Why is there no programmatic access to the Start menu pin list?


We learned our lesson the hard way.

In Windows 95, we gave programmatic access to the Start menu "Fast items" list - the items that appear at the top of the Start menu above the Programs list. This area was meant for the user to customize with their favorite links, but programs quickly saw the opportunity and spammed themselves into it every chance they got.

In IE, we gave programmatic access to the Favorites menu, and once again, programs spammed themselves into it.

In Windows XP we intentionally did not give programmatic access to the bold list of items at the top of the Start menu (the "pin list"). The pin list is for users to put their favorite icons. It is not the place for a program to decide unilaterally, "I am so cool. I am your favorite icon. I just know it. So I'll put myself there because, well, I'm so cool."

Because we knew that the moment we let people mess with the pin list, everybody would install themselves into it and it would become meaningless (and annoying).

What's particularly galling are the programs that, as part of their install, decide that they are so cool they want to be everywhere to make sure you don't miss out on the coolest most amazing program ever written in the history of mankind, so they go into the Start menu, into the Fast items, onto the desktop, into the Quick Launch, onto your Favorites, take over as your default autoplay handler, and even hang out as an icon next to the clock on the taskbar just in case you somehow missed all those other places - and each time you run them, they go and recreate those icons and settings in case you "accidentally lost them".

I hate those programs.

Comments (49)
  1. Anonymous says:

    i wondeR who hE’s tALking about?

  2. Anonymous says:

    RealPlayer is one of the owrst offenders in this regard. I won’t install it anymore for this very reason.

  3. Anonymous says:

    That sort of thing drives me nuts. The protection should be enabled on EVERYTHING. No program should be allowed to put itself anywhere OTHER than the start menu (and not in "startup" either) without my explicit permission. I don’t want anything in my systray except volume control. I don’t want anything on my desktop that I don’t put there. I don’t want anything in quicklaunch because *I* should be the one to decide which things I want to launch quickly.

    If the windows team saw all this abuse as far back as windows 95, why didn’t they take a more serious action other than just preventing it from the start menu? Make that protection system wide!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Because, by then, it had already happened. There was no oppertunity to remove that access without breaking setup programs. Also, vendors who already used this functionality would bitch and complain about it being removed.

    BTW Raymond, your not 100% accurate saying that there is no programatic access to the Pinned items – if you change the default Web Browser or Mail client the changes are relfected there.

    Also, therei s *some* sort of programatic access to the "most used items" because XP By default rams applications up there that take ages to fall down. Which is a wee bit naughty. I dont know if Real et al stuffs them in there since I refuse to use that evil software

  5. Anonymous says:

    Real can be bad but you CAN get it off all those places. I have it installed and it’s only one place, in the start menu -> programs. There are options in the installer to not install it most of those other places and once installed there are options to get it off the taskbar AND out of quick launch.

    Now, what I really wish was that the Start Menu was indirected so that no matter where I moved a folder or icon in Programs, when I uninstalled the software it would know how to delete its crap. On top of that, when I re-installed or installed a new version it would know where I had moved its folder inside Start->Programs folder.

    My programs menu is TOO BIG so I need to sort things into sub folders like "crap". (stuff I will almost never manually pick) "development" more stuff I will almost never pick like SDK shortcuts, etc.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Uh oh, Saberworks used the term ‘systray’!

    Raymond, have you told everyone your story about systray yet?

  7. Anonymous says:

    To tell the story about "systray" properly I need to be able to upload a picture, but I’m not set up to do that, so it’ll have to wait until I figure out how it’s done.

  8. Anonymous says:

    please do! I am very curious to hear more about the dreaded systray. :-)

  9. Anonymous says:

    I remember a while back, on Win98, I used tweakUI to move the "startup" folder into c:windowsstartup so it wasn’t cluttering my start menu anymore. It always amused me when a program created a "startup" directory in the start menu in the futile hope that their program would be run.

    Of course, some programs were smart enough to use the appropriate function to find out *where* the "startup" directory was – but a surprising number weren’t.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Zorba raises an interesting point here. Raymond, maybe you could do a post about the evolution of "special location APIs" (GetWindowsDirectory, GetSystemDirectory,SHGetFolderPath). Maybe include the NT Environment variables which provide some of this info, too.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Even worse are programs that draw their own menus, buttons etc. They decide that standard windows controls are not cool enough.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes you have to make stuff owner-drawn. The customer wants it to look and act just like the latest Windows or Office version. There’s no standard API to draw things that way, so you have to do some owner-drawing.

    The problem is that those self-important programmers ruin things for the rest of us. At some point, the folks on the windows team opted to prevent us garden-variety windows programmers from popping up windows unless it was in the same task.

    Which provoked some programming difficulty for the product I work on, where we want to send a message up to the server to pop up a window and have a window in a seperate executable be brought to the top. But all that happens is that the window we want is just flashing in the taskbar.

    It’s the revenge factor. Anything will be used against us somehow. Every "rich" feature of email applications, save plain text, has been used to spam, invade our privacy, or be obnoxious in general.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I caught it in the act while recording an installation with Wininstall LE: Real works ALL THE TIME, writing some stuff on "Application Data" folder even thought it was not started or listed on Task Manager. So I found an alternative, Media Player Classic. Just do a Google on "real player alternative" – I believe there is some kind of ilegallity here, because it uses most of the dll’s from the real Real.
    Another place that fell in the hands of the barbarians is the "Tools" menu on IE and most uninstallers do not bother to clean it. …And yet another barbarian that is setting a shortcut there is Yahoo IM.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Raymond, can you tell us a story about why Office-style GUI is unavailable for the rest of developers?
    Moreover, I saw the screenshots of Longhorn, it uses really cool GUI. Will this GUI will also available for the rest of developers too?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Doesn’t Microsoft Office install icons to the start menu too?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like he’s talking about Outlook.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m talking about office. It adds a "New office document" shortcut (or something like that)

  18. Anonymous says:

    Office is not part of Windows. They like to design their own UI elements because they want to look cool and different. If you want Office-style UI, you’ll have to get it from the Office folks or write your own version. In the same way that if you want Lotus 1-2-3-style UI, you’ll have to get it from the Lotus 1-2-3 folks or write your own version. (Personally, I’m glad the Office folks abandoned the "drawing the Microsoft logo in the title bar" feature.)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great rant! AOL IM is the worst in this regard. Shortcuts everywhere and they add shortcuts to other AOL properties while they’re at it. When ever you upgrade the client, the madness starts all over again. I am convinced a cottage industry of apps that keep the AOL icons out of your computer could be successful.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Ditto to Donald Kackman about ReallPlayer.

    GMan – Real wasnt that flexible at some point in the past, so I even had to do a surgery to remove that thing from the systray…

  21. Anonymous says:

    A good decision by Microsoft.

    This blog is absolutely fascinating, I love it! :-)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the answer, Raymond.
    What’s the story about ‘Microsoft logo in the title bar’?

  23. Anonymous says:

    "I hate those programs. "

    *COUGH*Windows Media Player*COUGH*

    :)

    Bob

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ahh, remembered that! :))

  25. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if anyone has ever seen the ol’ Outlook Express reappearing icons trick? (try upgrading IE – even if you are using Outlook 2K, XP etc). Funny how the IEAK was the only way you could get rid of the little buggers :p

  26. Anonymous says:

    Great Article, Great blog – I will be coming back.

    My personal peeve is the way Office puts ‘new document’ and ‘open document’ shortcuts in the all programs area. If you delete them you get nagged to re-insert the original CD to re-install them. Anyway what is the point of their existance? are we unable to open explorer? are we incapable of useing file.New inside word? death to bloat.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Here here! Fortunately some programs now give you an option on install on where you want stuff to appear.

    And as others have noticed, Microsoft has abused the system just as much as everyone else – take Office, IE, WMP, OE, Windows Messenger…

  28. Anonymous says:

    The good thing about Microsoft removing "features" like this is that you can honestly say to management that it can’t be done.

    When you can only say it’s "bad form" or not recommended, they say "it’s cool" or "Real does it!".

    Obviously the best possibility would be for Microsoft to publish its usability lab findings so we can point at something that explains why some "cool" things are not so good…

    Your blog is a good start anyway…

  29. Anonymous says:

    For those in the mass image cloning world this enhancement causes somewhat of a headache. You can add as many "Pin to Start Menu " links as you wish when you create a master (sysprep) image and all new user profiles created get all the goodies. When an Icon is no longer required in the "Start to Pin Menu", just try and remove them globally… So much for design. Is there an easy way to remove via a software pack distribution using some unknown tool or procedure. While looking in the Registry (HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerStartPageFavorites), I can locate the link in a REG_BINARY stored value. in order to modify or alter this on a global scale is next to impossible. Some users might have 3,4 or 5 etc links, making hard to edit/change/purge any specific value.

  30. Anonymous says:

    After running a Microsoft Money 2003 update from the internet, part of it’s routine checking for patches, etc., I noticed two new desktop icons to finanical instutions. I keep a clean system with very little software, so I’m pretty certain these were added via Money’s update feature. Bad, bad, bad software!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Cloner!!! I’ve been hunting down that bloody reg key for hours! If I can’t modify the pinned lists on my users’ systems, at least now I can clear them out by deleting the binary value…

  32. Anonymous says:

    i want to learn how can i program start menu, with using vbscript. for example, how can i set small icons in start menu with programming.

  33. Anonymous says:

    That’s a user setting. Programs shouldn’t be messing with it.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Use SHAppBarMessage

  35. Anonymous says:

    It didn’t forget them; it’s just double-checking with you.

  36. Anonymous says:

    The power would be used for evil more often than for good.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Bad ideas that nevertheless came to fruition.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I attended Microsoft’s launch of their new operating system (Vista) and their new version of their Office suite (Office 2007), in the LA Convention Center. Both products look shiny. I had participated in the Office beta, and like what they…

  39. Anonymous says:

    And not just for novices.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I requested of both the SBS and EBS development teams for them to add back into their respective Start

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