Many people fondly remember the old ‘two monitors’ system tray icon in Windows XP that flashed blue to indicate network activity. It used to provide reassurance that long downloads were progressing and let you see instantly if activity had stopped e.g. a download in a background app had completed.
Windows 7 and Windows 8 removed that dynamic icon functionality to make the system tray less ‘noisy’ (according to MS) and replaced it with a static Network icon. This newer icon only indicates if there is an internet connection present and, in my experience, it frequently gets even that wrong…
Fortunately there is a simple free utility to add back a traditional network activity monitor icon:
Network Activity Indicator For Windows 7 (and W8) – This tiny program adds an XP-like ‘two monitors’ icon to the System Tray which acts as an activity indicator but improves upon it by combining all available network interfaces (e.g. LAN and WiFi) into one icon – XP used to have separate icons for each interface which really was noisy!
You can use the icon the System Tray to monitor your network traffic in Windows 7 or Windows 8. However, there are some further useful features – moving the mouse cursor over the icon instantly displays the amount of data sent and received during the current session which might be useful for those with limited data plans:
The icon’s right click (context) menu also provides far better options than the pointless Windows 7 Network icon which only links to the Network and Sharing Center. This utility also provides direct links to Network Status. Network Properties, Network Connections and Windows Firewall as well as Network Traffic and Network Stats:
Using Network Activity Indicator – The program is available for download as an Installer or Portable (zipped) file and uses less than 2MB of RAM.
Download from the developer here. I’ll cover the Portable zip version here – after downloading, extract the zip file and copy the entire network-activity-indicator folder into the C:\Program Files (x86 if using 64bit Windows) folder.
Within the folder, run the NetworkIndicator.exe program file to display the new System Tray icon – it should flash whenever the network is used To configure settings, right click the icon and select Settings:
Here you can choose to load the utility at Windows startup (recommended) and use Vista style icons – leave the interface settings as the defaults unless you have a reason to change them.
Configure The System Tray – Of course now you may have 2 icons showing in the System Tray – the standard Network icon and the new Network Indicator icon.
For most users it would make sense to hide the basic Network icon and always display the new icon – to do this, click the (show hidden icons) triangle in the System Tray and select Customize to open the Notification Area Icons window:
Set ‘Network’ to ‘Hide icon and notifications’ (or ‘Only show notifications’ if you still want to see offline notifications).
Set ‘Network Activity Indicator system tray utility’ to ‘Show icon and notifications’ then press OK to finish – you should now see only the new icon in the System Tray as shown below:
Network Activity Indicator adds back the advanced capabilities that Microsoft got rid of in their quest for simplicity in Windows 7. It doesn’t just replicate the functionality of the icon in XP either but adds far more besides – it is an improvement that Microsoft could have made but (unfortunately in my opinion) chose not to.