by Jack Dunning
Starting with the introduction of Windows Vista I've heard complaints about the loss of the old Windows XP file tree in the Start Menu. When opening the default Start Menu in Windows Vista and Windows 7, "All Programs" opens folders in place without displaying the cascading folder/file tree structure. In Windows Vista you can return to the Classic XP style Start Menu through Properties, but that capability was lost in Windows 7. Furthermore, there is no Start Menu at all on the Taskbar in Windows 8, although it has return in Windows 10.
I like the Favorite Links section of the navigation pane of Windows File Explorer which was first introduced with Windows Vista. (Note: The name Windows Explorer was changed to File Explorer in Windows 8. To save (or cause) confusion I use the term Windows File Explorer which opens with +E in all versions of Windows.) I slip key editorial folders in and out of Favorite Links every week. However, it is fairly limited in space and only available when Windows File Explorer is open. What if there was an easy to access dropdown menu similar to the Windows' right-click menus which is always available, easy to use, organized by category, and tailored to open those folders, programs, and Web sites used most. ComputorEdge is now offering a free app which does just that (see Figure 1). This app might replace some of the inadequacies in the Windows Start Menu and the confusion create by loading the Taskbar with numerous (uncategorized) quick launch buttons.
Figure 1. QuickLinks is a Windows dropdown menu which can be tailored with categories of programs, Web pages, folders, and documents. Activated with WIN+Z or ALT+Comma (for left-handed people).
I'm sure that there are many such apps freely available for Windows computers, but this one was built for its simplicity, plus ease of setup and use. There is no installation program and it runs in all versions of Windows—including Windows 8 Desktop. Simply download it, extract it from the ZIP file, and double-click on the filename to load. More importantly, since I wrote it, so I know that there is nothing in it that will hurt your computer system.
Yes, I wrote the short script in AutoHotkey—my obsession—but you don't need to know anything about AutoHotkey. You don't have to install AutoHotkey on your computer or learn how to use AutoHotkey. The program is a compiled executable file (EXE) which will run without any other software or extensions. (For those of you who do want to know how it's done see Chapter Twenty-one of the book Digging Deeper Into AutoHotkey. Here's how QuickLinks.exe works. (The free download information is found at the end of this column.)
How the QuickLinks App Works
When QuickLinks.exe is run for the first time on a Windows computer (double-click the extracted QuickLinks.exe file name), it looks for a folder named QuickLinks in the individual user folder. If the QuickLinks folder is not found, the app automatically creates it. An icon composed of a green square with an H inside (for AutoHotkey, shown at left) will appear in the System Tray on the Taskbar. If you hover over the icon, you will see the name of the app. If you right-click on the System Tray icon, a menu with the options Suspend Hotkeys, Pause Script, and Exit will pop up. These options can be used to control the running of the AutoHotkey app.
To activate QuickLinks, hold down WIN+Z (+Z) or ALT+Comma (for left-handed mouse users). The QuickLinks menu will appear at the location of the mouse cursor, see Figure 2 (top). Initially, there are no categories (folders) shown in the QuickLinks folder. They must be added by the user. Click on Edit QuickLinks and the QuickLinks folder will open in Windows File Explorer, see Figure 2 (bottom).
Figure 2. The first QuickLinks menu (top) has no categories. Click Edit QuickLinks to open the QuickLinks folder (bottom).
Note for Windows 8 Users: The keyboard combination +Z is used in the Windows 8 Modern Start interface to open the Toolbar within apps and the Start screen. This hotkey for the Modern interface will be disabled if you run QuickLinks.exe. However, a right-click of the mouse has the exact same effect as +Z in the Modern interface and has the added advantage of selecting tiles at the same time. +Z and ALT+Comma (left hand mouse) were selected for their proximity and ease of use with a mouse—easy two-finger combination. If you like QuickLinks, but want to change the hotkeys, then you can recompile the source code (this week's AutoHotkey column) with different keyboard combinations. When activated, the QuickLinks menu always (and only) appears on the Desktop, even if activated when the Windows 8 Modern Start Screen is open.
Adding Categories to QuickLinks
In its current form, QuickLinks has two levels of functionality. The first is a collection of categories used to group the links based upon the user's preferences. Each category is a folder stored in the QuickLinks folder. To define a new category, merely create and label a folder with the desired category name within the QuickLinks folder. (While the QuickLinks folder is the active window in Windows File Explorer, right-click and select New => Folder to create a new folder—or press ALT, F, W, F in order. In Windows 7 and Windows 8, you can press the keyboard shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+N simultaneously to create a new folder.)
Note: While anything (folders, shortcuts, documents, etc.) can be placed in the QuickLinks folder, only folders, each of which represent a category, will be read by the QuickLinks app. The links themselves must be located within the individual category folders.
The second level of functionality in QuickLinks consists of the shortcuts located within the category folders. These shortcuts can be for anything acceptable to Windows File Explorer, including programs, Web site URLs, documents, folders, etc. Folders linked within a category folder will merely open the folder. For simplicity, this version of QuickLinks does not support multiple layers of categories (folders with folders of links—and so on).
After adding a new category folder to the QuickLinks folder, select Reload QuickLinks from the menu (+Z). This updates the menu with any changes. The next time the QuickLinks menu is activated (+Z), the new category will appear, as shown in Figure 3 (top). Since there are currently no shortcuts in the new category, the menu item is an active link for opening the category folder. One click and that folder opens in Windows File Explorer, see Figure 3 (bottom).
Figure 3. After reloading the QuickLinks menu, the new folder (Web Browser) appears (top). Click on an empty category and the folder opens in Windows File Explorer (bottom).
Adding Shortcuts to QuickLinks Categories
While it is possible to add any type of Windows file to a category folder, it's recommended that only shortcuts be used. QuickLinks is designed merely as quick access to anything the user desires, not a repository for programs, files, folders and other data of a more permanent nature. If programs, documents, and such are placed in a category folder, they will open in the same manner as a link, however, once it is no longer relevant for QuickLinks uses, the user will need to be careful to move it to a more appropriate place. Otherwise it will continue to appear in the QuickLinks menu until it is moved or deleted. If you delete it, the program or file is sent to the Recycle Bin. Yet, when an obsolete shortcut is deleted, the original folder, program, or file is not affected.
There are a number of ways to add shortcuts to the category folders. Some of the easiest are by dragging an icon from one location to the category folder opened in Windows File Explorer. The hotkey for creating a shortcut for a folder or file is to hold down CTRL+SHIFT while dragging the icon to the new location. However, this can be a bit tricky if you forget to use the key combination or use the wrong combination (CTRL for move). I prefer to use a systematic approach creating shortcuts which doesn't run the risk of disappearing a program file or folder into some unknown folder because the mouse or a key slipped. Plus, the following technique works equally as well for Web site shortcuts.
The first step is to find the program, file, or folder, right-click on the file name and select Create Shortcut. Once there is a shortcut available in Windows File Explorer it can be either copied and pasted or dragged directly to the category folder. If the shortcut is needed at its current location, copy it rather than dragging. If this is the case, then you're done and reloading QuickLinks will update the +Z menu.
If you are looking at replicating a shortcut on the Start Menu, the Taskbar, or the Desktop, then right-click and select Properties. The Properties window will open, as shown in Figure 4. (If the shortcut is on the Taskbar in Windows 7 or Windows 8, hold down the SHIFT key, right-click and select Properties.) Select the Target path (highlight by clicking at the beginning of the path, holding the left mouse button, and dragging to the end) and copy it (CTRL+C or right-click => Copy). This is the program or file path used when creating a new shortcut in the QuickLinks category folder.
Figure 4. The Shortcut tab in the Properties window of any shortcut shows the Target path needed to create a new shortcut for a program or file. Copy this path before returning to the QuickLinks category folder in Windows File Explorer.
Note: When adding Web pages to QuickLinks open the target Web page in any browser and copy (CTRL+C) the selected (highlighted) URL located in the browser's navigation field. The following techniques for creating shortcuts work equally as well for Web page shortcuts when substituting the URL for the target path.
To create the new shortcut, return to the QuickLinks category folder in Windows File Explorer, right-click in the main file area and select New => Shortcut from the menu (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Right-click in the main file area of the QuickLinks category folder in Windows File Explorer, then select New => Shortcut from the menu. The Create Shortcut dialog will open.
An alternative method for opening the same Create Shortcut dialog is to press the keys ALT, F, W, S successively.
Paste the copied file path (URL for Web pages) into the "Type the location of the item:" field as shown in Figure 6, then click Next.
Figure 6. Paste (CTRL+V) or type the target file path or Web page URL in the location field.
In the next window, type the name you want assigned to the new shortcut (see Figure 7). This is the name which will appear in the QuickLinks menu. Clicking Finish creates the shortcut.
Figure 7. Type the name you want assigned to the new shortcut, then click Finish.
The QuickLinks menu does not update until the script is reloaded. Activate the menu (+Z), then select Reload QuickLinks, as shown in Figure 8 (left). On the next +Z, hovering over the recently changed category folder displays the new addition(s). See Figure 8 (right).
Figure 8. Reloading the QuickLinks menu (left) causes the empty category folder link to change to a menu (right).
Continue this process of adding category folders and shortcuts within each folder, until you're satisfied with your QuickLinks pop-up menu. The top level QuickLinks folder can always be opened with Edit QuickLinks option. Figure 9 shows my personal QuickLinks folder in its current state. Each category folder has at least one shortcut within it.
Figure 9. The QuickLinks folder open is Windows File Explorer showing the category folders.
When the QuickLinks menu is activated on my computer the links display as shown in Figure 10 (two examples shown). The QuickLinks Help option (circled in red in the bottom example) takes the user to this Web column—since it is the most extensive (and only) how-to on the topic.
Figure 10. Two examples of Jack's personal QuickLinks menu.
You'll note that the link names in the category show the extensions (".url" for Web links, ".lnk" for regular shortcuts). While I could have written code to avoid displaying these extensions, for the sake of simplicity and the function of the AutoHotkey Menu tool, I left it as is.
Downloading and Installing QuickLinks
If QuickLinks sounds like an app that might be useful to you, then you can download it a ZIP file QuickLinks.zip free directly from my Dropbox account or from the ComputorEdge AutoHotkey App Dropbox page. You will need to save the ZIP file to your computer. (You will probably gets warning about the file coming from an unknown source. Don't worry, it's safe.) The program (EXE) file is compressed in a ZIP file and needs to be extracted. Open the ZIP folder (double click on QuickLinks.zip) to view the compressed the EXE file. To extract the QuickLinks.exe file from the ZIP folder either click "Extract all files" at the top or right-click and select "Extract All..." from the menu. See Figure 11. Save to a new or chosen folder.
Figure 11. To extract the QuickLinks.exe file from the ZIP folder either click "Extra all files" at the top or right-click and select "Extract All..." from the menu.
Once QuickLinks.exe is extracted, in the new location double-click or right-click => Open to run the QuickLinks.exe file. The first time you run the program, since your computer doesn't know me, you will most likely get another warning from your security software. It's safe to run (as long as you get the app directly from my link and not some unknown source).
If you would like the QuickLinks app to run every time you use your computer, Run "shell:startup" to open the Startup folder and place the QuickLinks.exe file or a shortcut inside.
I'm not doing this as part of a software business. It is merely a sample app of one of the many things that AutoHotkey can do. If you would like to look at QuickLinks.exe's inner workings, then check out Chapter Twenty-one of the book Digging Deeper Into AutoHotkey. It is a fairly short, easily modified script. I also offer ideas on how to make it multi-layered, but that gets a little nerdy. If you find any bugs (always possible in new apps), please let me know right away.
If you like QuickLinks, please share it with your friends.
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See this introduction and overview AutoHotkey Tricks You Ought To Do With Windows! This e-book includes both those tips and the reference material (Table of Contents and indexes) from the other four AutoHotkey books. Pick up a 99¢ copy and share it with your friends.
* * *The third edition with more chapters and an index to the AutoHotkey commands found in the book is available in e-book format from Amazon (and other formats—EPUB and PDF— at the ComputorEdgeBooks Web site linked below). Jack's A Beginner's Guide to AutoHotkey, Absolutely the Best Free Windows Utility Software Ever!: Create Power Tools for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 (preferred, EPUB format for iPad, Android, and computers; MOBI for Amazon Kindle; and PDF for printing) offers a gentle approach to learning AutoHotkey. (Also available from Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle software on other devices.)
Building Power Tools for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, AutoHotkey is the most powerful, flexible, free Windows utility software available. Anyone can instantly add more of the functions that they want in all of their Windows programs, whether installed on their computer or while working on the Web. AutoHotkey has a universality not found in any other Windows utility—free or paid.
Based upon the series of articles in ComputorEdge, Jack takes you through his learning experience as he explores writing simple AutoHotkey scripts for adding repetitive text in any program or on the Web, running programs with special hotkeys or gadgets, manipulating the size and screen location of windows, making any window always-on-top, copying and moving files, and much more. Each chapter builds on the previous chapters.
For an EPUB (iPad, NOOK, etc.) version of A Beginner's Guide to AutoHotkey click here!
For a PDF version for printing on letter size paper for inclusion in a standard notebook of A Beginner's Guide to AutoHotkey click here!
* * *
Jack's second AutoHotkey book, Digging Deeper Into AutoHotkey (preferred, EPUB format for iPad, Android, and computers; MOBI for Amazon Kindle; and PDF for printing) is comprised of updated, reorganized and indexed columns from ComputorEdge is now available. Since the columns were not all written in a linear fashion, the book has been reorganized and broken up into parts by topic. The book is not for the complete beginner since it builds on the information in A Beginner's Guide to AutoHotkey. However, if a person is reasonably computer literate, they could go directly to this book for ideas and techniques without the first book. (Also available from Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle software on other devices.)
For an EPUB (iPad, NOOK, etc.) version of Digging Deeper into AutoHotkey click here!
For a PDF version for printing on letter size paper for inclusion in a standard notebook of Digging Deeper into AutoHotkey click here!
* * *
Jack's third AutoHotkey book AutoHotkey Applications (preferred, EPUB format for iPad, Android, and computers; MOBI for Amazon Kindle; and PDF for printing) is an intermediate level book of ideas and applications based primarily on the AutoHotkey GUI command. The book emphasizes practical applications. The book is not for the complete beginner since it builds on the information in the other two books. However, if a person is reasonably computer literate, they could go directly to this book for ideas and techniques without the other books. There is an extensive index to the ideas and techniques covered in the back of the book. (Also available from Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle software on other devices.)
For an EPUB (iPad, NOOK, etc.) version of AutoHotkey Applications click here!
For a PDF version for printing on letter size paper for inclusion in a standard notebook of AutoHotkey Applications click here!
This Beginner's Guide to Using Regular Expressions in AutoHotkey is not a beginning level AutoHotkey book, but an introduction to using Regular Expressions in AutoHotkey (or most other programming languages). To get the most from this book you should already have a basic understanding of AutoHotkey (or another programming language). Regular Expressions (RegEx) are a powerful way to search and alter documents without the limitations of most of the standard matching functions. At first, the use of RegEx can be confusing and mysterious. This book clears up the confusion with easy analogies for understanding how RegEx works and examples of practical AutoHotkey applications. "Regular Expressions in AutoHotkey" will take you to the next level in AutoHotkey scripting while adding more flexibility and power to your Windows apps. (This book is also available at Amazon.com)