Although it’s not obvious how to do it, there is a way to pin documents to the Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 - yet another logoIf you have documents that you need to access often – such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint files, or pdf files – you may want to access them directly from a “tile” on the Start Menu. Yes, I know that a shortcut can be added to the desktop, but the problem with desktop shortcuts is that Windows has an irritating habit of “re-organizing” them such that you can’t find anything quickly.

Well, there is a way to create Start Menu tiles of documents. It involves three steps:

  • Create a desktop shortcut to the document
  • Add that shortcut to the folder that contains the Start Menu items
  • Create a Start Menu tile from the new entry in the Start Menu list of “All Apps”

To create a desktop shortcut to the document:

  • Open File Explorer and find the document
  • Right-click on the document
  • Left-click on “Send to”
  • Left-click on “Desktop (create shortcut)”

File Explorer Address Bar

To add that shortcut to the folder that contains the Start Menu items:

  • Open a “File Explorer” window
  • Type the text on the next line into the address bar in the File Explorer window, and hit the Enter key:

    %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

    If you want the shortcut to appear on the Start Menu of all other users on this computer as well as your own then, instead of the line above, type the line below into the File Explorer window, and hit the Enter key:

    %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

  • Drag the File Explorer window around the desktop until you can see the shortcut to the document that you created in the first step
  • Drag the shortcut from the desktop into the File Explorer window you opened above

Start Menu Display Options

To create a Start Menu tile from the new entry in the Start Menu list of “All Apps”

  • Open the Start Menu
  • Select the “All Apps” view on the Start Menu (see illustration)
  • Find the entry for the new item, right-click on it, and left-click on “Pin to Start”
  • Display the tiles by clicking on the “Pinned Tiles” icon (see illustration)

That’s it. You now have a “tile” of your document on the Start Menu. It’s very much faster to open a document this way than to open its associated program and then open the document from within the program.Unlike desktop icons, this tile will stay in the same place.

I haven’t found a way of changing the image of the tile to use, for instance, a jpg. The image that the live tile adopts is the icon of the desktop shortcut from which it was created. Normally, this will be the default icon associated with the file type, but you can change the icon of desktop shortcuts as follows:

  • Right-click on the shortcut
  • Left-click on the “Shortcut” tab
  • Left-click on “Change Icon”

Live Tiles of Documents

Live tiles of a pdf file, a spreadsheet file (with changed icon), and an Access database

Also, you can change the wording on the Start Menu tile by renaming the desktop shortcut before dragging it into the “Start Menu\Programs” folder. Rename the desktop shortcut by right-clicking on it and left-clicking on “Rename”. You can rename the shortcut to anything you like (removing the word “shortcut” and the “.pdf”, for instance).

Do you use Gmail in your browser?

Gmail LogoI’ve said previously that I don’t think it’s worth learning loads of shortcut keys. This is for two reasons:

  • Unless you use them all the time it’s very easy to forget them
  • Different shortcut key combinations do different things in different programs, so it’s very easy to get confused

However, if you only use a few different programs (eg a web browser, an email program, a picture viewer, and a word processing program) then it may be worth latching on to a few important shortcuts that might become second nature if you use them often enough. If you become familiar with important keyboard shortcuts, then your typing will become more efficient as it is quicker to type a shortcut than it is to grab the mouse and click on a command that might be available on-screen. With that in mind, I’ve been looking at the shortcuts that are available in Gmail’s webmail program.

Some of these are always available and are the same as in Microsoft Word and other programs. These include:

Ctrl + b to turn on bold type.
Ctrl + i to turn on italicised type.
Ctrl + u to underline text
Ctrl + shift + 7 to create a numbered list
Ctrl + shift + 8 to create a list of bullet points

Mac Funny Symbol

On a Mac, look for this button instead of Ctrl

In all the above, type the command to turn the feature on, type the content that will be formatted, and type the command again to turn the format feature off. This is what you do if you wish to turn the feature on and off again as you are typing. An alternative to this is to write the text first, so that you’ve got all the wording down (“on paper”, as it were) and then go back over the text, formatting where necessary. In this case, highlight the piece of text that you wish to format (by depressing the left-click button on the mouse or trackpad and then dragging the mouse over the text to be formatted) and then execute the command (eg Ctrl + b). The command will then be applied to the highlighted text.

Note that if you ever see a shortcut written as (for example) Ctrl + u, this means depress the Ctrl key and keep it depressed while you tap the other key. Note also that if you are using a Mac then it is not the Ctrl key that you use, but the key marked with the funny icon on it (see illustration).

There are other shortcut keys in Gmail’s web interface that are only available if you turn them on. These include:

c = compose a new message
/ = place the cursor in the search box ready to type in a search term
u = close the message and go back to the message list
r = reply to the message
a = reply to all the message recipients
f = forward the message to someone else
# = delete the message
v = move the message to a different label (or “folder”, if that description makes more sense to you)
shift + i = mark the selected message(s) as read
shift + u = mark the selected message(s) as unread

Obviously, the above commands don’t work if you are currently creating a message, as a letter “c” or a “/” or a “u”, etcetera, would just be added to the message you are creating.

You don’t have to turn these shortcuts on individually. To turn them all on:

Gmail Shortcuts Settings

Turn keyboard shortcuts on

  • Click on the “settings” cogwheel near the top right of the Gmail window
  • Click on the “settings” command in the menu that pops up
  • Make sure you are on the “General” tab
  • Go down to the “keyboard shortcuts” option and click the button next to “keyboard shortcuts on”
  • Scroll down the page until you see the “save changes” button and click it.

Click on this link for a more comprehensive list of Gmail shortcuts

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…..

I’m not a great believer in trying to remember a lot of “quick key” keyboard shortcuts

There are several reasons for this:

  • A certain amount of effort has to be put into learning a shortcut and this effort will quite probably interrupt the flow of whatever it is that you were doing.
  • A shortcut key combination may do one thing in one program and a different thing in a different program.
  • We are moving more and more into computing that works by screen touches, swipe gestures, mouse clicks, and so on.
  • If you don’t use a particular shortcut on a regular basis then you won’t remember it when you need it and, quite probably, you will not even remember that you ever learned it in the first place.

Keyboard ShortcutSo, is it worth the effort? My advice is “yes”, it is worth it for anyone who is interested in investing a little time and effort in becoming a more efficient computer user. Despite the move to touching screens, swiping, and so on, most people still do a fair amount of typing on a keyboard, even if it’s just for emails. When doing some concentrated typing it is often easier to keep your hands on the keyboard when issuing a command than it is to grab the mouse or even move around a touchscreen.

When I’m training my computer clients I approach the subject of keyboard shortcuts as follows:-

  • “Cut, copy, and paste” shortcuts are the essential ones. They apply to many programs and situations in both Windows and Mac computing.
  • Menus often include the shortcut keys that can be used instead of the menu. You can choose for yourself which of these shortcuts are worth learning.
  • Shortcut keys can be useful for things that you do often and/or things that are very awkward to do by other means (such as digging down three levels of menu). It’s usually very easy to find a list of shortcuts for any popular program. Just google “xyz shortcut keys” where “xyz” is the name of the program.

Yul Brynner

The original short cut?

Having found a list of available shortcuts, do not lose the will to live. Instead, just scan the list and pick out one or two that you think you would use. WRITE THEM DOWN. Write them down somewhere that you know you can find within seconds. A post-it note is fine as long as you can see it amongst the other 600 post-it notes that have taken over your workspace. Then, when you are using the program next, just try to remember that you’ve written a couple of shortcut keys down so that when habit leads you to do things in the old way you will say to yourself “aha, I’ve got a shortcut key for this” and you will be able to find the post-it note within seconds. Then use your new shortcut. This is a learning process. You must expect to spend a bit more time using the so-called shortcut than doing things the old way. If you use the shortcut often enough then you will eventually remember it and it will save you time. If you don’t use it often enough you will forget it and the post-it note will sink down the strata of other unregarded paper in your workspace.

I know that the above sounds facile, but the point of it is that you will only bother to learn a shortcut if you can remind yourself of it within seconds and if you then practise using it. If it takes too long to remember what the shortcut key is then you will say to yourself “blow this for a game of soldiers” and go back to your old way of doing things. On the other hand, if you force yourself to invest 5 seconds in looking for the right post-it note and then executing the shortcut then there’s a chance that you will do this often enough that it will stick in your mind and become a true improvement to your keyboard skills.

But a word of caution: don’t try to learn too many at once. That way lies disaster as the whole shortcut business will get in the way of what you were trying to achieve and you will, once again, say “blow this for a game of soldiers……”.

“How on earth do you switch Windows 8 off?”

Last week’s blog looked at how the new “Start Screen” in Windows 8 replaces the old “Start Menu”. The old Start Menu was one of the main ways of launching programs and searches. It was also the way to access the button to close the computer. This week’s blog looks at how we close the machine now that we no longer have the old Start Menu with its shutdown button.

Windows 8 LogoFrom my experience with many computer clients over the years, I would say that the vast majority of my clients do want to close their computers at the end of the day. I get the distinct feeling that a lot of users experience a scintilla of relief when the screen goes black and the fan shuts down. For a lot of people, I think that closing a computer down is a bit of a ritual. It’s a marking of the end of a period of fighting with an alien force: a sign that it’s time to return to the “real” world (or maybe they are just pleased that it’s a sign that I will soon be leaving them).

Well, like it or not, the old shutdown button has gone. Microsoft don’t want us to switch the computer off. Windows 8 has been designed so that the Sleep mode is very efficient: there just isn’t any need to power the machine down when you are not using it. Putting it to sleep reduces the power requirement to a very low level and waking up from sleep is almost instantaneous.

Windows 8 Charms Bar

Windows 8 Charms Bar on an otherwise empty desktop

If you really do want to switch it off, the easiest built-in way to do it is from the Charms Bar (yes – that is really what it is called – see illustration).

To access the Charms Bar:

  • Touchscreen – swipe inwards from the right edge of the screen
  • Mouse – point at the top or bottom corner of the screen at the right edge
  • Keyboard – depress the Windows key and, while it is down, type the letter “c”


  • Click on the “Settings” cog wheel
  • Click on the “Power” icon
  • Click the desired shutdown action

Windows Shutdown IconIf you find that rigmarole a bit of a pain, then here is a method for creating a desktop shortcut that immediately closes the machine. This is not a complete replacement for the old method as it doesn’t offer options for re-starting etc., but if you just want to make sure your computer is switched off before getting back to the real world, then this is how to create the shortcut:

  • Go to an empty part of the desktop (ie a part where there are no icons) and right-click your mouse
  • Look down the menu that pops up and left-click on the option labelled “new”
  • Left-click on the option marked “shortcut”
  • In the space below the text “Type the location of the item” enter the following text:
    C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0
  • Click “Next”
  • Enter a name (eg “quick shutdown”)
  • Click “Finish”

You can change the icon of the new shortcut as follows:

  • right-click on the new shortcut
  • Left-click on the “properties” option
  • If necessary, click on the “shortcut” tab at the top of the window
  • Left-click on the “change icon” button
  • A warning message will pop up that there are no other icons available in that file. Just click on “OK” and a whole bunch of different icons from different places will be offered. Just click on one to highlight it
  • Click on the “OK” buttons until all windows are closed

– you have your own “shutdown” shortcut. You can drag it onto the taskbar so that it is always available while you are in “desktop mode”.

Sleepin LaptopAfter a few week of using Windows 8, I have to say that I think too much fuss is being made of the demise of the Start button. It’s probably true, though, that the main reason I don’t miss it very much is that I never turn my computer off. It goes to sleep at night (just like I do), and wakes up really quickly in the morning by opening the lid (just like I don’t).

Do you find it frustrating that browser layouts keep changing? Do you struggle to find your favorites, for instance?

Over the last year or two there has been a tendency for browsers to become less “cluttered”. The designers have deliberately removed a lot of the buttons and options from the screen. This is meant to make the browsers easier to use. There’s no doubt that this leaves more room for the actual web page that you are looking at. On the downside, though, is that it is sometimes annoyingly difficult to do things that should be easy – finding your favorites/bookmarks, browsing history, and so on.

Not only is this problem made worse by regular updates to the browser, but if you use more than one browser life gets even more complicated.

Hands on piano keyboard

Some keyboard shortcuts need the skill of a concert pianist

So, I thought I’d have a look at the keyboard shortcuts that are built into the browsers and see if it might be easier in the long run to learn a few of them. My general advice with keyboard shortcuts is to learn some of the most common (that can be applied to lots of situations), such as Ctrl c, Ctrl v, Ctrl x, etc, but not to bother with the more arcane ones unless you really are likely to get into the habit of using them regularly. For some of them, you don’t just need the memory of an elephant, but also the dexterity of a concert pianist. I can’t imagine ever wanting to memorise that “Ctrl Alt Shift 4”, for instance, could perform any useful function.

Having looked at all the popular browsers (except Safari), I was pleased to find that a lot of shortcuts are common right across the board. Working on the theory that the more of these I present the less notice you will take of them, here is a short(ish) list of the most useful keyboard shortcuts that are common across all the major browsers – Internet Explorer 8 and 9, Firefox, Opera, and Chrome:-

[table “” not found /]

There are some important functions that don’t have common shortcuts. I’ve just looked into those that I find the most useful:-

[table “” not found /]


a) I couldn’t find a shortcut key. Click on the spanner at the top righthand corner.
b) I couldn’t find a shortcut key. Click on the “Opera” logo at the top lefthand corner.
c) To use the shortcuts that include one or more “modifiers” (the Ctrl, Alt and Shift keys, for instance), first depress the modifier(s) and then, while that is still pressed, click on the other key. Then let go of them all.

As I’ve said, these are just a few of the most common functions. If you’re even sadder than I am, and want to spend a weekend studying browser keyboard shortcuts, then links to more comprehensive lists for the browsers are as follows:

Internet Explorer 8 shortcut keys
Internet Explorer 9 shortcut keys
Firefox shortcut keys
Chrome shortcut keys
Opera shortcut keys
Safari shortcut keys (for Mac users)

Do you regularly want to copy a file to a specific folder? I’ve often noticed during 1:1 computer training sessions that people have their own way of filing that could benefit from a simple tweak to Windows Explorer.

Here are a couple of examples from my own working habits:

  • I often want to make a file available to my other computers. Since I use Dropbox, all I need to do is place the file in my dropbox folder and it will be automatically synchronised to my other computers. So, I want a quick way of copying my file into my Dropbox folder. I’m still a big fan of Dropbox, by the way. Here are my first and second blogs on the subject.
  • I create and download a lot of pdf files. I may well have them filed “by function” (eg a pdf file relating to a specific computer support client might be in the folder dedicated to that client). But if the file has more general application then I might also want it in a folder containing nothing other than pdf files (since I can often remember that a file I’m looking for is in a pdf format even if I can’t remember its name or where else I’ve put it). So, I might want a quick way of copying a pdf file from a specific client folder to my “pdf file store” (which, as it happens, is a specific folder inside my Dropbox folder).

So, what we need to do is to personalise a Windows “context menu” so that when we’ve selected a file in Windows Explorer we can easily send a copy of that file to a folder that we’ve previously defined as a destination for a “send to” action. A “context menu”, by the way, is a menu whose contents are dependent on the current context – ie the sort of item it includes depends on what you were doing when you invoked it. The context menu is invoked by right-clicking on the selected item.

Personalising the “send to” option is quite easy. Just follow the instructions for your own operating system:

Windows XP

  • Click the Start button.
  • Click Run.
  • In the Open box, type “sendto” (without the quotes), and then click OK.
  • Right-click on a blank part of the window that has opened.
  • Left-click on the “new” option.
  • Left-click on the “shortcut” option.
  • Left-click on the “browse” button.
  • Navigate to the folder you wish to add to the “send to” menu.
  • Click “OK”, “Next” & “Finish”.
  • Close the “SendTo” window.

Vista and Windows 7

  • Click on the Start button.
  • Type “shell:sendto” (without the quotes) into the search box.
  • Click on the shell:sendto option that is now listed above the search box.
  • Right-click on a blank part of the window that has opened.
  • Left-click on the “new” option.
  • Left-click on the “shortcut” option.
  • Left-click on the “browse” button.
  • Navigate to the folder you wish to add to the “send to” menu.
  • Click “OK”, “Next” & “Finish”.
  • Close the “SendTo” window.

Now, whenever you want to copy a file to that chosen destination, just right-click on the file, left-click the “send to” option, and then left-click on the sub-option you have just created (as below):

SendTo Menu

Some purists might say that this is all wrong: that instead of copying files all over the place we should be creating shortcuts that point to the one and only original file. I would agree with this when the file in question is one that’s often changed/updated after its creation. There’s nothing worse than having multiple versions of files all over the place and never knowing which is the latest version. If you need to get quick access to such files then the easiest way is just to place a shortcut on the desktop and access it from there. The “sendto” technique is better kept for files that are unlikely to change often – in which case, the “sendto” technique is much quicker than creating shortcuts and saves precious space on the desktop. As for not creating copies of files because that’s a waste of hard disc space, that’s only really an issue if you are definitely short of space.

Just to come back to Dropbox, for a moment. If you click here to create a Dropbox account you will receive 2.25gb free space instead of the normal 2gb.

Remote Support may be suitable for this topic

Do you have to hunt down your programs before you can open them? Maybe you scour the “all programs” option of the Start Menu. Maybe you minimise the window that you are working on and then work through the confusion of shortcuts on your desktop. You might even hunt through the hard drive using Windows Explorer.

Key with wingsWell, for programs that you use often, it’s worth knowing that there is is a quicker way of launching programs than any of these. You can assign a key combination that will immediately launch your program. Whatever you happen to be doing, the program assigned to your special key combination will immediately open if it wasn’t already open, or come to the fore if it was already lurking around somewhere.

Creating the keyboard shortcut for this is a two-stage process. First of all we need a desktop shortcut (if one doesn’t exist already), and then we need to change a “property” of that shortcut so that typing the assigned key combination will launch the program (or bring it to the fore if it is already open).

Stage 1 – create a shortcut (if one does not already exist)

Find your program in the usual way, but don’t launch it:

  • If your program is “pinned” to the Start Menu (ie it appears in the list of available programs as soon as you click on the Start button) then left-click on the program name and drag it to the desktop. This will create a shortcut on the desktop, but will leave the original entry in the Start menu. Go to Stage 2.
  • If you normally launch your program by opening the Start Menu and then clicking on “all programs”, then find your program in the usual way but instead of left-clicking on it (which would open the program) right-click on it instead. Then left-click on the option that says “send to” and left-click on the option that says “Desktop (create shortcut)”. This will create a shortcut on the desktop, but will leave the original entry in the “all programs” menu. Go to Stage 2.
  • If you normally launch your program by using Windows Explorer, then locate it in the usual way but right-click on it rather then double-clicking on it. Then left-click on the option that says “create shortcut”. If it tells you the shortcut will appear on the desktop then that’s fine but it may create the shortcut in the same folder as the program. If it does that, you can then either drag it to the desktop or “cut” it (using Ctrl x) and “paste” it (using Ctrl v) onto the desktop. Alternatively, you can leave it where it is and add the keyboard shortcut from there (see below).

Stage 2 – create the shortcut key combination

  • Right-click on the shortcut.
  • Left-click on the option at the bottom of the list called “Properties”.
  • Left-click on the tab across the top that says “Shortcut”.

About halfway down the list of options you’ll see something that looks like this:

Assigning a shortcut key

If you click on the area next to “shortcut key” (that currently says “None”) and then type any printable character (it doesn’t have to be a letter or a number), you will see that the area is then filled with “Ctrl + Alt + ” and the character you typed. Click on “OK” and that’s it. Wherever you are, typing the key combination of the Ctrl key, the Alt key, and the character you added will immediately launch your program. It’s best to depress the Ctrl and Alt keys first and then tap on the third key.

Note that when you were assigning the shortcut key there was an option below that said “Run: Normal window”. If you click on the triangle at the right of this, you can choose to ensure that your program always starts in a normal window, or maximised, or minimised.

Windows 7 Start button and search box

Windows 7 Start button and search box

If you have Windows 7 there’s another method of launching any program more quickly than hunting for it – and you don’t have to assign a key to a shortcut. Instead, just click on the start button and then type the first few characters of the program name into the search box (see fig 2).

Windows will show you a list of files that are relevant. After entering just a few characters you will see the program you want listed in the start box, so just left-click on the program. It took me a long time using Windows 7 to start to appreciate how good this search box now is. Suppose, for instance, you want to change how your mouse is working. Just start typing “mouse” (without the quotes) into the search box and up comes the program to change how the mouse works. Want to change the date in your computer? Just type “date” in the search box and then click on the “Date and Time” option that is offered. There’s no need to train clients any more in how to find “administrative tools” in the Control Panel in order to find the defragmenting option – just start typing “defrag” in the search box. When I’m delivering computer training to clients who are either new to computers or just new to Windows 7 I try to remember to emphasise how good this search box is. It repays the effort of remembering to use it until it becomes second nature.

It is sometimes a good idea to uninstall software that you don’t use.


It may be using valuable resources on your computer that can affect performance. On the other hand, it may be annoying you because you don’t like it, or it ate your doctoral thesis, or was installed without permission by a 13 year old and now keeps insisting on checking for updates.

What does it mean to uninstall a program?

When you put a new program on your computer it is not just a case of copying the program files to a place where you can find them. The operating system (Windows) needs to put the files in a logical place, take note of where they are, make the program accessible, record information about the program so that it knows what to do with it each time you run it, and so forth. All of this is taken care of by the process of “installing” the program.
This means that if you subsequently wish to remove a program you need to set in motion a process that will “back-track” or “unpick” all of these steps. This includes, but is by no means limited to, deleting the files that were copied onto your computer when you installed the program. Note, by the way, that I refer to “files” in the plural: a single “program” is almost always composed of many individual files. This process of removing the files, settings, and other traces that make up a program is called “uninstalling”.

What you must not do

You must not just look on your computer for any files with the name of the program you want to remove and delete it/them. This would almost certainly leave you in a worse position than you were in before. There could be many situations in which Windows goes looking for a program file you have deleted and won’t know what to do when it can’t find it. At best you will see an error message and at worst your whole system will freeze. And what makes this worse is that you may also have broken the normal method for removing that program properly.
Another thing that it is tempting to do is to delete the icon on the desktop that launches the program. By all means do this if you just wish to reclaim some space on your desktop, but be aware that deleting a shortcut does not in any way delete or uninstall the program to which it is connected. Deleting a shortcut does just that – the program itself is left intact and the shortcut could be re-created at any time.

Correctly Removing (Uninstalling) Programs

The term usually used for removing a computer programs is “uninstalling”. Without hesitation, I would recommend that the first – and probably only – method you use is the Windows uninstall routine. This varies slightly depending on the version of Windows you are using.

Windows XP

Windows XP Control Panel and Run buttons

Windows XP Control Panel and Run buttons

  1. Click on the “Start” button and launch “Add or Remove Programs” by either of the two following methods:
  • Click on the “Run” option.
  • Type appwiz.cpl into the box and press the Enter key.


  • Click on the “Control Panel” option.
  • Double-click on “Add or Remove Programs”.
  1. Find the program you wish to remove by searching through the alphabetical list.
  2. Click on the program name.
  3. Click on the “Remove” button or “Change/Remove” button that will appear to the right of the selected program name.
  4. Follow the prompts.

Windows Vista

  1. Click on the “Start” button and launch “Add or Remove Programs” by either of the two following methods:
  • Type appwiz.cpl into the “search” box and press the “Enter” key.


  • Click on the “Control Panel” option.
  • Click on “Classic View” (at the top lefthand side of the screen).
  • Double-click on “Programs and Features”.
  1. Find the program you wish to remove by searching through the alphabetical list.
  2. Click on the program name.
  3. Click on the “Uninstall” button that is above the list of program names.
  4. Follow the prompts.

Windows 7

Windows 7 Start Button and Search box

Windows 7 Start Button and Search box

  1. Click on the “Start” button and launch “Add or Remove Programs” by either of the two following methods:
  • Type appwiz.cpl into the “search” box and press the “Enter” key.


  • Click on the “Control Panel” option.
  • Click on the triangle next to “View by” (at the top righthand side of the screen) and select either “Small icons” or “Large icons”.
  • Double-click on “Programs and Features”.
  1. Find the program you wish to remove by searching through the alphabetical list.
  2. Click on the program name.
  3. Click on the “Uninstall” button that is above the list of program names.
  4. Follow the prompts.

What if it doesn’t work?

Sometimes a program will not appear on the list, or clicking on the button to remove it will result in an error message indicating that the program can not be uninstalled. In that case, the next thing to try is to locate the “unwise” file in the program folder in which the program resides. This is getting slightly more hazardous as you need to be sure you are in the right folder (so that the right program will be uninstalled) and it is also possible that the uninstallation process will remove one or more files that are shared with other programs.

If there is no “unwise” file associated with the program, then the next step would be to install and run a utility such as Revo Uninstaller. To be honest, though, unless the program that you are trying to remove is definitely causing problems to the rest of the system, it may be better to leave it installed than to try these last two methods – unless you want to take the risk of learning more about computers (the hard way) than you had bargained for.

In Windows, there are several ways in which a program can be set to start automatically when the system is started. These include:

  • An entry in the Startup folder
  • An entry in the msconfig file
  • An entry in the registry

Today, we are only interested in adding or removing items from the Startup folder. We are definitely not going to touch the registry. You should not touch the registry unless you have an idea of the risks involved. You could render your entire computer unusable if you get it wrong.

So, an example of what we are interested in here is that you may wish to open Microsoft Word and your email program automatically whenever you switch on your computer.

The way that we do this is to add shortcuts for each of those programs in the “Startup” folder. These shortcuts will then be executed when Windows opens in the same way as if they had been manually opened.

First we need to open the shortcuts folder:

  • Click on the start button (bottom lefthand corner of screen)
  • Click on the “All programs” option
  • Look through the list for a yellow folder labelled “Startup”
  • Right-click (that’s a right-click, not the normal left-click) on this folder name and then left-click on the “open” command. This will open a window showing all the items that are currently in the startup folder.

Now we need to add a shortcut in the opened folder that points to the program we want to load:

There are two different ways we can do this:

Via the Start Button

  • Click on the Start button
  • Click on “All Programs”
  • Left-click on the program you wish to add to the startup folder and drag it to the opened “Startup” window. Dragging means using the mouse to move the cursor to the destination, while holding down the left mouse button.
  • When your cursor is in the Startup folder, release the left button. There is now a shortcut in the Startup folder.
  • Close the Startup folder in the usual way by clicking on the “X” in the top right-hand corner


Via the Desktop

  • Right-click on the desktop item and then left-click on “create shortcut”. You will then see a second item on the desktop with the same icon as the first.
  • Drag the new shortcut into the open Startup window.
  • Close the Startup folder in the usual way by clicking on the “X” in the top right-hand corner.

There is also a third way of finding the program so that you can create a shortcut from it, and that is to open the “Program Files” folder and search from there. This is usually located in c:\program files (accessed from the “My Computer” or “Computer” icon).

One thing to be careful of is that you are looking for a program icon with the correct name and not a folder of the same name. For instance, you can see in this example that I have a folder called “CD-LabelPrint”:

Folder list

If I create a shortcut of the folder and place it in Startup it means that the folder will open up automatically when I start the computer but the program will not launch. It is perfectly legitimate to automatically open a folder in this way but it is not what I wanted to do.

What I should have done is clicked on the folder called “CD-LabelPrint” and then created the shortcut from the program of the same name (as shown below).

Folder and file list

We can extend this somewhat by adding that if you always want to open a specific document when you start your computer (for instance, a particular Excel worksheet or Word document), then you can create a shortcut to that document and place it in the Startup folder. When you start the computer, the program that normally opens that document will be launched and it will open the document whose shortcut is in the Startup folder.

Finally, you can remove items from the startup folder by just deleting them. This will not delete the programs, just the shortcut that you placed in the folder.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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