I am a firm believer in using any tool that helps accomplish a certain goal or that helps me be more productive and efficient in my work routine. I use a LOT of different utilities to accomplish this, some that serve a stand-alone function and others that integrate into other programs to make them work the way I prefer. The end of the year looms near and many web sites are naming their "best" software lists which are always nice to read in case there is a program that has flown under your radar. Since I use so many different programs and utilities I decided that rather than make a "best of" list I would instead review the program or utility I use daily that I feel provides the most bang for the buck. I had to think long and hard about this as I use some very nice programs but I kept coming back to one utility that has made a big impact on my mobile lifestyle.
True Launch Bar
Utilities are often small programs that do one or two things so to be really useful they must do them extremely well. A good utility program must generally be free or very cheap and provide such a useful function it becomes indispensable. It must fit the way I work or I will usually uninstall it after a short time as I don’t have time to change my habits to fit a particular program. I evaluate a lot of programs and utilities in the course of my travels and very few of them make the "indispensable" cut and I end up removing them. The utility that I have been using for a good while and would not think about getting rid of is True Launch Bar (TLB), a program developed by TrueSoft that replaces and augments the Windows XP Quick Launch Bar.
The Quick Launch Bar is the toolbar you can enable in Windows that lets you copy program shortcuts so they are always available for launching right from the Windows taskbar. True Launch Bar takes that concept and expands it so you can put exactly the information you want on the taskbar. The program allows complete customization of the information you choose to display and accomplishes this with the use of plug-ins that are freely available from the True Launch Bar web site.
What TLB does
TLB lets you put a lot of different information on your taskbar where you can always see and access it. It provides a quick launch bar like the Windows version so you don’t have to give up that function when you use TLB. But TLB gives you the choice of displaying a lot of additional information in the taskbar. You can display the weather, disk space, CPU activity, time and date, battery status and a lot of other information about your system. What makes TLB so useful is you can pick and choose which plug-ins are important to you, customize how they display and then arrange them on the taskbar just like you prefer. The end result is a taskbar that works just right for you. Simple and effective and it takes very little screen real estate. Or just auto-hide the taskbar altogether and it only takes up space when you need to view it. Very functional and perfect for both Tablet PCs and ultra-portable devices with small displays.
Installation of TLB
TLB is sold as a download and the installer provides a standard Windows program install. Once the installation is complete you are given the option to check for updates for not only the main TLB program but for all plug-ins that either come standard with the download or for plug-ins you have installed separately. Once that is complete TLB is enabled just like any other Windows taskbar toolbar- right click on the taskbar, select TOOLBARS, and then check any toolbars you want to appear on the taskbar. This is a very flexible method as it allows TLB to easily coexist with other toolbars you might want to display, such as the Windows Media toolbar.
Once installed the first thing you want to do is use it (naturally) so enable it and then you are ready to add your plug-ins. TLB "ships" with a number of useful plug-ins that have already been installed so you might want to check those out first. Right-click anywhere on the TLB toolbar area and select NEW and you will see a menu appear with all the currently installed plug-ins. Experiment with them, try them all out and see which ones you like. Once selected they will be added to the TLB area on the taskbar where you can access them or customize how they look. To change the appearance of a plug-in, such as the font displayed, right-click over that particular plug-in and select PROPERTIES where you can change virtually all settings.
You are not restricted to just the plug-ins that come with TLB- when you select the NEW menu item mentioned above the last item is MORE PLUGINS… Selecting this will take you directly to the plug-in download section on the TLB web site where you can download and install any of the plug-ins. There are a lot of great ones so check them out. Most plug-ins display expanded information when you hover the cursor over them and even further utility when you click on them. The drive space plug-in gives you a bar graph of used/ free space on each hard drive for example, additional information about the drive when you hover over it, and opens that drive’s explorer window when you click it. Very useful and easily accessible all the time.
The end result is a taskbar that is extremely functional and built just like you like it. I use it on all computers I use regularly and feel lost without the functionality it provides when I am using someone else’s computer. That is the mark of a great utility in my book.
Summary and links
This review has only scratched the surface of all that you can do with this program. You can add folders, program icons, and other stuff so that they are only a click away. TLB has almost no system overhead at all and is small and light on the resources. You really have to try it to see all that TLB offers. There is a trial version available that is fully functional if you want to try it out. It adds a red DEMO VERSION label to the taskbar that goes away once you register the program. The program is available right now from TrueSoft’s web site for only $14.95 which makes this a great bargain as far as I’m concerned. TLB is a good solution for the smaller resolution screens like those on the Sony U-70. Here are a couple of screenshots of my taskbar running at both the internal screen resolution of the Sony (800×600) and also at the expanded resolution I use with the Sony when connected to an external monitor (not to scale). There is also a screen of just the TLB region of my taskbar and lastly my favorite plugin (perfect for Tablet PCs) that provides all possible "turn off" options with one icon click: