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Making and Using Shortcuts

What is a shortcut, anyway?   Making shortcuts   Copying shortcuts  
Arranging shortcuts   Nesting shortcuts   What shortcuts should you make?  
Tidying your desktop   To help with backing up data  
To find the program you want to use   Prettying things up  
How shortcuts become invalid

Important note

Menu invoked by dragging a shortcut.Always drag with the RIGHT mouse button. When you drag with the left button, Windows decides what to do with the thing you're dragging, and it may not be what you intended. When you use the right button, you get a menu from which you can choose your desired option.

This picture shows a shortcut that has been right-dragged across the desktop. When the button is released, Windows opens a pop up menu to ask what the user wants done.

What is a shortcut, anyway?

Shortcuts are little sets of instructions that tell the computer where to find something. You can do all sorts of things to shortcuts to adapt them to your needs and wishes. You can put them anywhere you like, change their names, give them any icon you choose and you can delete them if you decide to. You can nest them, so that one shortcut leads to several others, each of which leads to a bunch of similar programs.

No matter where a file or folder is in your computer, a shortcut can take you to it.

The target file is often an exe—an executable program file—but it may also be a document file, a picture you're working on, or anything else you choose.

By default, shortcut icons are decorated at the bottom left corner with a small black arrow. Some programs may offer you the option of removing the arrow. Don't. It makes it too easy to think that something is just a shortcut when it's a real file.   top

Making shortcuts

All you do to make a shortcut is right drag from the file or folder you're interested in and say “Make shortcut here”. You can then move or copy them somewhere else and they'll still work beautifully.

Using Send To to make Shortcuts

Send-to menu on right click.When you right click on any file or folder without trying to drag it, the menu that pops up includes Send to. One of the items on the Send to menu is Desktop (create shortcut). Your own Send to menu will have more items than the one shown. That doesn't matter. Also, there is a slightly different menu for certain types of files. When you click on the Desktop item, a shortcut will be made on your desktop, and you can move it to the place you choose when you are ready.

Copying shortcuts

If you have a shortcut in one place and you want it in another, right-drag it to the new location. Then say either Move here or Copy here. If you accept Windows' offer to Make shortcut here, you'll have a shortcut to a shortcut. If, then, you delete or move shortcut (a), shortcut (b) becomes meaningless. Only make shortcuts from real files. Otherwise, copy.

The file extension for shortcuts is lnk and you can make a chain of shortcuts all over your computer, but remove one link and the chain collapses.   top

Arranging shortcuts

Use your desktop as a work area. Make all the shortcuts that you want, create new folders, name them and put the shortcuts inside them, then push them onto your C: drive. Or you can put all of those folders into one other new folder and push that onto your C: drive. Then drag or send a shortcut from that folder back up to the desktop and you have just one icon leading to as many programs, folders and files as you like.   top

Nesting shortcuts

Nested shortcuts. This drawing tries to show how shortcuts can be nested in groups.

In this imaginary situation, the shortcut here labelled Most Used Items would be the only one always visible on the desktop. (That's a terrible name, but for the purpose of the explanation it's descriptive.)

The lines from Most Used Items show the shortcuts that are inside it.


Lines from each of those show what shortcuts they themselves contain.

The programs and files to which these shortcuts give access are scattered all over the computer. Wordpro.exe is in C:/lotus/wordpro/, Winword.exe is in C:/Program Files/Microsoft Office/Office/, while the three folders full of letters are in a document folder that has all sorts of other document folders in it as well. Because the shortcuts are all together, you can go into the Letters folder, find and reopen a letter you started yesterday or wrote a year ago, or you can load the word processor you want to use to start a new letter.

There's another shortcut to Winword.exe, in the folder called Business. You can have multiple shortcuts to the same program or folder. Put them wherever you need them. The Business shortcut folder also contains shortcuts to the Windows calculator and to Excel, a spreadsheet program, as well as folders where files are stored.   top

The Graphics shortcut folder has links to several graphics programs and a whole bunch of folders for storing finished work. One of those folder links is called Animations. The Animations folder is really in the Stationery folder, deep in the heart of Program Files. I can open the Graphics folder, load a graphics program, make an animation and save it into the Animations folder. Next time I'm in Outlook Express I can quickly find that animation and put it into an email I'm about to send.

Without the shortcut, to put the new animation where I wanted it to be I'd have had to click on My Computer, then click on C:, then click on Program Files, then on Common Files, then on Microsoft Shared, then on Stationery and finally on Animations. Shortcuts save a lot of time and frustration!   top

What shortcuts should you make?

Shortcuts are absolutely your own affair. You make them and delete them when you wish and arrange them to please yourself. They don't affect the functioning of your computer in any way-except, perhaps, that your desktop can get so cluttered that you can't find anything and have to give up! Then you put them all together into a folder, put the folder on the C: drive, and send a shortcut to that folder to your desktop. All cleared up!

Tidying your desktop

A really handy thing about shortcuts is this: if you have a shortcut pointing to a folder and you push another shortcut or folder onto it, it will land in that folder and be there when next you open it. So, if you have a folder called animations, and the shortcut to that folder is on your desktop, or in a box on your desktop, you can push any new icons into it. That's great if you've just downloaded something, for instance. You don't have to drill down and open the target folder in order to put it away.

Suppose someone e-mailed you a photo of their dog. You save it to your desktop. You would then open My Shortcuts, open Graphics, open Photographs, right drag the photo onto the icon representing Animals and choose Move here. Of course, within Animals you might well have further subdivisions. There's no limit, provided each shortcut points to a real folder or file.

It's also good when you install a new program. You say Yes to having an icon on your desktop, but after the installation is finished you put the icon into whichever folder you like. It's much easier, I think, to find a particular icon if it's one of a group of related things.   top

To help with backing up data

By Data I'm referring to something that you've made yourself - a picture, a letter, a list. In the event of a big crash, that's the most precious material on your computer. It's original and therefore irreplaceable. Everything else can be had again for love or money—data can't. Therefore it's a very good idea to have a group of shortcuts pointing to everywhere that your data is stored—in document folders, under graphics programs, wherever.

If you run a Find and ask for files modified within the last seven days, you'll get an idea of how widely your data files are scattered. Most of the files that come up in such a search belong to the computer and are of no concern in the present context. Scan the list carefully, though, and notice the files that are your own and notice their locations. It may be easier to do this if you first click the top of the Type column, so that the files are listed in groups.

It's possible—unless the Find window is maximised—to drag a shortcut from any file on the extreme left of the list onto your desktop. Always drag with the right button and say Make shortcut here. Sometimes Windows thinks you want to actually move a file, which could be inconvenient or disastrous.

It's also possible to Open a file from here . Don't mess with any of the other columns, other than clicking at the top to make them order themselves by Date, Size or Location.

The point of the above exercise, anyway, is to see how widely distributed your work is and to make a note of those locations so that you can go there and back everything up. If you make a box containing shortcuts to each of the locations, it will be easier to do this.   top

To find the program you want to use

For many reasons, programs get to be scattered all over the computer in a far from logical order. Some hang off the C: drive and are easy to find. Some are in boxes—sorry, folders— you've made yourself and are also easy to find. Many, though, are buried layers deep in Program Files, and you have to drill down to find them. Shortcuts are wonderful in that you can arrange them exactly in the way that makes sense to you. For instance, I have a directory called Graphics in which I try to install all graphics programs. Some, though, won't work unless they are located differently. Therefore I have, inside my graphics box, a box of shortcuts that lead to the exes of the programs within the graphics box and also to those graphics programs that are located somewhere else. The graphics box is on the C: drive, and on my desktop there's shortcut to it.   top

Prettying things up

When you make a shortcut to an exe file, the program usually supplies an icon that is quickly recognisable. However, if you make a shortcut to a folder, you will get a yellow folder icon, which looks just like all the other yellow folder icons. You would probably prefer to have a different, more colourful icon. If so, here's what you do. Right click on the shortcut. A menu will pop up. At the bottom of the menu is the word Properties. Click on the word Properties. Now you have a big grey information box (Properties box) with the name of the shortcut at the top. The Shortcut tab should be in front. If it isn't, click it. Near the bottom of the box, after all the white slots, there are two buttons labelled Find Target and Change Icon. Click on Change Icon and you'll be offered a selection from which to choose. Double click the one you like.   top

How shortcuts become invalid

If, at any time or for any reason you change the location of a file or folder, any shortcut referring to it will cease to work. For instance, you have a folder called Stories, inside which you have subfolders called Sad, Happy and Funny. You've been editing The Man from Daraban, so you have a shortcut to it on your desktop. One day you decide to rearrange your stories into Animals, People and Adventure. You move The Man from Daraban from Funny, to Animals. When you later click on your shortcut to The Man from Daraban, it doesn't work. It looks in Stories, can't find a folder called Funny and gives up. If it asks you to find the folder yourself, it may change the directions in the properties box , but sometimes it doesn't. In such cases, delete the old shortcut and make a new one. If you have copied that shortcut to one or more other places, those shortcuts will also need to be replaced. This isn't something that happens a lot. Reorganising files isn't something we get around to much, particularly if we're working on a project like editing a story.   top



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