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An Administrator's Guide to Customizing the Desktop and the User Interface for Windows 8

Working with Desktops and Startup Applications

In the Windows operating system, items on the desktop and startup applications are configured with shortcuts, and it is the location of the shortcut that determines how the shortcut is used. For example, if you want to configure startup applications for all users, you can add shortcuts to the %SystemDrive%\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder. These applications then automatically start when a user logs on to the system locally. If you want to configure startup applications for a particular user, you can add shortcuts to the %UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder.

Creating Shortcuts for Desktops, Startup, and More

In File Explorer, you can create shortcuts for the desktop, folders, and startup applications by logging on to a user’s computer and creating shortcuts in the appropriate locations. In Group Policy, you can create shortcuts for desktops, startup applications, and more by using Shortcuts preferences, and these preference items are applied automatically to all users and computers that process the related Group Policy Object.

To configure Shortcuts preferences, follow these steps:

  1. Open a Group Policy Object for editing in the Group Policy Management Editor. To configure preferences for computers, expand Computer Configuration\Preferences\Windows Settings, and then select Shortcuts. To configure preferences for users, expand User Configuration\Preferences\Windows Settings, and then select Shortcuts.

  2. Press and hold or right-click the Shortcuts node, point to New, and then select Shortcut. This opens the New Shortcut Properties dialog box, as shown in Figure 3-2.

  3. In the Action list, select Create, Update, or Replace as appropriate. Then complete the other options as discussed in this section.

  4. Use the options on the Common tab to control how the preference is applied. Often, you’ll want to apply a shortcut only once. If so, select Apply Once And Do Not Reapply.

  5. Tap or click OK. The next time policy is refreshed, the preference item will be applied as appropriate for the Group Policy Object in which you defined the preference item.

Figure 3-2

Figure 3-2. Create a shortcut using a preference item.

In the Location list, you’ll see a list of special folders that you can use with shortcuts. Table 3-1 provides a summary of these folders.

Table 3-1. Special Folders for Use with Shortcuts

SPECIAL FOLDER

USAGE

AllUsersDesktop

Desktop shortcuts for all users

AllUsersExplorerFavorites

Explorer favorites for all users

AllUsersPrograms

Programs menu options for all users

AllUsersStartMenu

Start menu options for all users

AllUsersStartup

Startup applications for all users

Desktop

Desktop shortcuts for a specific user

Explorer Favorites

Favorites for a specific user

Explorer Links

Favorite links for a specific user

MyNetworkPlaces

Network shortcuts for a specific user

Programs

Programs menu options for a specific user

QuickLaunchToolbar

Toolbar folder with shortcuts for a specific user

Recent

Recently used document shortcuts for a specific user

SendTo

SendTo menu shortcuts for a specific user

StartMenu

Start menu shortcuts for a specific user

Startup

Startup applications for a specific user

Shortcuts can point to local and network files, as well as to remote Internet resources. Shortcuts for working with local or network files are referred to as link shortcuts. Shortcuts for working with remote Internet resources are referred to as URL shortcuts.

Link shortcuts are usually used to start applications or open documents rather than access a URL in a browser. Because of this, link shortcuts have different properties than URL shortcuts. The properties are summarized in Table 3-2. If you set any property incorrectly or set a property that isn’t supported by a linked application, the shortcut may not be created or may not work as expected. In this case, you need to correct the problem and try to create the shortcut again.

One of the most valuable options is the Arguments property. You can use this property to set arguments to pass in to an application that you are starting. Using this property, you can create a shortcut that starts Microsoft Word and opens a document by setting the target path for Word and the argument for the document to open.

When you add shortcuts to the desktop or menus, you can set a hotkey sequence that activates the shortcut. The hotkey sequence must be specified with at least one modifier key and a key designator. The following modifier keys are available:

  • ALT The Alt key

  • CTRL The Ctrl key

  • SHIFT The Shift key

Table 3-2. Link Shortcut Properties

PROPERTY

DESCRIPTION

SAMPLE VALUE

Arguments

Arguments to pass to an application started through the shortcut.

C:\Gettingstarted.doc

Comment

Sets a descriptive comment for the shortcut.

Opens the Getting Started Document

Icon File Path

Sets the location of an icon for the shortcut. If not set, a default icon is used.

C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\Iexplore.exe

Icon Index

Sets the index position of the icon for the shortcut. Few applications have multiple icons indexed, so the index is almost always 0.

0

Location

Specifies where the shortcut should be created.

Desktop

Name

Sets the name of the shortcut.

Getting Started

Run

Sets the window style of the application started by the shortcut. The available styles are Normal Window, Minimized, and Maximized.

Normal Window

Shortcut Key

Sets a hotkey sequence that activates the shortcut. This property can be used only with desktop shortcuts and Start menu options.

Alt+Shift+Z

Start In

Sets the working directory of the application started by the shortcut.

C:\Working

Target Path

Sets the path of the file to execute.

%WinDir%\Notepad.exe

Target Type

Specifies the type of shortcut you are creating. Choose File System Object for link shortcuts, URL for URL shortcuts, and Shell Object for Explorer shell shortcuts.

File System Object

Modifier keys can be combined in any combination, such as Alt+Ctrl or Shift+Ctrl, but the combination shouldn’t duplicate key combinations used by other shortcuts. Key designators include the alphabetic characters (A–Z) and numeric characters (0–9), as well as End, Home, Page Up, and Page Down. For example, you could create a shortcut that uses the hotkey sequence Shift+Alt+G.

When you create shortcuts for applications, the applications normally have a default icon that is displayed with the shortcut. For example, if you create a shortcut for Windows Internet Explorer, the default icon is a large E. When you create shortcuts to document files, the Windows default icon is used in most cases.

If you want to use an icon other than the default icon, you can use the Icon Location property. Normally, the icon location equates to an application name, such as Iexplore.exe or Notepad.exe, and the icon index is set to 0. Windows has to be able to find the executable. If the executable can’t be found in the path, the icon can’t be set. Because of this, be sure to enter the full path to the executable.

The working directory sets the default directory for an application. This directory is used the first time that a user opens or saves files.

URL shortcuts open Internet documents in an appropriate application. For example, webpages are opened in the default browser, such as Internet Explorer. With URL shortcuts, you can’t use the Arguments, Start In, Run, or Comment properties.

Adding and Removing Startup Applications

Administrator-installed or user-installed applications that run in the background can be managed through the Startup folder. Startup programs that are made available only to the currently logged-on user are placed in the Startup folder that is located within the profile data for that user (%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs), and startup programs that are available to any user that logs on to the computer are placed in the Startup folder for all users (%SystemDrive%\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs).

To add or remove startup programs for all users, follow these steps:

  1. In File Explorer, browse to the hidden %SystemDrive%\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu folder. If hidden items aren’t being displayed, tap or click View, and then select Hidden Items.

  2. In the left pane, tap or click the Programs folder under Start Menu, and then tap or click Startup.

  3. You can now add or remove startup programs for all users. To add startup programs, create a shortcut to the program that you want to run. To remove a startup program, delete its shortcut from the Startup folder.

To add or remove startup programs for a specific user, follow these steps:

  1. Log on as the user whose startup applications you want to manage. In File Explorer, browse to the hidden %UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu folder.

  2. In the left pane, tap or click the Programs folder under Start Menu, and then tap or click Startup.

  3. You can now add or remove startup programs for this user. To add startup programs, create a shortcut to the program that you want to run. To remove a startup program, delete its shortcut from the Startup folder.

Using Group Policy preferences, you specify applications that should be started after a user logs on by creating shortcuts in the AllUsersStartup and Startup folders. The AllUsersStartup folder sets startup applications for all users that log on to a system. The Startup folder sets startup applications for the current user.

When you create a shortcut for startup applications, the only options you need to set in most cases are Name, Target Type, Location, and Target Path. Occasionally you may also want to set a working directory for an application or specify startup arguments.

If you later want to remove a startup application, you delete it by creating a preference with the action set to Delete.