Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to stop Windows task bar (system tray) icon tooltips being obscured

When parts of Microsoft Windows start behaving oddly or even completely stop operating it can be painful in the extreme trying to find a fix or a workaround.

Why not get support from Microsoft, you ask? Well, yes and no. Microsoft’s support website site is vast, and it’s a hit-and-miss affair to find any solution for your problem.

Success often lies with the vast user base of Windows -- in the hundreds of millions if not billions. If you’re persistent enough, sometimes more by chance more than anything else you’ll sooner or later find a forum or blog or a team of Windows specialists out there to help define and solve problem. In the early days of Windows this rarely happened, but these days it’s a lot more likely that you’ll hit the jackpot somewhere in the large community of Windows users..

The problem I’m discussing in this post occurred on some but not all of my Windows 7 systems, and happens on my Windows 8.0 desktop system yet not on Asus Slate touchscreen system (which also runs Windows 8.0).

Here’s the symptom: when I hover the mouse over an icon in the “system tray” -- more properly called the “notification area” -- the tooltips do not pop up on top, they are  partially (in some cases completely) obscured by the task bar. This equally applies to the pop-up panel that displays the so-called inactive icons.

I probably have quite a few more inactive icons than most people because I have tons of applications installed. Screenshot 1 shows the inactive icons panel being invoked on my desktop PC:


Once the above panel has opened, I found when I moved the mouse pointer to any one of the hidden (inactive) icons that each tooltip (pop-up help text) was always either partially or totally obscured by the panel (screenshot 2):


This has usually led me to move the mouse around the panel and hover it over different inactive icons, sometimes with the icon’s tooltip completely obscured, until by trial and error I came to the icon that I wanted to invoke at that time.

As I mentioned earlier in this post on some of my Windows systems this does not occur, so it’s pertinent to ask what causes this to happen and what can be done to get rid of the annoyance.

To cut a long story short, after several hours of research spread over some days (because it took me a while to determine some potential solutions and test them all).

The only success I had was in using one of the freeware utilities from Nir Sofer’s  bountiful website.

The tool of choice to download for fixing this problem is NirCmd which is a command-line utility having virtually a million-and-one divergent uses. The 32-bit and 64-bit NirCmd downloads are near the bottom of that page, as is the following link to the NirCmd Full Help File.

In my case, after extracting the command from its zip container I moved it into the C:\UTILS folder (adjust the example below to match your own choice of folder).

There’s a big pile of text in the NirCmd help file. The command variant that we’ll be using is settopmost to set the topmost state of a Windows form such as the task bar or the inactive task bar icons panel. (See here and here and here for some background about  the topmost state for a form.)

Since it is inconvenient to repetitively run NirCmd from a command-line [via a DOS command prompt window[, I decided to create a BAT file (in the UTILS folder, which is in my system PATH environment variable) called TooltipsFixer.bat which contained the following:

@echo Tooltips should no longer be obscured by the Task Bar ...
C:\UTILS\nircmd.exe win settopmost class "tooltips_class32" 1

Then I created a shortcut to the TooltipsFixer.bat file and placed it in a convenient place for repetitive use.

That’s because the problem keeps cropping up, therefore I need to run this BAT file most times that I access the inactive icons panel. One of the other solutions launches a Windows service that runs in the background and does away with the need to repeatedly correct the problem, which would be nice, but it didn’t work for me.

Now I merely double-click on this shortcut to rectify the problem and force the tooltips to display in front of the task bar, and in front of the inactive icons panel.

Problem solved. I’m still rather peeved that this issue cropped up in the first place, and wonder why it affects some systems yet not others (anybody know why?).

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