Differences Between Toolbars & Taskbars

By Brian Cruze

To the layperson, the words "toolbar" and "taskbar" may sound interchangeable. However, in technical terms, the two refer to two different things. The most basic difference is that the taskbar is displayed on the Microsoft Windows desktop and is the only taskbar in the operating system. Toolbars vary from program to program and are displayed only when their respective programs are opened.

What is a Toolbar?

The toolbar is a set of buttons and icons that are part of any software's user interface. In most cases, the toolbar is located directly below the menu bar. The toolbar has different icons that allow the user to manage or control the program and change the settings to his preferences. The toolbar in the Microsoft Word program, for instance, allows the user to change the font type, size and color, as well as paragraph styles, formats and referencing. It also has several other features for customization.

What is a Taskbar?

In a Windows operating system, the taskbar is the horizontal bar that is visible at the bottom of the screen. It was first introduced in Windows 95 and has been a part of all subsequent releases of the operating system. The taskbar helps the user locate and launch programs through the "Start" button, view programs that are open, display or change the time/date, and view programs that are functioning in the background.

Taskbar Sections

The taskbar has four main sections: the Start button to open the start menu and launch programs; the Quick Launch toolbar, which will help you start programs with a single click; the Notification area on the extreme right, which displays computer settings, date, time and status of some programs; and the middle section, which shows the programs, documents, folders or files that are open.


The taskbar is a part of the operating system, while every different software or program has its own taskbar. The taskbar has a set of fixed icons and functions. The toolbar, on the other hand, can have different parts and functions depending on the program. For instance, the Microsoft Word toolbar would have controls for fonts and paragraphs while the one for Adobe Photoshop has controls for photo editing, including colors, saturation, sharpening and blurs.