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Windows Your Way- Organizing Access to Your Favorite Folders
A PC should be configured so that the information stored on it is easy to get to. Here are some tips on how to set up quick and convenient ways to access your favorite folders and files.

Many home computers contain substantial numbers of personal files. They may be photos, videos, music files, documents, letters, or whatever. Unless these files are organized and readily available, however, they won't be as useful as they could be. Many PC users create specific folders to contain personal files. These folders should be made as convenient as possible for the retrieval of files stored in them and for the addition of new files. One common practice is to place folders (or shortcuts to them) on the Desktop or the Taskbar. This makes the folders easily accessible for some kinds of procedures but not for others. In the sections below, I will discuss some ways to more quickly access your folders for performing some common tasks.

Places Bar in the Common Dialog Box

In order to maintain a common look and feel throughout Windows, many applications share a common interface for standard file operations called the common dialog box. An example for the file operation "Open" is shown in Figure 1. A similar dialog box applies to the file operation "Save as". If you wish to use a particular file, you may have to scroll through the listing in the box by the entry "Look in". Thus, multiple steps may be required to display personal folders.

Note the icons in the area outlined in yellow on the left. This area is called the "Places bar" and provides quick access to the folders listed there. The folders shown in the figure are the default values but are probably not optimum for your particular needs.

Figure 1. Common dialog box for the file operation "Open"

The default icons in the places bar can be replaced by up to five custom folders of your choice. This can be accomplished with a Registry edit (click here to see the procedure) but a better way is to use the handy free accessory from Microsoft called "TweakUI". This is part of the suite called PowerToys and can be downloaded here. Figure 2 shows TweakUI opened at the entry for editing the places bar. There are five lines where you can type in the full path (including drive letter) for the folders you want to be shown on the places bar.(Or use the drop-down menu to select special folders like Desktop.) There is a bug that sometimes prevents entries in the very first line from taking effect. Scroll to some preset place like "My Documents" for the first entry. Then type or enter whatever you want in the others.

Figure 2. Using TweakUI to configure places bar in common dialogs

Figure 3 shows a dialog box with a customized places bar. In this example, three custom folders have been added and two of the default selections,"Desktop" and "My Documents", have been retained.

Figure 3. Dialog box with customized places bar

Microsoft Office

Applications in the Microsoft Office suite have their own version of dialog boxes. In recent versions of Office, the places bar for Office apps can be configured within Office. In older versions of Office, a Registry edit was required although Microsoft provided a free add-in for Office 2000.

The "Send To" Function of Context Menus

A way to make your favorite folders readily accessible as a destination from almost anywhere is to add them to the Send To function of the right-click context menu. Then any time you wish to copy a file to your folders, they are right at hand. Placing a folder in the "Send To" menu is simply a matter of adding a shortcut from the desired folder into the SendTo folder (Note that the folder name is written as a single word.) The "SendTo" folder is located in \Documents and Settings\{current user}\. An easy way to open this folder is to enter "sendto" into Start-Run. A shortcut from your desired folder can then be dragged and dropped into the "SendTo" folder.

Windows Explorer and the Favorites Folder

Windows Explorer is the basic interface for most things and having your favorite folders always readily available in Explorer can save lot of time. One way to do this is to place shortcuts to your favorite folders in the same place that you keep Internet Favorites. Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer are completely integrated and the Favorites folder is always easily available in any view of Explorer. "Favorites" is in all the Explorer menu bars right along with "File", "Edit", etc. (We may not all of us be used to thinking of the desktop and the Internet as interchangeable but in fact they are.) The Favorites folder can also be displayed in the left side of an Explorer window. Go to View-Explorer Bar-Favorites (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Putting Favorites in the Explorer view

Figure 5 illustrates an Explorer window with the Favorites bar added to the left side.

Figure 5. Favorites bar displayed in Explorer window

One way to keep your favorite folders readily available is to create a folder in Favorites and keep all shortcuts to your desired folders inside this one folder. Note that these shortcuts have a different format from the type that we have been discussing so far. Although they will be used only locally they will be in the URL format used for the Internet. Creating these shortcuts is no different from adding an Web site to your Favorites.

Open the folder that you want to bookmark and then open the Favorites menu. If you have not already done so, create a new folder using the "Organize Favorites' function. I call mine "AAAA-local" so that it is always at the top when I open the Favorites folder. After creating the new folder, you will have to alphabetize by right-clicking anywhere in the favorites list and choosing "Sort by name". To add a shortcut to a personal folder, open it, click "Add to Favorites" and select your local folder as the place to put it. Figure 5 shows an example.

Assign a Drive Letter to Your Favorite Folder

An old command-line trick is to assign a drive letter to a folder. Drives are always at or near the top of folder lists so this is one way to make a deeply buried folder easily accessible. To see how this works, open a command window and enter “subst z: {path}\yourfolder”. Note that the full path must be used for whatever folder is selected for "yourfolder'. This assignment only lasts until the command window is closed so a batch file is used for permanent assignment. Create a simple two-line file in Notepad, making sure that the extension on the file is BAT and not TXT. An example using the folder "F:\composition" is given below.

@echo off
subst Z: F:\composition

Place the batch file in the "Startup" folder. This folder is at
\Documents and Settings\{current user}\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
Anti-spyware programs may warn about something being put in Startup but that is a standard precaution. When you first log on, a command window will briefly flash on the screen. If you prefer not to see that, create a shortcut to the batch file and set it to run minimized. Put the shortcut in Startup. The batch file itself can then be located anywhere on your computer that is convenient.

Many average PC users are unfamiliar with the command line and hesitate to use it. To make the procedure discussed here as simple as possible, I have wrapped the command line business into a script with the familiar graphical user interface. With this script, a few mouse clicks will assign a drive letter to any folder of your choice. The free script is described and can be downloaded on another page.

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