Windows doesn’t readily allow you to drag folder shortcuts to the taskbar – but it can be done

Shortcut SignIt is useful to be able to drag desktop shortcuts onto the taskbar so that they are easily found whether or not the desktop is being displayed. If, however, you have desktop shortcuts that are shortcuts to folders, then it doesn’t work. Dragging the folder shortcut to the taskbar simply creates another shortcut to File Explorer (known as Windows Explorer in earlier versions of Windows). Admittedly, you can right-click on this shortcut and find that your folder is “pinned” for easy access, but this isn’t as convenient as having a taskbar shortcut that you simply have to click on once in order to open one specific folder.

What we have to do instead is to create a desktop shortcut that opens File Explorer with the special instruction that File Explorer is to open the folder of your choice. Since that shortcut opens a program, it can be dragged onto the taskbar, where it will perform exactly like other taskbar shortcuts that open programs – ie it will open the program File Explorer at the folder specified in the “special instruction”.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Right-click on an “empty” part of the desktop (ie somewhere other than on top of an existing shortcut)
  • Left-click on “New” and then left-click on “Shortcut”
  • Left-click on “Browse” and locate the folder for which you would like to create the shortcut
  • Click on the lefthand end of the folder name as it now appears in the box and add the text “explorer” (without the quotes) and then a space (as illustrated below)
  • Click on the “Next” button
  • (Optionally) rename the shortcut to the name of the folder. Note, though, that you can not include “special characters” in the name of a shortcut, so you can not rename the shortcut to the full “pathname” of the folder (such as “d:\downloads”). You have to settle for something simpler (like “Downloads”)
  • Click on the “Finish” button
  • Drag the shortcut down onto the taskbar

Folder Shortcut
However, before taking the last step above, you might like to change the icon of the shortcut as, otherwise, your new folder-specific Explorer shortcut will just have the default Explorer icon, making it indistinguishable from the normal, default, File Explorer shortcut that has always been present on the taskbar.

To change the icon of a shortcut:

  • Right-click on the shortcut
  • Left-click on “Properties”
  • Left-click on the “Shortcut” tab at the top of the dialogue box that has now opened
  • Left-click on the “Change Icon” button
  • Left-click on a desired icon and then click on “OK” twice to close both the open dialogue boxes

You can now now drag the shortcut onto the taskbar.

Green Windows FolderIf you want to get even more clever with it, you can choose from a much bigger range of available icons for your shortcut. After clicking on the “Change Icon” button (above), if you click on the “Browse” button, you can select any “.exe” or “.dll” file on your computer to see if it has icons in it that you can use. Not all dll files have icons, so just try another if you select one that doesn’t have any. Possibly the largest selection of icons are to be found in the file C:\Windows\System32\shell32.dll. Changing the icon of a shortcut in this way won’t affect the functionality of the shortcut and it won’t affect the dll or exe file from which the icon has been “lifted”.

I think you will find that this method of creating a taskbar shortcut for folders works in Windows 7, 8, and 10.

Isn’t it odd how we can become obsessed with small details when it comes to computers?

Mouse ClickI have been mildly amused many times over the years by my computer support clients asking me to help with seemingly small problems that amount to nothing more than being forced into making one or two more mouse clicks or screen taps than would seem to be necessary. The reason I am amused is that I am just like that myself, and it’s good to know that what I might think is my own obsessional behaviour is, actually, fairly normal.

Sometimes when these situations crop up, a part of me would like to point out that a way of improving the situation might be possible but that it would cost (say) half an hour of my time and that they might prefer to live with the status quo. That might be the professional approach, but I’ve got to eat, after all! Actually, that is just the advice I do give when appropriate. However, there are some occasions where there is a quicker way of achieving the same result, and I’m very happy to point it out when this is the case. There seem to be many situations, though, when all I can do is sympathise and agree.

New Shortcut

Figure 1

My own current favourite “bete noire” in this respect (if it’s possible to have a favourite bete noire) is my Barclays iPhone app. From the screen where I can see how little money I have in the bank, to the point of being logged out of the app, requires four screen taps. Why four? Logging off is the one thing you do every time you use an app (or, at least, it should be for important apps like internet banking). So why not streamline things by having a “log off” button on all screens and, if they must, a dialog box that requires a confirmatory tap before the app logs off?

How long do those extra taps take? Probably less than a second, but I still let myself get upset by this. If I used the app once a day for the next 5 years I might waste a total half an hour. For goodness sake, David, get a grip! And yet, it still seems annoying.

Shutdown Instruction

Figure 2

My theory is that what secretly annoys us is that we have no control over this stuff and we feel that it is not being designed with our best interests in mind and that – possibly worst of all – we don’t really have a viable alternative to just toeing the line and doing whatever it requires of us. We know that there’s no point in trying to complain, and trying to do without it would be (as my mother used to say) a case of cutting our nose off to spite our face. So we live with it, and get annoyed by it, and feel alienated and powerless.

Probably one of the more irritating procedures we have to go through with Windows computers is switching the things off. Would it really be so difficult to have one single button marked “Off”? And why does this procedure begin with clicking on the “Start” button? “Oh, obviously, I want to switch it off, so I have to click on Start. Perhaps I should look for a switch marked “Off” when I want to turn it on”.

Well, this is one thing we can do something about. To create a desktop icon in Windows 10 that switches everything off:

  • Right-click on an empty part of the desktop
  • Left-click on “new”. See Figure 1
  • Left-click on “shortcut”
  • In the box beneath “type the location of the item”, type in “C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0” (all on one line, without the quotes, but with spaces exactly where indicated). See Figure 2
  • Click on “Next”
  • Rename the shortcut if desired
  • Click on Finish
  • Try it

One small victory for mankind…….

I live in a small flat and I know that the ONLY way of managing this is to keep it fairly tidy

Windows Desktop - Cluttered

My Windows desktop. It’s getting rather silly

I’m not obsessive or over-fastidious: it’s just that I know that life is more manageable, and easier in the long run, if I try and keep everything more or less in its place. It’s the same with my physical desktop: when I finish work I like nothing but mice and keyboards on it.

This tidiness extends to all my computer filing. PDFs of different subjects all have their place, clients have their own email folders, and so on. I don’t understand people who say things like “where are my keys?” whenever they want to go out. If you always put your keys in the same place when you come in, then you always know where they are when you go out. How simple is that?

So why is it that my Windows desktop has over 100 icons on it and I can never find the shortcuts to things I use every week (if not every day)?

I reckon my computer support clients divide into four groups on this subject:

  • Group 1 contains the people for whom any new shortcut or other type of icon goes straight into the recycle bin unless it’s essential. It’s almost a point of pride not to allow anything new to remain on the desktop.
  • Group 2 is populated by the sensible ones. They have shortcuts to programs they use often and maybe a few shortcuts to data files they use often (Word documents, spreadsheets, PDF files and so on). If they’re really good, there are no actual data files on the desktop – just shortcuts.
  • Group 3 comprises those that have shortcuts to programs, but who also store actual files and actual folders on their desktop (maybe dozens and dozens of them).
  • Group 4 consists of those – like me – who are in danger of losing the plot. By the time we’ve found what we are looking for, we’ve forgotten why we were looking for it.
  • Those in Group 1 don’t need any help. Do it your way. Good for you.
  • Those in Group 2 don’t need any help either. I think that this is probably how Microsoft envisaged us using the desktop. Keep things handy that you need often, but tidy away everything else.
  • The best suggestion I have for those in Group 4 is “get a grip”. I was just about to start cleaning my own desktop when it occurred to me that it would be more fun to blog about it than to actually do it.

Cluttered Desk

Where’s my laptop gone? This is NOT my desk!

Now, finally, to Group 3 – those who store actual files and folders on their desktop. Ever since Windows came out, I have understood that anything that is on the desktop is stored in memory. If you have actual data files on your desktop totalling 500mb then you have almost 500mb less RAM available for programs and other tasks. If I’m right on this, it simply doesn’t make sense to “waste” your RAM in this way. It is far more efficient to create shortcuts to files and just store the shortcuts on the desktop.

You can also create shortcuts to folders such that clicking on the folder shortcut will open a window revealing all the files in that folder. So why store the entire folder and its contents on the desktop?

I’ve been trying to find some definitive proof that precious RAM is wasted by storing files on the desktop. I can’t find any. There’s any number of opinions – agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, and also loads of plain rubbish as well. See this thread, for instance.

You’d think Microsoft could provide the best answer. The nearest I can find to corroborate my opinion that files on the desktop are wasteful of RAM can be found here.

It clearly says on that page:

Don’t store files on the desktop

To improve your computer’s performance and find files more easily, it’s best to store files in the Documents folder rather than on the desktop.

To access files from your desktop, create a desktop shortcut instead.

They then offer a link to show you how to create or delete a shortcut.

Tidy Desk

That’s more like it!

So, I reckon I’m safe in continuing to give the advice that it’s best not to store actual folders and files on the desktop.

As far as the multiplicity of program shortcuts is concerned (and this is what makes up about 90% of the clutter on my own desktop at the moment), my tip is to create a special folder.

In fact, I do keep this one actual folder on the desktop as it will only contain shortcuts (so it will remain small). Into this folder (which I call something obvious like “Rarely used shortcuts”) I drag all those shortcuts from my desktop that don’t need to be there. That way, they are easily accessible if I need them , but not getting in the way in the meantime. If necessary, they can be dragged back out to the desktop later. This tip doesn’t save RAM, but it certainly makes using the desktop a lot easier.

Right, just for once I’m off to practise what I preach…..

Have you ever wondered how to type special characters that do not appear on the keys of your keyboard? I’m talking of things such as:

è é ç

These are all pretty standard French characters, but it’s not at all obvious (in Windows, at any rate) how to type them.

Likewise, symbols such as © (copyright) and ¥ (yen) may also be needed from time to time.

These characters, and many others, are accessible from the Windows “Character Map”, but you may well need some computer help to find it! Once you have found it, here is the Character Map for the font Calibri in Windows 7. It is very much the same in Windows XP and Vista. Note that some fonts (like the one illustrated) contain more characters than can be contained in the fixed-size window, so there is a scroll bar at the right.

A window showing Windows Character Map

It can be a little bit tricky to find the Character Map and a bit tricky to use it until you know how it works, so let’s take those as two separate tasks:

1) Creating a Shortcut to the Character Map

There are several ways to launch the Character Map (see, for instance, my blog on Run Commands ), but the easiest thing to do is to create a shortcut on your desktop. The Character Map will then be accessible at any time by just double-clicking on this shortcut. Here are the steps. They are the same for Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7:

1.1) Go to your Desktop and right-click on a blank part of the screen (your cursor must not be on top of an icon that’s already there)
1.2) Left-click on the option that says “New”
1.3) Left-click on the option that says “Shortcut”
1.4) In the space where it says “Type the location of the item:”, type in the following:

C:\Windows\System32\charmap.exe

1.5) Click on the “Next” button
1.6) Type in a name for this shortcut (such as “Character Map”) or leave the default name that it offers
1.7) Click on the “Finish” button

Your shortcut has now been created. If you double-click on it you should see the Character Map window displayed as above.

As this may be the first time that you have created a shortcut on your desktop it’s worth just noting the fact that what we have done here is to place an icon (or shortcut or button – they all mean just about the same in this context) on your desktop that “points” to a program. This means that we don’t have to find that program again: we just need to double-click on the shortcut and it will always open that program. The location of the program and its name are contained in the text you typed in (C:\Windows\System32\charmap.exe). There are many ways that you can personalise your computer setup with shortcuts like this and you don’t need to be a computer geek or computer specialist to start taking advantage of them. It just takes a bit of computer training and a bit of practice. In most cases it is easier to create a shortcut than in this instance.

2) Grabbing Characters from the Character Map

Back to the main point. Now that we have access to the Character Map we need to know how to use it.

2.1) Select your font by clicking the triangle next to “Font:”. Note that different characters are available in different fonts.
2.2) Select your character(s) by double-clicking on it/them. As you double-click on them you will see them build up in the space next to “Characters to copy:”
2.3) Click on the “Copy” button. This will put the selected characters into the Windows clipboard (an area of memory where Windows puts data prior to copying or moving it to somewhere else).
2.4) Return to the program into which you wish to place the special character(s).
2.5) Type Ctrl v to insert the characters. Note that “Ctrl v” (pronounced “control vee”) means depressing the key marked “Control” or “Ctrl” and, while that key is down, hitting the letter v. If the application you are using has a “paste” command then that will do exactly the same thing. See my blog on basic keyboard shortcuts for further information on this.
2.6) If you select your special characters from “character sets” that your program can not handle then they may appear in your documents as question marks. If this happens, go back to the character map, tick the box next to “Advanced View” and then select “Windows: Western” from the list next to “Character Set”. Then choose your characters again.

Voilà !

3) Wingdings and Webdings

If you scroll down to the end of the list of fonts (see (2.1) above) you will probably see several fonts called Wingdings, Wingdings2, etc listed at the bottom. These are special fonts that produce entirely different characters that are more like icons than letters. These can be inserted into “normal” text in just the same way as other characters. Here are just a few examples from the Wingdings font:

4 wingdings - yin yang, telephone, envelope, clock

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Computer Support in London
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