Customizing the Windows Vista Interface : Customizing the Start Menu for Easier Program and Document Launching (part 2)

9/29/2012 1:51:51 AM

Setting Program Access and Defaults

You can modify Windows Vista to use other programs as the default for activities such as web browsing, email, instant messaging, and media playing. This enables you to have your favorite programs available in more convenient locations and to have those programs launch automatically in certain situations.

Your version of Windows Vista is most likely set up to use Internet Explorer, Windows Mail, Windows Messenger, and Windows Media Player as the default programs for web browsing, email, instant messaging, and media playing, respectively. This means that Internet Explorer and Windows Mail are associated with the Start menu’s Internet and E-mail items. In addition, it means these programs launch automatically in response to certain events. For example, when you right-click a media file and then click Play, the media plays in Windows Media Player.

You can set up as defaults any other programs you have installed for web browsing, email, instant messaging, and media playing. You can also disable access to programs so that other users cannot launch them on your computer. Here are the steps to follow:

Select Start, Default Programs to display the Default Programs window.

Click Set Program Access and Computer Defaults and then enter your User Account Control credentials when prompted. Windows Vista displays the Set Program Access and Computer Defaults dialog box.

Click the configuration you want to start with:

Computer Manufacturer—
This configuration appears if your computer vendor defined its own program defaults.

Microsoft Windows—
This configuration is the Windows default as defined by Microsoft.

This configuration is generated by Windows Vista if you have one or more non-Microsoft programs available in any of the categories (such as a web browser or email program).

Use this item to configure your own default programs.

If you activated the Custom configuration, you see options similar to those shown in Figure 3. You can do two things with this configuration:

  • Activate the option buttons of the programs you prefer to use as the system defaults.

  • Deactivate the Enable Access to This Program check box for any program that you don’t want other users to have access to.

Figure 3. Use the Set Program Access and Computer Defaults feature to set up a custom program configuration for your system.

Click OK to put the new defaults into effect.

Pinning a Favorite Program Permanently to the Start Menu

The Start menu’s list of favorite programs is such a time-saving feature that it can be frustrating if a program drops off the list. Another aggravation is that the icons often change position because Windows Vista displays the programs in order of popularity. When you display the Start menu, this constant shifting of icons can result in a slight hesitation while you look for the icon you want. (This is particularly true if you’ve expanded the maximum number of icons.) Contrast both of these problems with the blissfully static nature of the pinned programs list’s Internet and E-mail icons, which are always where you need them, when you need them.

You can get the same effect with other shortcuts by adding—or pinning—them to the pinned programs list. To do this, first open the Start menu and find the shortcut you want to work with. Then you have two choices:

  • Right-click the shortcut and then click Pin to Start Menu

  • Drag the shortcut and drop it in the pinned programs list

You can also use this technique to pin shortcuts residing on the desktop to the pinned programs lists. If you decide later that you longer want a shortcut pinned to the Start menu, right-click the shortcut and then click Unpin from Start Menu.


When you display the Start menu, you can select an item quickly by pressing the first letter of the item’s name. If you add several shortcuts to the pinned programs list, however, you might end up with more than one item that begins with the same letter. To avoid conflicts, rename each of these items so that they begin with a number. For example, renaming “Backup” to “1 Backup” means you can select this item by pressing 1 when the Start menu is displayed. (To rename a Start menu item, right-click the item and then click Rename.)

Streamlining the Start Menu by Converting Links to Menus

The right side of the Start menu contains a number of built-in Windows Vista features, which are set up as links. That is, you click an item and a window or a program runs in response. That’s fine for items such as Search or Default Programs, but it’s not very efficient for an item such as Control Panel where you’re usually looking to launch a specific icon. It seems wasteful to have to open the Control Panel window, launch the icon, and then close Control Panel.

A better approach is to convert a link into a menu of items that would normally display in a separate window. For example, the Control Panel item could display a menu of its icons. One of the nicer features in Windows Vista is that it’s easy to convert many of the Start menu links into menus. Here are the required steps:

Right-click the Start menu and then click Properties to display the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box appears.

Select the Start Menu tab, make sure the Start Menu option is activated, and then click the Customize button to its right to open the Customize Start Menu dialog box.

In the list of Start menu items, find the following items and activate the Display as a Menu option:


Control Panel




Personal folder (your user name)


Activate the Favorites Menu check box to add a menu of your Internet Explorer favorites to the Start menu.

In the Start Menu Items group, find the System Administrative Tools item and activate the Display on the All Programs Menu and the Start Menu option. This gives you an Administrative Tools menu that offers shortcuts to features such as Computer Management, Device Manager, System Configuration, and the Local Security Policy editor.

Click OK to return to the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.

Make sure that the Store and Display a List of Recently Opened Files check box is activated. This adds the Recent Items menu to the Start menu, which displays the last 15 documents that you worked with.

Click OK.

Adding, Moving, and Removing Other Start Menu Icons

In addition to the main Start menu, you can also customize the icons on the All Programs menu and submenus to suit the way you work. Using the techniques I discuss in this section you can perform the following Start menu productivity boosts:

  • Move important features closer to the beginning of the All Programs menu hierarchy

  • Remove features you don’t use

  • Add new commands for features not currently available on the All Programs menu (such as the Registry Editor)

Windows Vista offers three methods for adding and removing Start menu shortcuts, and I explain each of them in the next three sections.

Dragging and Dropping onto the Start Button

The quickest way to add a shortcut is to drag an executable file from Windows Explorer and then do either of the following:

Drop it on the Start button— This pins the shortcut to the Start menu.

Hover over the Start button— After a second or two, the main Start menu appears. Now hover the file over All Programs until the menu appears, and then drop the file where you want the shortcut to appear.

Working with the Start Menu Folder

The All Programs shortcuts are stored in two places:

  • %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs—Shortcuts in this subfolder appear only in the current user’s Start menu. Here, %AppData% is %SystemDrive%\Users\user\AppData\Roaming, where user is the name of the current user.

  • %AllUsersProfile%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs—The All Users\Start Menu\Programs subfolder. Shortcuts in this folder appear to all users. Here, %AllUsersProfile% is %SystemDrive%\ProgramData.


A quick way to get to the current user’s Start Menu folder is to right-click the Start button and then click Explore.

By working with these folders, you get the most control over not only where your Start menu shortcuts appear, but also the names of those shortcuts. Here’s a summary of the techniques you can use:

  • Within the Programs folder and its subfolders, you can drag existing shortcuts from one folder to another.

  • To create a new shortcut, drag the executable file and drop it inside the folder you want to use. Remember that if you want to create a shortcut for a document or other nonexecutable file, right-drag the file and then select Create Shortcuts Here when you drop the file.

  • You can create your own folders within the Programs folder hierarchy and they’ll appear as submenus within the All Programs menu.

  • You can rename a shortcut the same way you rename any file.

  • You can delete a shortcut the same way you delete any file.

Working with All Programs Menu Shortcuts Directly

Many of the chores listed in the previous section are more easily performed by working directly within the All Programs menu itself. That is, you open the All Programs menu, find the shortcut you want to work with, and then use any of these techniques:

  • Drag the shortcut to another section of its current menu

  • Drag the shortcut to another menu or to the Recycle Bin

  • Right-click the shortcut and then select a command (such as Delete) from the context menu

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