Windows Tips: What's on the Menu? You Decide
Customize menus and accelerator keys; force Windows to exit or reboot.

Scott Dunn
From the June 2001 issue of PC World magazine

One of the useful new features in Windows Millennium Edition and 2000 is the ability to put the Control Panel on the Start menu. But why stop there? Windows Me and 2000 let you convert many different folders into cascading menus that provide quick access to their contents. Here's what you can do.


Expand the Control Panel: To have the Control Panel appear as a cascading menu off the Start, Settings menu, choose Start, Settings, Taskbar and Start Menu, or right-click an empty area of the taskbar and select Properties. Click the Advanced tab, make sure that Expand Control Panel is selected in the list of check boxes at the bottom, and click OK.

Customize Your Control Panel Menu: Expanding the Control Panel is a good idea if you frequently open many different Control Panel utilities with your mouse; if you change only a few Control Panel settings or prefer to access the applets from the keyboard, you can make your own Control Panel menu: Right-click the Start button and click Open. Then right-click in the Start Menu folder and choose New, Folder. Type a new name beginning with a letter not already used as a Start menu shortcut key (see below), and press Enter. Open the new folder and then open the Control Panel window. While holding down Ctrl, select only the Control Panel icons you use most, right-click them, drag the group to your new folder, and choose Create Shortcut(s) Here.

If two or more items in your new folder begin with the same letter, you may have to hit the same shortcut key repeatedly to get to the folder you want to open, because each item's initial letter becomes its shortcut key by default. You can avoid the extra keystrokes by beginning each item name with a unique character. For example, if you move Add/Remove Programs to a folder named Gizmos that already has items named Add New Hardware and Action Items, you must press Ctrl-EscGAAAEnter to open the Add/Remove Programs applet. But if you rename Add/Remove Programs as Install and Remove Programs, you can open it simply by pressing Ctrl-EscGI. For even faster access, see "Add Custom Accelerator Keys to Your Start Menu."

Don't Expand Scheduled Tasks: If you made a custom Control Panel menu as described above and included the Scheduled Tasks icon from the normal Control Panel, your cascading menu will have another cascading menu called Scheduled Tasks.

If you'd rather open the Scheduled Tasks folder as a window, delete the Scheduled Tasks icon you dragged from the Control Panel and open the Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools menu. Right-click and drag the Scheduled Tasks icon from there into your own menu (or the folder window for that menu). When you release the mouse button, choose Copy Here or Create Shortcut(s) Here.

Unlike shortcuts created from the Control Panel, which show the folder items in a cascading menu, this approach opens a window. (Alternatively, you can leave the cascading Scheduled Tasks menu in place and when you want to view it as a folder, simply open your custom Control Panel menu and double-click the Scheduled Tasks menu item.)

Expand Dial-Up Networking or Printers: To convert your Dial-Up Networking folder and the Printers folder on your Start, Settings menu into cascading menus, choose Start, Settings, Taskbar and Start Menu, or right-click an empty area of the taskbar, and choose Properties. Click the Advanced tab and make sure that the options for Expand Dial-Up Networking (Windows Me) or Expand Network and Dial-Up Connections (Windows 2000) and for Expand Printers are selected. Then click OK.

Expand My Documents and My Pictures: By default, when you choose Start, Documents, you see shortcuts to the My Documents and My Pictures folders (Windows' built-in folders that are intended to encourage your more exemplary organizational habits). If you'd rather have each of these folders appear as cascading menus so you can open the contents of each directly from the menu, just--you guessed it--open the Advanced tab of the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties sheet as instructed above. Check the options for Expand My Documents and Expand My Pictures (the latter with Windows Me only), and click OK.

Expand Any Folder--or Don't: You can see any folder on your system as a cascading menu. Right-click and drag the folder into any menu (or its corresponding folder) within the Start menu hierarchy, and choose Create Shortcut(s) Here .

But what if you just want to open a folder from the Start menu without seeing all the contents as a cascading menu? Right-click the spot where you want your folder shortcut to appear in the menu and choose Open. Then right-click an empty area of the folder and choose New, Shortcut. In the Command Line box of the Create Shortcut Wizard, type explorer.exe n:\folder name, where n is the drive letter and folder name is the name of the folder you want access to.

If you want the shortcut to open a two-paned Explorer window with the file tree pane on the left, add a comma and /e to the end of the command line (for example, explorer.exe n:\folder name,/e). Click Next, type a name for your shortcut, and click Finish.

Have It Both Ways: Dave Valiulis of Scotts Valley, California, doesn't want to have to choose between opening the Control Panel in a window and seeing it as a cascading menu. He asks why Windows can't be more like the Macintosh operating system, which allows a cascading Control Panel menu but also permits opening the Control Panel in a window by clicking the menu name. The answer: Windows does let you have it both ways, for Control Panel and all folders; but you have to double-click the menu item. You can also use the left mouse button to open it as a cascading menu and the right mouse button to open it in a window.

When you right-click the menu name, you see a pop-up menu that allows you to open the folder in a single window (Open) or in a two-pane Explorer window (Explore). Note that this technique doesn't work for certain built-in menus, such as the Start, Search menu and the Start, Documents menu.

More Menu Modifications: While you're right-clicking menu items, don't forget that creating custom menus by adding a folder within the Start Menu folder or its subfolders gives you even more right-click options, including Delete and Rename. These options are not available for Control Panel, Printers, My Documents, or other automatic system menu items.

Note: To learn how to turn custom toolbars into cascading menus off the Windows taskbar, see the November 1999 Windows Tips. If you don't have Windows Me or Windows 2000, check out this month's "Windows Toolbox."

Add Custom Accelerator Keys to Your Start Menu

In Windows 9x you can access Start menu items by pressing Ctrl- Esc followed by the underlined character (also called the accelerator key) of the menu item you want to open. If the item has no underlined character, its accelerator key is its first character. You hit accelerator keys until the item you want is launched.


Unfortunately, if you've created two or more items that begin with the same character, or with an existing underlined character, you have to press that character repeatedly on the keyboard until the desired item is highlighted, and then press Enter. This process can really slow things down, especially if several icons start with the same character.

The obvious (if unwieldy) solution is to make sure each item you add to the Start menu (or its submenus) begins with a different character. You could also add a number (such as 1, 2, or 3) and/or a character (A, B, C, and so on) to the beginning of each icon name.

Now there's a better way. Microsoft has made available in Windows Me and 2000 a useful technique that other utilities have offered for years: Just type an ampersand (&) before any character in a shortcut or menu name to make that character the shortcut key. For example, to add a custom Control Panel menu named Controls, you can add an ampersand before a character not used as a Start menu shortcut so that the C in Controls won't conflict with the underlined c in the Search menu. Unfortunately, this feature is not fully implemented, so adding an ampersand doesn't underline the following character, it just inserts an ampersand in the middle of the menu name--for example, Contr&ols. The result may be unsightly, but the technique works.

Force Windows to Exit or Reboot

In January's Windows Tips, I showed how to create shortcuts that automate the process of shutting down Windows or rebooting your computer. But a problem arises if your PC is on a network: Shutting down Windows in that situation can trigger a message box reminding you that you are connected to another computer. Windows then asks for permission to proceed. If you're using Task Scheduler to automate a shutdown or reboot, you may not be at your PC to respond, so Windows will simply sit there with the prompt displayed for all eternity--or at least until someone responds by clicking Yes or No. So much for automation.


Fortunately, as Richard Schauer of Everett, Washington, points out, you can force Windows to shut down or reboot and have it ignore all open applications, documents, and message prompts. First, if you haven't already done so, create your shutdown or reboot shortcut: Right-click the desktop or in the desired folder and choose New, Shortcut. Type the appropriate command line, but add 4 to the numeric parameter at the end.

For example, the command line normally used for shutting down Windows is 'rundll32.exe shell32.dll,SHExitWindowsEx 1'. Add 4 to the final parameter, and now the 'force shutdown' line becomes 'rundll32.exe shell32.dll,SHExitWindowsEx 5'. To force a reboot, change the '5' to a 6 (equivalent to adding 4 to the normal reboot option of 2). To complete the shortcut, click Next, type a name, and click Finish.

Characters in this command line are case-sensitive, so watch your capitalization. Also, take care not to add a space after the comma. A typo in the January issue included a space, to the consternation of many readers. Deleting the space should solve that problem.

The downside: If you use this command, Windows will ignore all network connection prompts and also any prompts to save open documents. If any open documents have unsaved changes when you force a shutdown, those changes will be lost for good. So use this technique only when you're certain you won't lose data.

Windows Toolbox: I've Got the World on a Menu

If you're happy with Windows 95 or 98 using Internet Explorer 4 or earlier, so be it. But you're missing the nifty ability to access your drives, folders, and other objects from a single cascading menu (see the November 1999 Windows Tips column).

To the rescue comes TrayExplorer, a $10 shareware utility that adds an icon to your taskbar tray (the area near the clock) with a cascading menu for accessing disk drives, Network Neighborhood, the Recycle Bin, Control Panel, Printers, and other folders (you can remove any cascading-menu item that you don't need). The program also features a customizable menu with your favorite links to folders, applications, Web sites, and documents. TrayExplorer is available from our Downloads library.

We pay $50 for published tips and questions. Scott Dunn is a contributing editor for PC World.


[ Sept. 2005  pcd ]