Why did Explorer say "The target you specified is on the desktop"?


In Windows 95, if you had a shortcut to a file on the desktop, view the shortcut's properties, and then clicked "Find Target", you got the message "The target you specified is on the desktop". It also selected the item on the desktop to help you find it.

But why didn't it just open an Explorer window that viewed the desktop?

Because in Windows 95, you couldn't display the desktop in an Explorer window. The only way to see the desktop was to minimize all your application windows. There wasn't a "Show Desktop" button in Windows 95 either. Therefore, the shortcut property sheet did as much as it could: It highlighted the item on the desktop, but it couldn't open Explorer or show the desktop. Instead, it just told you "Hey, it's on your desktop," with an implied, "I took you as far as I could, sorry."

Fortunately, the inability to show the desktop in an Explorer window was removed in later versions of Windows, and the strange dialog box disappeared as well.

Comments (34)
  1. Spire says:

    Interesting.

    Although it wasn’t possible to show the logical Desktop folder in an Explorer window in Windows 95, it was still possible to show the physical folder that holds much of of the Desktop’s contents (i.e., "%windir%Desktop"). Right?

  2. I always find it quite odd that the shortcut properties window has a Find Target window that opens an explorer view of the container of the shortcut target, but there’s no simple Browse button to select a new target! Instead, you have to manually copy/paste and type a new target location.

  3. davkean says:

    You can still see this dialog (or a similar dialog) in Windows XP (well IE6 to be precise). Simply download a file to your desktop and then choose Open Folder. The most frustrating dialog I’ve ever encountered.

    I’ve noticed, however, that they have fixed this in IE7.

  4. JC says:

    Thanks… wondered about that…

  5. Nish says:

    > You can still see this dialog (or a similar dialog) in Windows XP (well IE6 to be precise). Simply download a file to your desktop and then choose Open Folder. The most frustrating dialog I’ve ever encountered. <<

    Couldn’t agree more. That’s reason enough to upgrade to IE7.

  6. Skip says:

    Oh, that’s fixed in IE7?  I hadn’t noticed, but it certainly was annoying in 6.   Now if they could just fix IE7 to let me once again open FTP explorer windows directly again, I’d be happy.

    [Sorry, that ain’t coming back. You have the United States government to thank. -Raymond]
  7. waleri says:

    Huh, what’s with the US government and the FTP?

    [I am not a lawyer. Please consult one when reading the consent decree. -Raymond]
  8. Dena Earley says:

    Does anyone have a link or reference to this for the US impaired people? (namely the rest of the world…)

  9. bw says:

    thats why i didnt use IE6, it was just dumb, i hope you didnt invent this "feature" ;)

  10. Dord says:

    Bundled software is nice and all but it’s kind of weird that the web browser and media player and whatnot are so integrated into the system that you can’t even remove them if you want to. Your arguments still hold water but it smells kinda funny to me is all.

  11. James says:

    Actually, I’ve seen that error (or a close relative of it) a couple of times recently on Windows XP (Pro, SP2) when clicking on items on the Start menu. (Infuriating, really: to run applications, I had to launch Task Manager and reach the Run dialog through its menu instead!)

    Skip: Just put the ftp: URL into an Explorer window rather than an IE one!

    Nick: I’m no fan of the EU in general, but the idea of trying to make MS document some more of the protocols and interfaces rather than exploit them to shut competitors out seems more than reasonable. Unbundling IE and Media Player would have been nice too, IMO; the whole "cut off Netscape’s air supply" episode should have meant jail time for somebody.

  12. Matt says:

    James, you’re full of it.

    IE overtook Netscape because it was clearly the superior browser by version 4. Simple as that. No MS jiggery pokery at all. (And for years before that IE was the browser dealing with Netscape specific sites – oddly enough MS decided to make IE compatible with Netscape extensions instead of polluting the internet with moaning about how unfair the Netscape extensions/incompatibilities were. That tactic worked and it’s a shame some OSS advocates don’t direct their energies towards improving their products in the same way instead of moaning about other’s.)

    The same happened with media player. People decided they’d rather a player that didn’t pollute their system by throwing ads around and slowing it down.

    People have decided exactly how appealing an OS without Media Player is – next to noone buys it. And I bet the same would happen if they unbundled IE. People expect browsing,HTML rendering and media playing facilities in their OS so MS supply it (as do all client focused open source OS’s.)

  13. Shog9 says:

    Ha! That’s one of my favorite (meaning: most likely to result in physical damage to me or something near me as i flail my arms in a furious but utterly futile display of rage) messages.

    And, i didn’t remember it at all from Win95… but I switched from Netscape to IE sometime in ’99, and that message chafed me for the next five years…

  14. Velocity says:

    The antitrust case that was first filed in 1998 wasn’t "asinine", and the DOJ definitely isn’t a "bunch of fools". It’s easy to use a 2007 perspective with respect to the antitrust prosecution, which probably wouldn’t be filed today in the US. In 1998, there was ample evidence with which to prosecute Microsoft and its practices when selling operating system software. Today, all OS’s (Windows, Mac, Linux) include more features than ever, and there are more and better choices of OS’s today than ever. However, this wasn’t the situation in 1998 – Apple wasn’t producing the competitive hardware it is today, and there were a fraction of the number of the Linux distros back then that there are today. When the lawsuit was filed, in 1998, the personal computer world did not consist of iLife, Ubuntu, and Writely – it was 90%+ Windows 9x and Office 9x. This was because Microsoft violated antitrust laws to create that world – if not, why did they settle with the DOJ and 19 states?

    But I propose there is a "new Microsoft" – Media Center Edition and Live Local are the "best of breed" in their classes, IMO.

  15. Norman Diamond says:

    Because in Windows 95, you couldn’t display

    the desktop in an Explorer window.

    That changed when Internet Explorer 4 was installed, right?

    I am not a lawyer. Please consult one when

    reading the consent decree.

    And when reading testimony saying that Internet Explorer was a crucial part of Windows 95?

  16. Kuwanger says:

    @Matt:  Funny how MS would invest so many resources into something that would never directly make them a profit.  Perhaps IE and WMP are both a symptom of MS wanting absolute control over those things that it recognizes need to be packaged and improved at its discretion.  And perhaps some of don’t fit inside of MS’s schedule for improvements.

  17. Badri says:

    Regarding the explorer ftp, in vista i noticed that if you use a ftp url in explorer you get the nice view, and if you use in IE then you get the crappy view. I don’t know if IE7/WXP do the same

  18. Nick says:

    Regarding FTP:

    I believe Raymond is referring to the anti-trust investigation that the Feds launched against Microsoft.  I certainly don’t know all the details, but I part of it came down to bundled features.

    I think the most of the case was asinine. People were so very upset that Windows came bundled with things like a web browser and a media player. Then they were upset when it seemed that you could not remove said browser and player because the OS requires them to fully function. Ignore the fact that you can install whatever software you want, and make it the default handler for whatever files you want and that you never even need to touch the bundled software.

    Yes, there were also issues with business practices, but at the end of the day I think it’s completely idiotic that good features had to be removed to satisfy a bunch of fools.  People *expect* an OS to include a web browser.  People *expect* an OS to include a media player.  Windows, OSX, Linux distros, they all do, but Microsoft gets hit because they’re the biggest. Stupid.

    If you care, more details here: http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/ms_index.htm

    Then there’s the bit with the EU. Talk about a bunch of fools–they define the term.

  19. The N in Windows says:

    > People have decided exactly how appealing an OS without Media Player is

    False. The problem is bundled systems with Windows N are almost impossible to find, not to mention most of the people don’t know it has been released.

    The EU got it wrong anyway. They should have made mandatory to remove in all versions. Offer a download for people who want it.

    Anyway, I hate WMP probably more than anyone else. But I will not buy another copy of XP just to have it removed. Nor will I accept 15 days of delay just to order OEM with a different version.

    That said, the FTP argument is quite curious – it’s definetely not the root of the IE problem (heck most people don’t even know IE has that capability and almost anyone with heavy FTP needs uses Filezilla, WSFTP or other clients anyway).

  20. Drak says:

    Quote:

    The EU got it wrong anyway. They should have made mandatory to remove in all versions. Offer a download for people who want it.

    Okay.. so how am I supposed to download anything without a webbrowser built into my OS or another computer and an USB stick near me?

    I personally don’t use IE at home, but I am very glad it’s still in there when I go to fix other peoples computers and need to get my hands on drivers or FAQs.

  21. The N in Windows says:

    > Okay.. so how am I supposed to download anything without a webbrowser built into my OS or another computer and an USB stick near me?

    The UE mandated over the Media Player thing. Nothing to do with browsers.

    That said you could still provide a link on the desktop to wget or ftp.

  22. Chris Becke says:

    By Norman Diamond:

    > Because in Windows 95, you couldn’t display

    > the desktop in an Explorer window.

    That changed when Internet Explorer 4 was >installed, right?

    I think the problem with displaying the desktop has always been theres no way to construct a pidl to the desktop.

  23. Luke Breuer says:

    Are you sure this dialog went away completely?  I just encountered something very close to it for the first time, yesterday, on XP Pro SP2.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact context.

    [I will leave this for the nitpick patrol. -Raymond]
  24. James says:

    Drak: Most copies are OEM preinstalled, in which case the OEM could install their own choice of browser, and/or supply it on CD. Home users could have grabbed it from pretty much any magazine cover CD, or command-line FTP, or whatever else they felt like; if you’re procuring and supplying your own OS, doing the same for the browser shouldn’t be a problem.

    Apart from anything else, we *did* do precisely that with Windows 95 and earlier, so it’s hardly prohibitive!

    N is right: there are reasons you *prohibit* bundling where it’s been abused like this. The US figured it out decades ago with AT&T and long distance service; it’s sad the EU failed to learn or apply that lesson.

    Matt’s kneejerk attack is quite comical, really; I suspect even the MS execs directly involved at the time would be amused to hear that they weren’t subsidising IE development (i.e. it created and distributed itself for free) or trying to hurt Netscape. Maybe that whole “cut off Netscape’s air supply” thing was about smothering Netscape with love, and all those silly judges need to get Matt to correct their misunderstanding of US law…

    Yes, RealPlayer was a pain and Netscape wasn’t great – but that completely misses the point. AT&T probably provided pretty good long distance service back when they were violating the same laws, too – but their actions to shut out competitors were still illegal!

    [Okay people that’s enough. This has gone off-topic long enough. Further comments on this topic will be deleted. Don’t get me fired. -Raymond]
  25. ikk says:

    Are you sure you couldn’t open an explorer window (or "my computer" window) for the desktop in Win95?

    My first computer had Win95 and i remember that, for the lack of a "Show Desktop" button, i learned that i could access the desktop from Explorer or My Computer (which is just a different view of Explorer). The desktop was the root of the folder tree, just like on WinXP…

  26. Norman Diamond says:

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007 10:28 AM by Chris Becke

    I think the problem with displaying the

    desktop has always been theres no way to

    construct a pidl to the desktop.

    What’s a pidl?

    (In my copy of MSDN, pidl isn’t indexed but IDL is indexed for a completely different kind of file.)

  27. Gabe says:

    From http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/05/06/CAtWork/default.aspx

    In case you don’t already know, PIDL (pronounced "piddle") is short for pointer-to-item-ID-list. The actual C type is LPITEMIDLIST, or LPCITEMIDLIST for the const variety. A PIDL is a byte string the shell uses to identify shell objects like files and folders, as well as pseudo-objects like My Computer or My Network Places. For ordinary files and folders, the bytes are the path name in Unicode, but for other objects the bytes are different so don’t rely on that.

  28. Miral says:

    For some reason I’m reminded of the dialog box you got when trying to navigate out of a "sandbox" folder (eg. when you asked to browse the start menu, it would open an Explorer window with the topmost folder being the Start menu, and it wouldn’t let you browse elsewhere in the filesystem).

    I don’t recall the exact text, but it was something along the lines of "This action could not be completed because this is a rooted Explorer."  Which was highly amusing because here in NZ (and probably Australia too), "rooted" in that context basically means "f**ked" or "broken".  The behaviour did eventually get changed, though :)

  29. Norman Diamond says:

    Thank you.  Now looking at the MSDN page for SHBrowseForFolder, even the MSDN Library calls the thing a PIDL.  If anyone in the MSDN team reads this, please add PIDL to the index.

  30. GregM says:

    Norman, not everything shows up in the index, but the search tab generally works to cover the cases when it doesn’t.  (That’s not to say the index can’t be improved.)  I checked the Oct 2004 MSDN that I have installed on my secondary machine, and putting in PIDL for the search gets me a definition from the #1 ranked hit.

  31. Neil says:

    C:WINDOWSEXPLORER.EXE /root,

    Works on my Windows 95, with no PIDLs in sight.

    You can also open it manually from a regular folder window if you turn the toolbar on.

    [Rooted explorers are weird. Don’t go there. -Raymond]
  32. Neil says:

    [Rooted explorers are weird. Don’t go there. -Raymond]

    Because I don’t specify a path, it doesn’t actually root  (interestingly on my installation of Windows 2000 it’s the equivalent of explorer C: again no root).

    [It’s still rooted. Just rooted on the desktop so it “looks” the same even though it isn’t. -Raymond]
  33. David Pritchard says:

    I use rooted explorer windows all the time. Why are they so weird?

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content