I like to consider myself reasonably competent in using Windows having picked up a whole bunch of tips, techniques and shortcuts over the many years (approximately 21) I’ve been using and programming against various versions of it.
For example, I’m one of a shrinking number of people who know that in a multi-selection list box with extended selection enabled (as opposed to a list view, just to be clear) you can press Shift+F8 to enter keyboard-driven multiple selection mode where Space toggles the selection of the current item and Shift+F8 or Esc leaves this selection mode. And I’ve know this since the days of Windows 3, before Raymond Chen made it more widely known in a 2006 post. Whilst on the subject of list boxes it’s also no longer well known that Ctrl+/ and Ctrl+\ perform select all items and select current item respectively.
However I’m always happy to pick up new tricks. I’ve bumped into a few recently and would like to share them with you.
- Shell shortcuts (Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8)
- Adding Quick Launch toolbar (Windows 7, 8)
- “God” mode (Windows 7, 8)
- Add any application as a Start screen tile (Windows 8)
- Toggle Windows Explorer ribbon (Windows 8)
- Option to exit Windows Explorer (Windows 8)
- Desktop shortcut to all apps (Windows 8)
- More on the Quick Link menu (Windows 8)
Just before we get onto the “meat and potatoes” of this post I’ll randomly mention the Alt+Space and Alt+- shortcuts for dropping down the system menu on a top-level window and an MDI child window respectively. They used to be more obvious. The system menu is now represented (as of Windows 95) by the window icon at the left edge of the window’s caption bar.
In older versions of windows (such as Windows 3.x) the main window’s system menu was represented by a long bar and an MDI child system menu was represented by a shorter bar.
It was common place before Windows XP for menus to try and make their keyboard shortcuts clear and obvious. You can see above that the File menu has F as its shortcut, thanks to it being underlined. As a Windows user this tells you that Alt+F drops down the menu. The two icons on the system menus were supposed to represent a space bar (on the main window) and a hyphen/dash (on the MDI child). This tells you that Alt+Space shows the main window system menu and Alt+- shows the MDI child system menu.
Anyway, enough of history. Let’s look at more contemporary stuff, much of which is new stuff revolving around Windows 8.
The first little shortcut (or collection of shortcuts) I bumped into a couple of weeks back dates back to at least Windows XP. I am quite staggered to have not happened upon them before.
They are all uses of the shell pseudo-command, which is understood by the Run dialog (WinKey+r) and by Windows Explorer (WinKey+e). I’m very much aware of support in the Run dialog and Windows Explorer, as well as at the Command Prompt, for environment variable expansion, which is a handy way of getting to certain paths and the shell pseudo-command offers a whole bunch of additional folder access shortcuts over and above what the pre-defined environment variables offer.
So let’s start with the environment variables. At a command prompt you can type SET and press Enter and see all the current environment variables. If you haven’t set any yourself then what you see will be the list of pre-defined environment variables. Some of the system directories or system-supplied user directories are represented by environment variables, such as windir (Windows folder), USERPROFILE (user’s home folder), TEMP (user’s temporary file folder), APPDATA (application data folder) and so on.
To open any of these directories in Windows Explorer you can type into the address bar the environment variable’s name surrounded by a pair of % signs and press Enter. The Run dialog also supports you typing something such as %USERPROFILE% and pressing Enter. All this environment variable expansion support comes from the command prompt (or DOS prompt as it was some years back). At a command prompt you can also use the same syntax, for example this changes the current directory to a user’s home directory:
The Powershell command processor doesn’t work in the same way. To use an environment variable to change directory in PowerShell you need something more like:
Anyway, these were the only ‘special folder’ shortcuts I knew until I bumped into shell. The syntax for shell is to follow it by a colon and then by the special folder name, which is case-insensitive. There are lots of special folders supported and they are rather inconsistent in whether they have spaces or not, which ones use a plural and so on. But if you remember a few of them you’ll do yourself a favour from time to time.
Incidentally you can find where all these special shell folder names are defined by looking in the Windows registry at the path:
Each GUID subkey under that key defines a shell folder shortcut.
Windows XP (as far as I know) started support for this shell: command and each successive version adds more special supported folders. Windows 8 also removes some. The table below lists the ones I’ve found referenced – it should be quite straightforward to identify if any particular one is supported in earlier Windows versions – just try it :-).
Where the equivalent folder is listed this is either a physical folder on a drive or a virtual folder (such as in Control Panel). Where possible physical folders are listed in terms of the equivalent environment variable or shell: command. However some of these environment variables did not exist in Windows XP, for example LOCALAPPDATA and PUBLIC.
|shell:AddNewProgramsFolder||Install a program from a network location on a managed Windows network||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Get Programs|
|shell:Administrative Tools||Administrative Tools subfolder from Start Menu\All Programs||shell:Programs\Administrative Tools|
|shell:AppData||Roaming Application Data folder from profile of logged-on user||%APPDATA%|
|shell:AppUpdatesFolder||Installed Updates, including those delivered by Windows Update and Microsoft Update||Installed Updates|
|shell:Cache||Internet Explorer Cache (aka Temporary Internet Files)||%LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files|
|shell:CD Burning||Burn folder, used to store temp files before burning to disc||%LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Burn\Burn|
|shell:ChangeRemoveProgramsFolder||Programs and Features folder||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Programs and Features|
|shell:Common Administrative Tools||same as shell:Administrative Tools||shell:Common Programs\Administrative Tools|
|shell:Common AppData||ProgramData folder, which holds global settings saved by applications||%PROGRAMDATA%|
|shell:Common Desktop||Public\Desktop folder||%PUBLIC%\Desktop|
|shell:Common Documents||Public\Documents folder||%PUBLIC%\Documents|
|shell:Common Programs||Start Menu Programs for all users||shell:Common Start Menu\Programs|
|shell:CommonRingtones||Stores default ringtones for use with Windows ringtone editor using a compatible phone in Device Stage||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Ringtones|
|shell:Common Start Menu||Start Menu folder, containing shortcuts and subfolders for all users||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu|
|shell:Common Startup||Startup folder for all users||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup|
|shell:Common Templates||Templates folder for all users; rarely used||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Templates|
|shell:ConflictFolder||Sync Center\Conflicts||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center\Conflicts|
|shell:ConnectionsFolder||Network Connections||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Network Connections|
|shell:Contacts||Contacts folder from profile of logged-on user (deprecated)||%USERPROFILE%\Contacts|
|shell:ControlPanelFolder||Opens Control Panel and displays All Control Panel Items (icon view)||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items|
|shell:Cookies||Internet Explorer Cookies||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies|
|shell:Cookies\Low||Internet Explorer Cookies for sites with Low Integrity Level||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies\Low|
|shell:CryptoKeys||Crypto folder, stores machine keys||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Crypto|
|shell:Default Gadgets||Default Windows Gadgets||%ProgramFiles%\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets|
|shell:Desktop||Desktop folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Desktop|
|shell:Device Metadata Store||DeviceMetadataStore folder, which contains digitally signed files, downloaded from Microsoft, with icons and custom settings for Device Stage items||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\DeviceMetadataStore|
|shell:Downloads||Downloads folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Downloads|
|shell:DpapiKeys||Protect folder, holds user keys for data encryption, including Encrypting File System||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Protect|
|shell:Favorites||Internet Explorer Favorites folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Favorites|
|shell:Fonts||installed fonts and font families||%windir%\Fonts|
|shell:Gadgets||User-installed Windows Gadgets, including those that have been removed from the desktop but are still available||%LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets|
|shell:GameTasks||Custom Games Explorer shortcuts for logged-on user||%LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\GameExplorer|
|shell:History||Internet Explorer History||%LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\History|
|Shell:HomeGroupFolder||Homegroup node in Windows Explorer||Homegroup|
|shell:ImplicitAppShortcuts||In User Pinned folder, contains shortcuts to system-managed Start Menu items, including Control Panel, Help and Support, and auto-published applications from Windows Virtual PC||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\ImplicitAppShortcuts|
|shell:InternetFolder||Opens 32-bit Internet Explorer||Same as running iexplore.exe|
|shell:Links||Links folder from profile of logged-on user; contains shortcuts from Favorites node in Windows Explorer navigation pane||%USERPROFILE%\Links|
|shell:Libraries||Libraries node in Windows Explorer||Libraries|
|shell:Local AppData||Local Application Data folder from profile of logged-on user||%LOCALAPPDATA%|
|shell:LocalAppDataLow||Local Application Data (Low Integrity Level) folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\AppData\LocalLow|
|shell:My Music||Music folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Music|
|shell:My Pictures||Pictures folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Pictures|
|shell:My Video||Videos folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Videos|
|shell:NetHood||User-created network shortcuts||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Network Shortcuts|
|shell:NetworkPlacesFolder||Network node in Windows Explorer||Network|
|shell:Personal||Documents folder from profile of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%\Documents|
|shell:PrintersFolder||Printers and Faxes||All Control Panel Items\Printers|
|shell:PrintHood||User-created printer shortcuts||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Printer Shortcuts|
|shell:Profile||User Profile folder of logged-on user||%USERPROFILE%|
|shell:ProgramFiles||Program Files folder||%ProgramFiles%|
|shell:ProgramFilesCommon||Program Files\Common Files folder||%CommonProgramFiles%|
|shell:ProgramFilesCommonX64||Program Files\Common Files||%CommonProgramFiles% (in 64-bit Windows only)|
|shell:ProgramFilesCommonX86||Program Files (x86)\Common Files folder||%CommonProgramFiles(x86)% (in 64-bit Windows only)|
|shell:ProgramFilesX64||64-bit Program Files folder||%ProgramFiles% (in 64-bit Windows only)|
|shell:ProgramFilesX86||32-bit Program Files folder||%ProgramFiles(x86)% (in 64-bit Windows only)|
|shell:Programs||Start Menu\Programs folder from profile of logged-on user||shell:Start Menu\Programs|
|shell:Public||Public User Profile folder||%PUBLIC%|
|shell:PublicGameTasks||Custom Games Explorer shortcuts for all users||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\GameExplorer|
|Shell:PublicLibraries||Public User Libraries folder||%PUBLIC%\Libraries|
|shell:Quick Launch||Quick Launch folder from profile of logged-on user||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch|
|shell:Recent||Recent folder from profile of logged-on user||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Recent|
|shell:RecycleBinFolder||Recycle Bin||Recycle Bin|
|shell:ResourceDir||Resources folder, which contains Windows themes, including Aero and ease-of-access themes||%windir%\Resources|
|shell:Ringtones||Ringtones folder stores custom files created by Windows ringtone editor using a compatible phone in Device Stage||%PROGRAMDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Ringtones|
|shell:SampleMusic||Sample Music folder (by default in Public\Music folder)||%PUBLIC%\Music\Sample Music|
|shell:SamplePictures||Sample Pictures folder (by default in Public\Pictures folder)||%PUBLIC%\Pictures\Sample Pictures|
|shell:SampleVideos||Sample Videos folder (by default in Public\Videos folder)||%PUBLIC%\Videos\Sample Videos|
|shell:Searches||Searches folder from profile of logged-on user; contains saved searches||%USERPROFILE%\Searches|
|shell:SearchHomeFolder||Opens Search Results window with focus in search box (same as pressing WinKey+F)||search-ms:|
|shell:SendTo||Send To folder from profile of logged-on user||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo|
|shell:Start Menu||Start Menu folder from profile of logged-on user||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu|
|shell:Startup||Startup folder from profile of logged-on user||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup|
|shell:SyncCenterFolder||Sync Center, used mostly with Offline Files and Windows Mobile Device Center||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center|
|shell:SyncResultsFolder||Sync Center\Sync Results||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center\Sync Results|
|shell:SyncSetupFolder||Sync Center\Sync Setup||Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center\Sync Setup|
|shell:System||Windows system folder||%windir%\System32|
|shell:SystemCertificates||Signed copies of digital certificates for system; use Certificate Manager to view details and add or remove certificates||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\SystemCertificates|
|shell:SystemX86||32-bit Windows system folder||%windir%\SysWOW64 (in 64-bit Windows only)|
|shell:Templates||Templates folder from profile of logged-on user (rarely used)||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Templates|
|shell:User Pinned||All shortcuts that have been pinned to the Taskbar and Start Menu by the currently logged-on user||%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned|
|shell:UserProfiles||Base user profiles folder||C:\Users|
|shell:UsersFilesFolder||Same as shell:profile||%USERPROFILE%|
|shell:UsersLibrariesFolder||same as shell:Libraries||Libraries|
|shell:Windows||Main Windows folder||%windir%|
Windows 7 and 8 (and maybe Vista – I didn’t pay enough attention) have removed the Quick Launch toolbar from the task bar. If you miss it you can add it back in. Right-click on the task bar, choose Toolbars and then New toolbar… From here you can pick any folder whose content will the toolbar items.
However it should be made clear that these toolbars aren’t toolbars in the normal sense of the word. Instead a task bar toolbar is an item on the task bar that, when clicked, pops up a set of menu items, one for each file or folder in the chosen toolbar folder.
To add the Quick Launch toolbar back you need to locate the Quick Launch folder and add that. From the table above you can see that entering shell:Quick Launch into the folder selection dialog will do the trick. That shell: command is much briefer than the closest equivalent environment variable version of %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch so makes a good case for knowing some shell: commands.
A couple of years back there was a lot of noise about a way of initiating so-called “God” mode on Windows. This involves creating a folder and naming it with a mysterious looking name, after which the folder turns into Pandora’s box called the All Tasks folder, which contains shortcuts to a large number of administrative functions, the sort that are normally located in various parts of the Control Panel applets.
The idea is to create a folder and name it:
The initial coverage used:
which may well explain the description for this feature. Once the folder has been given an appropriate name the extension disappears, the icon changes to the Control Panel icon and all the content is available. Here is a “God” mode folder opened up on Windows 8.
According to Brandon Paddock this behaviour is an example of turning a file system folder into a namespace junction. Ed Bott also points out that the large list of functions is an unfiltered view on all the options available in Control Panel and he shows how you can locate any of them by searching in Control Panel or in the Windows 7 Start Menu or Windows 8 Settings Search.
When you install software on Windows 8 only some applications get pinned to the Start screen. Anything that is added to what used to be a Start menu group can still be found in the All Apps screen. But sometimes you want to add some arbitrary app to the Start screen, such as an executable that is not in a Start menu group – maybe a little utility you’ve copied onto your hard drive.
To do this you open Windows Explorer and navigate to:
However this can be shortened using shell: commands to:
and shortened further to:
In this folder you add a shortcut to the application in question. This causes the app to show up in the All Apps screen on Windows 8 in the first (ungrouped) chunk of app tiles. Either locate the app in the All Apps screen or start typing its name on the Start screen to locate it. Now right-click on it (or select it using arrow keys and press Shift+F10) and choose Pin to Start.
Windows 8 replaces the Windows Explorer menu with a ribbon. But the ribbon is rather larger than the menu. If you want more screen space occasionally you can toggle the ribbon’s visibility with Ctrl+F1.
Sometimes developers need to kill off the Windows shell (in other words Windows Explorer) and restart it. Windows 8 makes this a little easier by offering a menu option to kill the current Explorer shell, albeit a hidden menu option.
To see the menu option Ctrl+Shift+right-click on the task bar and the item Exit Explorer will appear at the bottom of the context menu. Killing off the shell instance of Explorer removes the desktop and the task bar, so you’ll need to use Task Manager to start a new instance (File, Run new task in Windows 8).
An alternative to using the hidden menu item is to simply locate Windows Explorer in the updated Task Manager (you’ll find it in the Windows processes section), right-click on it and choose Restart.
The Start screen is like the initial view on the Start menu in Windows Vista and Windows 7 and the All Apps screen is much like what you get when you click Programs on the Windows 7 Start menu. For those who spend most of their time working with desktop apps the All Apps screen is a common screen to go to.
There are various ways to get to the All Apps screen from the Windows desktop, including:
- press WinKey to go to the Start screen then press Ctrl+Tab
- press WinKey to go to the Start screen, then WinKey+z to bring up the app bar and Enter to select the All apps option
- press WinKey+q to start searching through apps on the All apps screen
- press WinKey+r to bring up the Run dialog and type this command followed by Enter:
You can also put a shortcut to the All apps screen on your Windows desktop. Use this command line for the location of the item when creating the shortcut:
Now you can pin this to the task bar by using the appropriate context menu item.
If you drag this over to the left side of the task bar and maybe choose a different icon, you aren’t far from having something a bit like the Windows 7 Start menu’s Programs menu available to use in Windows 8. Interestingly there is an icon that looks just like the old Start menu in explorer.exe – the second one on the second row.
You can also set up an additional custom shortcut key if you don’t much like WinKey+q.
As well as your new first task bar icon going to the All Apps screen, you also have the shortcut for going to the Start screen which is accessed by moving the mouse to the bottom left of the screen.
Another option for accessing the programs, which may have a bit of retro appeal is to add 2 new toolbars to the task bar (see above) for these two folders:
- shell:Common Programs
The old Start menu’s programs list is a merging of the user’s programs and the programs set up for All Users
The Quick Link menu (WinKey+x) will be useful for technical types as it has direct shortcuts to a number of useful system features and options pages.
You may at some point wonder if the list of menu items is customisable. The grouped sections of menu items are all defined by shortcuts in folders within %LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\WinX.
You can delete any unwanted menu items by deleting their corresponding shortcuts. You can also regroup them by shifting them around the subfolders. Additionally you can change the shortcut names by editing the hidden desktop.ini files in the group subfolders and change what the shortcuts do by editing their properties (just like any other shortcuts).
To add new items on the Quick Link menu takes more than just adding a new shortcut in one of the group subfolders. Presumably in order to prevent software installers taking over the Quick Link menu and swamping it in unnecessary extra items any shortcut must have a special hash mark applied to it.
To add a hash mark to a shortcut link you can use Rafael Rivera’s hashlnk tool, whose use is illustrated on howtogeek.com. hashlnk is a command-line tool, so a little fiddly. Another option is a GUI Win+X Menu Editor that can customise the menu, whose use is illustrated in this post.