Take Charge of Your Runaway Start Menu
Windows Tips pays $50 for published tips and questions. Scott Dunn is a contributing editor for PC World.
All Versions If you regularly scroll through dozens of items on your Start menu every time you open a program, maybe you should think about putting the menu on a diet.
Two prime candidates for deletion from the Start menu are your Favorites and Documents menus. Chances are you only access your Favorites menu from your browser or folder windows. And you won't need the Documents menu if you create a custom recent-documents menu by following the steps in the next tip, " Documents Menu, Take 2."
Before you begin trimming the Start menu, put your other shortcut menus into logical groups and delete unnecessary menu items. Go to Steve Bass's suggestions on organizing a messy Windows desktop.
Windows 9 x doesn't offer an easy way to remove its built-in menu items, but you can delete some of them by editing the Windows Registry. Messing with Registry settings is risky, however, so be sure to back up your system.dat and user.dat Registry files before beginning. After creating your backup, choose Start, Run, type regedit, and press Enter to open the Registry Editor. Navigate through the tree on the left until you come to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\ Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer. Select the Explorer icon in the left pane, then add the settings in the right pane that turn off the Windows menu items. For example, to make the Documents menu disappear from the Start menu, right-click the right pane and choose New, DWORD Value. Type NoRecentDocsMenu to name the new binary value, and press Enter. Double-click the new entry, type 1 in the Value data box, and click OK.
To remove the Log Off command, add a DWORD Value icon called NoLogOff, and to delete the Favorites menu, create a DWORD Value icon named NoFavoritesMenu. Double-click each icon you create, type 1, and click OK (see FIGURE 1). After removing the menu items, close the Registry Editor and, if necessary, log off and log back on to see the changes. To restore a deleted menu item, open the Registry Editor and delete the icon you created or double-click it and change its value to 0.
To remove the Favorites and Logoff commands in Windows 2000 and Me, right-click the taskbar, choose Properties, click the Advanced tab, and in the list of settings at the bottom of the dialog box, uncheck either the Display Favorites box or Display Logoff box, or both. If you never use the Start, Run command or prefer to access it only from your keyboard ( Windows- R), Windows Me lets you uncheck Display Run as well (see FIGURE 2). When you're done, click OK. Note: To remove the Documents submenu from Windows Me's Start menu, follow the Registry edit steps described above for Windows 9 x.
Removing other built-in Start menu items from Windows 2000 requires the Group Policy administrative utility. To launch the utility, click Start, Run, type gpedit.msc, and press Enter. Navigate in the left pane to User Configuration, Administrative Templates, Start Menu & Taskbar. To delete Help from the Start menu, double-click Remove Help menu from Start Menu in the right pane (see FIGURE 3). Select Enabled and click OK. You'll still be able to reach the same help information from any folder window by using its Help menu or by pressing F1. Likewise, to get rid of the Documents menu, double-click Remove Documents menu from Start Menu, select Enabled, and click OK.
If you disable too many menu items, you may regret it. For example, removing the Shut Down command from the Start menu also disables the Shut Down button when you press Ctrl- Alt- Delete. And when you remove the Search submenu, you also disable the keyboard shortcuts and context-menu options that let you search from within Explorer and folder windows. So don't disable these items unless you're happy using other software that can replace these functions.
Windows XP makes it easy to remove many built-in Start menu items--good news, since this operating system also adds a lot of junk to the Start menu. Right-click the Start button, choose Properties, click Customize, and select the Advanced tab. Under 'Start menu items', you can select Don't display this item for Control Panel, My Computer, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, Network Connections, and System Administrative Tools (see FIGURE 4). Uncheck Favorites menu, Help and Support, My Network Places, Printers and Faxes, Run command, and Search to eliminate these menu items. To remove the My Recent Documents menu, uncheck List my most recently opened documents in the 'Recent documents' section at the bottom of the Customize Start Menu dialog box. When you're done, click OK twice. Shortcuts you've created to these items in other folders or menus will still work, as will the keyboard shortcuts for opening them.
Documents Menu, Take 2
All Versions The October 2001 Windows Tips described ways to access recently used documents beyond the measly 15 on the Start, Documents menu. But you can make your own menu of recent shortcuts and add to it as you wish, and retain the shortcuts for as long as you like. All you need is a freeware program and a few command lines typed in Notepad and saved as a batch file.
Preliminary steps: Before making your batch file, create a menu that will show your recent shortcuts. Right-click the Start button, choose Open, right-click an empty area of the folder, and select New, Folder. This folder will be your new Documents menu, so give it a name, such as More Docs, and press Enter.
Tsahi Chitin's TDel freeware replacement for DOS's Delete command lets you delete old shortcuts based on their creation date. Go to find.pcworld.com/15968 to download TDel, then unzip the file and follow the installation instructions. The program's automatic installation option won't work in Windows 2000, but don't let that bother you. Just copy tdel.exe to any convenient location and double-click it to finish the installation.
Automatic shortcuts: To create the batch file that will automatically add shortcuts to this menu, open Notepad or another text editor, and on the first line, type the command that will copy files from Windows' Recent menu to your new folder--for example, xcopy "c:\windows\recent\*.*" "c:\windows\Start Menu\More Docs" /d /y. Replace the first path in quotation marks ("c:\windows\recent\") with the path to your Recent folder, and change the second path in quotation marks ("c:\windows\Start Menu\More Docs") to point to the folder for your new menu. The /d switch copies your newest shortcuts from the Recent menu to your custom More Docs menu, while the /y switch suppresses prompts to overwrite files. The shortcut updates your custom menu when you launch it to show all shortcuts in your Recent folder, not just the last 15.
Unlike Windows' Documents menu, automatically adding shortcuts to this menu is easy. Add a line to the text file similar to the one above that copies specific shortcuts to your More Docs menu.
Shortcut removal: Add another line to this file to keep your menu size manageable. (TDel must be installed for this tip.)
Type del c:\windows\startm~1\moredo~1\*.* /days:3.. /d- and press Enter. Note that TDel does not support long file names, so your paths must use the abbreviated form (first 6 letters of a file name, minus spaces, followed by ~1, in most cases). Replace the path in this example with the one to your new More Docs folder. The /days: switch deletes files older than a specified number of days; change '3' to the number of days you prefer. Experiment to find the number of days that works best for you. Don't forget to add the two periods after the number to delete all files older than whatever length you specify. The /d- switch keeps the program from deleting the More Docs folder if it becomes empty. Finally, if you're using Windows 2000, replace del with tdel (and the path to the utility, if needed).
Final steps: In Notepad, choose File, Save As, navigate to a folder where you store batch files (the Windows folder will do), type a name such as "FixMenu.bat" (in Windows 9 x, Me, and XP) or "FixMenu.cmd" (in Windows 2000). Be sure to include the quotation marks so that Notepad doesn't add its.txt extension to the file name. Click Save and use Explorer to find the FixMenu file you just created. Choose it and click Edit, Copy, then navigate to your Start Menu\Programs\StartUp folder and choose Edit, Paste Shortcut. With the new shortcut selected, choose File, Properties. Click the Program tab (in Windows 9 x and Me) or the Shortcut tab (in Windows 2000 and XP) and choose Minimized from the Run drop-down list. In Windows 9 x and Me, make sure Close on exit is checked as well. If you have problems, come back later and change these settings to keep the DOS window open while you troubleshoot. That will let you read any error messages. Click OK.
Now Windows will update your menu and delete old items automatically whenever it starts. To update the menu within the current Windows session, choose Fix Menu from the Start menu, or use either Task Scheduler or the Scheduled Tasks folder to run the batch file more often. If you prefer your new menu to the old Documents menu, hide the old one by following the steps in "Take Charge of Your Runaway Start Menu" above.
Windows XP Professional Edition's Group Policy utility makes it easy to increase the size of the My Recent Documents menu. Choose Start, Run, type gpedit.msc, and press Enter to open Group Policy. In the left pane, select User Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, Windows Explorer. Double-click Maximum number of recent documents in the right pane and select Enabled under the Setting tab. Increase the maximum number of recent documents to a number above 15. The menu will show only the 10 most recent files of any file type--for example, 10.doc (Word) files--an improvement, nevertheless.
Windows Toolbox: Get the Big Picture With XFilesDialog
Recent versions of Windows let you resize your Open, Save, Save As, and other file dialog boxes, and change the list's view to large icons, small icons, details, and so on. But none of your changes will persist, so you're forced to click here or drag there every time you open a dialog box just to get the view you want. The XFilesDialog utility solves this problem, making the file dialog boxes in all applications (except Microsoft Office, which never conforms to Windows standards anyway) look the way you want, complete with your preferred sort order and even a pop-up menu of recently used documents. All for only $15 (I'm in love)! Download a trial version from our Downloads page, or from the program's creator.