The Power of the Right-Click

Basics of the Windows 7 Right-click Context (Shortcut) Menu

Learn the many PC operations that context menus can help you do. Read how to get many tasks done quickly.

PC users often don't realize how ubiquitous context menus are. They are everywhere on your computer. Any object can be right-clicked, the open desktop, the taskbar, files, folders, the Start button, and so on. This brings up the “context” menu, so named because its exact contents depend on the nature of the object that is clicked. (Some people also call this a shortcut menu.) The context menu is a list of things that can be done or information that can be obtained. The right click does not actually do anything but presents possible actions.

To carry out the actions we need another step. Keyboard options may be available but the usual way is with the mouse. A single click (right or left ) on an item in the context menu carries out the next step in the action for that item. For some items it opens a second window with more details. These expandable items have a small right-pointing triangle on the right side. Usually, simply hovering with the mouse pointer will expand these items.

Context menu for Windows 7 Desktop

The categories of possible actions included in the context menus vary depending on the nature of the object being clicked. For example, the context menu for the Windows 7 Desktop (shown on the left) is different from the basic menu for a text file (shown below). For a file, the menu contains software operations for that particular type of file, including the default "Open" and any operations that installed applications, such as anti-virus programs, may have added. In fact, a typical menu will have quite a few more entries than the basic one shown here.

Some kinds of file will have the operations Print and/or Edit. The basic file management functions Cut, Copy, Create Shortcut , Delete, Rename will also be in the menu. Two very important functions, Send To and Properties, deserve separate discussion and are considered on separate pages.

Basic context menu for text file

Example of an expandable entry- "Open with"

An example of the many useful functions in context menus is the expanded entry "Open with..." shown in the figure above. This is a very useful function that allows the selection of any program present on the computer as an alternate choice for opening a file. Expandable items have a small right-pointing triangle on the right side. Usually, simply hovering with the mouse pointer will expand these items.

Not only does "Open with" allow the choice of a different program to open a file, but also it allows a permanent change in the default program for opening a file. option of putting a check by "Always use this program to open these files". The "Open with" option is useful for changing file associations and for those times when you may want to use more than one program for a given function. More is available on this subject in the discussion of file associations given at another page.

Use the Shift key to extend the context menu

If you hold down the Shift key while right-clicking an object, certain functions are added to the context menu list. The additions vary, depending on the nature of the object. For example, "Open command window here" is added for folders. "Copy as path" is added to both file and folder menus. Also, the "Send to" options are increased for both files and folders.

Jump Lists

Example of Windows 7 jump list

With Windows 7, Microsoft introduced a new type of context menu, which they named "Jump Lists". These apply to items on the Taskbar and pinned items on the Start menu that have recently opened files. A Jump List contains a list of files that the application has recently opened and the option to unpin the program. Depending on the application, certain other options may be included also. The Jump List for a taskbar entry for Internet Explorer is shown in the figure above.

Jump Lists provide quick access to recently or frequently used files. They also give an easy path to certain tasks. These vary from application to application.

If you want the standard context menu for a pinned unopened taskbar item instead of a Jump List, hold down the Shift key while right-clicking.

Editing and modifying the context menu

The contents of context (shortcut) menus are not fixed in stone but are easily modified. Entries can edited, deleted , or added. When you install a new program, you will often notice that the program has added items to certain context menus. The user can also make changes to context menus. How this is done is described on a related page. Go to Customizing the Context Menu.