I'm finally free from one of Microsoft's stupidest user interface mistakes.
I am a frequent flyer when it comes to the "Show Desktop" feature of Windows, which minimizes all open windows. The icon for this used to be just to the right of the Start button in Windows XP. Over the course of many years, I developed muscle memory for it.
Everything changed in Windows 7. The icon became a vertical gray stripe almost indistinguishable from the Taskbar where it lives. Worse still, it moved from the far left of the screen to the far right. What [expletive deleted] at Microsoft thought this was a good idea?
For a long time I was frequently switching between Windows 7 and XP, so, I suffered more than most, never being able to adapt. Eventually most of the computers I dealt with were migrated to Windows 7.
Then I decided to clean up my work area and throw out some old papers. One of them was an article I had printed back in 2010 (Quick cures for the worst Windows 7 annoyances by Scott Dunn at WindowsSecrets.com) that included a tip on restoring the Show Desktop icon to its rightful place.
I can't recall if I had tried the specific suggestion in the article, but I had tested many others. When Windows 7 was new, I had tried and tried but the best I could do was trade the vertical gray stripe for the old icon. For the life of me, I couldn't get the icon to live on the far left of the Taskbar.
The advice in this particular article also failed. It explained how to create a file called "Show Desktop.scf" (more on this below) that looked promising but then suggested adding it to a toolbar and I can never get a toolbar perfectly left justified.
Perhaps because I now viewed this as a puzzle rather than a problem, I took a deep breath and thought about it.
The Windows 7 computer I was using already had a couple shortcuts to the right of the Start button/orb, where the Quick Launch toolbar used to be. As shown below, the leftmost icon is for Notepad++, the other is for ThinkPad utilities. They got there via the Pin to Taskbar feature of Windows 7.
Perhaps I could use Taskbar pinning for the "Show Desktop.scf" file that Scott Dunn had suggested? I tried on my own without success. Windows 7 only allows the pinning of executable programs.
Off to search engine land, where I found How to Pin Any App or Folder to Windows 7 Taskbar at guidingtech.com. The article is undated, but is at least three years old and written by someone who identifies themselves only as Yadon.
I had no interest in pinning a folder to the Taskbar, but the article offered the missing piece to my puzzle nonetheless.
The trick involves creating a fake EXE file and pinning that to the Taskbar. Then, modify the properties of the EXE icon (see step 4 below) to point to a folder. Rather than point to a folder however, I pointed to the SCF file the first article said to create.
To create a Show Desktop icon in Windows 7 that exactly mimics Windows XP, follow the steps below.They need to be run for each Windows userid (most people only use one) and do not require admin privileges.
1. Open Notepad and enter the text below. Save the file with the name "Show Desktop.scf".
The first time I tried this, I kept the file in My Documents, but it's probably better off in a folder that is not tied to any one userid, so the files can be re-used. To that end, I suggest using the ProgramData folder in the root of the C disk. Since we are going to need two files (see the next step) I created a sub-folder there called "ShowDesktopFaking".
2. Open Notepad, type something short and save the file as fake.exe in the folder you just created for the SCF file. Any name ending in EXE will do, this just seems self-documenting.
3. Navigate to fake.exe in Windows Explorer, right click on it and pin it to the Taskbar.
It may not initially appear on left side of the Taskbar. In the screen shot below the fake.exe icon is to the right of the entry for Chrome. However, when all the running applications are closed, the icon will migrate to the left.
4. Here's the cool part: right click on the fake.exe Taskbar icon, then right click on "fake" and get the properties.
Change the Target to be the full path to the "Show Desktop.scf" file. Keeping with my example, the Target would be
5. At this point the new icon should, in fact, show the desktop. Test it to make sure.
6. Next we want to change the displayed icon. Again, right click on the new icon, right click on "fake" and get the properties. Click on the "Change icon..." button. The legacy Show Desktop icon is included in explorer.exe which is in the C:\Windows folder.
7. No doubt, you will notice that the icon change does not take effect immediately. I found that it was necessary to log off and back on.
8. Finally, the new Show Desktop icon is now the rightmost of all the pinned icons. Simply drag it left to its official and rightful place next to the Start button/orb. Interestingly, this can be done even with the Taskbar locked. Go figure.
Here's what my laptop Taskbar looked like when I was all done.
If only I knew about this a couple years back.
July 10, 2013 Update: This works on Windows 8 exactly as it does on Windows 7.