and Network Traffic are good ones, but you will find more online in the gadget gallery.

Where's the icon?

Windows 7 is able to hide icons that normally appear at the right-hand side of the taskbar in the notification area. It solves the old problem of icons filling half the taskbar when you don't actually need them. Windows might unhelpfully hide the network activity icons you add. It's easy to put them back though. Click the up pointing arrow at the right side of the taskbar and select Customize from the menu that pops up. Next to the icon, such as LanLights, select Show icon and notifications from the drop-down menu on the right. Now the icon will always be displayed.

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