The option to keep all apps on the taskbar as separate instances – telling the OS to ‘never combine’ them – is now working in Windows 11 test builds, albeit with a major caveat.
For the uninitiated, the choice to never combine means that multiple instances of the same app aren’t stacked together, but are instead presented separately on the taskbar. So, if you’ve got three instances of Chrome running, say, each would have its own entry on the taskbar – as opposed to one combined entry, that when hovered over, shows all three instances stacked up.
Microsoft hasn’t officially sent this never combine feature live in testing for Windows 11 yet, sadly, but the workings for it are present in preview builds, having been unearthed in the recent past.
Now, however, a Twitter leaker has got never combine unofficially working by taking the initiative and building their own shell extension designed to enable hidden features in Windows 11 test builds.
You keep asking for the updated Windows 11 taskbar with ungrouped items & labels. While the code is unstable, a bit of magic can bring it to life and fix critical crashesIntroducing Shell Frosting🍰 a way for you to experience unpolished shell bits earlyhttps://t.co/FzmJ8uKSGC pic.twitter.com/ppNFYaEwdZMay 8, 2023
This has been done by Twitter user Albacore with a piece of wizardry called ‘Shell Frosting’, described as a “fun, unconventional ‘shell extension’ designed to enable unfinished shell features hidden in Windows Insider builds”.
At the moment, all it does is enable never combine on the taskbar, and it also adds labels to those ungrouped apps on the bar (so with a browser, for example, you can see the name of the web page currently being visited alongside the icon).
Analysis: Frosting on the beta
Essentially, this lets you revert to the choice you have with how apps are displayed on the taskbar in Windows 10 – stacked up, or not – a choice Windows 11 removed to the annoyance of many (ourselves included). And you can now do this, at least in test builds for Windows 11, if you want to get a flavor for how it works.
As PhantomOfEarth, another Twitter leaker who flagged up Albacore’s tweet, observes, when enabled via Shell Frosting, in its current state the never combine functionality works well enough. The leaker clarifies that it’s a bit buggy, but that’s par for the course when a feature is unofficially turned on like this.
Indeed, to see it functioning correctly to some degree when forced on actually bodes well that the ability is coming along nicely. So, even if you aren’t going to install a Windows 11 preview and mess around with Shell Frosting to test out never combine – and let’s face it, the vast majority of us won’t – you can take heart that Microsoft appears to be making good progress here.
We can’t wait for ‘never combine’ to come to Windows 11 properly, and hopefully, given that it’s apparently in some sort of decent shape already, we might just see the feature debut with the big update for later this year (23H2). Fingers crossed, because it will be a popular addition to the Windows 11 interface.
Look out for Shell Frosting helping testers to rummage through and bring to life more UI changes in Windows 11 previews going forward.