The Desktop Is Not For Programs


I’m constantly amazed that people think that putting shortcuts to programs on the desktop makes accessing that program "easier".

For the second time in about a week, I’ve encountered people asking how to put shortcuts to programs on the desktop. 

The desktop is ill-suited for this. To start with, items located on it are often not visible because other windows are placed in front of the desktop.  Depending on the current window layout, you might have to make one or more mouse or keyboard operations to select the desktop item you want. 

To make matters worse, the location of the items will shift positions as screen resolutions change (because of games, connecting monitors, etc.) and items are added.

While oftentimes commercial software will litter the desktop with shortcuts, the purpose is to increase visibility, not ease of use.

Why not use the Start Menu? If WordPad is a program you use often, just "Pin" it to the Start Menu and it’ll always be there, available in less keystrokes than trying to use it off the desktop.

If you really want quick access, pin the item to the Start Menu and then modify the item’s properties to have a shortcut key assigned. Only items in the Start Menu can have shortcut keys assigned to them.

Update 9/4/2007: My bad, shortcut keys can be assigned to shortcut file that are located on the desktop.  My initial test of this failed, and since I knew that only certain locations respect shortcut keys, I figured that the desktop was not one of them.  I’ll try to find a definitive list, but it appears that any of the Start Menu locations and the Desktop are valid places for a shortcut file to have a shortcut key assigned.  Interestingly, shortcut keys for items in the Quick Launch toolbar location are not respected.

Comments (6)

  1. Daniel Smith says:

    This is pet hate of mine too!  I always delete shortcuts from the desktop of my parents’ machine as they inevitably end up moaning that they’re not able to get to them when other windows are open.  Best to not let them get in bad habbits in the first place!

  2. I support thousands of users — and nobody works in the same way. Some users like using the right mouse button, some like keyboard shortcuts, others the File Pull-Down menu. Thankfully, Windows give you many ways to do the "same thing"

    So is it "wrong" for a user to prefer Desktop Icons? Nope. That’s why it’s called a "personal" computer — people can work the way they wish to.

    Blake Handler

    Microsoft MVP

    http://bhandler.spaces.live.com

  3. doughlaundry says:

    All these users huh? Doing their own thing!

    Maybe obfuscation is the problem. If I can SEE the application, I can launch it.

  4. Utilizzare il desktop in modo intelligente

  5. MSDN Archive says:

    To be clear, I’m not saying it’s "wrong" to put shortcuts to applications on the desktop.  However, if you think it is an easier way to launch an application, then I disagree.


    Kevin Flynn: Who’s that?

    Warrior #1: That’s Tron. He fights for the Users.

  6. Keith Herold says:

    You could put them on the quick launch bar, rather than pinned in start.  I put most of my frequent stuff there, and use the desktop to store temporary files I’m working with.  By def, I can just delete every icon on the desktop periodically (CTRL+A, DEL) and not risk anything :).