More Start menu fine-tuning: Choosing a better representative for a frequently-run program


If you paid really close attention to the way a representative shortcut is selected for a program, you may have noticed a problem with it. Here's the rule again:

If there are multiple shortcuts to the same program, then the most-frequently-used shortcut is selected as the one to appear on the front page of the Start menu.

Suppose there are two shortcuts to Notepad on the All Programs section of the Start menu, one is the standard Notepad shortcut that comes with Windows, and the other is a shortcut whose command line is notepad.exe C:\Program Files\LitWare Inc\Release Notes.txt. Now suppose the user opens a text document on the desktop. Notepad runs, it "earns a point", and suppose that this gives Notepad enough points to appear on the front page of the Start menu. Which Notepad shortcut do we show?

According to the rule stated above, we will choose either the standard Notepad shortcut or the LitWare Release Notes shortcut, depending on which one you've run most frequently. If it's the latter, then you'll have the puzzling result that opening a text document on the desktop causes the LitWare Release Notes shortcut to show up on the front page of the Start menu. It's perfectly logical and completely baffling at the same time.

In Windows Vista, another tweak was added to the algorithm by which a shortcut is chosen to represent a program on the front page of the Start menu: If the user hasn't run any of a program's shortcuts from the Start menu, a shortcut that doesn't have any command line parameters is preferred over one that does.

This tweak causes the Start menu to favor the standard Notepad shortcut over the LitWare Release Notes shortcut. It also means that, for example, a shortcut to Litware.exe is preferred over a shortcut of the form Litware.exe -update.

Note: I was not present at the Windows Vista Start menu design meetings, so I have no insight into the rationale behind its design. Sorry.

Comments (10)
  1. Dan McCarty says:

    Raymond, quoting an earlier post: “If there are multiple shortcuts to the same program, then the most-frequently-used shortcut is selected”

    Raymond, today: “we will choose either the standard Notepad shortcut or the LitWare Release Notes shortcut, depending on which one you’ve run most recently.”

    In my mind there’s a difference between “most-frequently-used” and “most recently [used].”  One is not necessarily the other.  You could’ve run Notepad 500 times but the Litware version was the one that pushed it over the top.  That doesn’t make it the MFU shortcut, does it?

    (Sorry for asking a question, I probably just canceled the whole series.)

    [Corrected. Actually, since points also fade over time, a more accurate description would be “most frequently recently”, but that’s pretty unwieldy, and as you’ve noticed, I’ve been inconsistent in how I abbreviate it. -Raymond]
  2. Rick C says:

    Given that he’s said "most frequently" repeatedly now, I suspect "recently" was a mistake on his part this time, so I assumed that’s what he meant.

  3. Tim Smith says:

    This answers the question of why, for the longest time, I had SourceSafe release notes in my start menu.  Now I have "Reporting System Release Notes".

    LOL.

    When good algorithms go bad.

  4. oliver says:

    Another reason why Opera shouldn’t use command line parameters to set important options (like "-notrayicon" :)

  5. Wolf Logan says:

    Oddly, I think my brain inserted a comma, so I read "depending on which one you’ve run most, recently" (that is, which one has been run the most, in recent days). Apparently that was the "correct" reading, so I guess it was all for the best.

    English is a wonderful language.

  6. Mike C says:

    I’ve had that Notepad "bug" happen to my start menu, and found it confusing.  The new rules seem quite logical to me.

  7. GregM says:

    Wolf, you’re not alone, I read it the same way, and even considered posting that, but I figured I’d just let Raymond clarify what he meant.

  8. al says:

    This whole thing is ridiculous.  How many man hours were spent designing, coding and testing this feature which is (a) impossible to get right, as your tale of escalating hacks shows (b) pretty useless anyway

  9. Drak says:

    @Al: the feature is definitely not useless. I had a computer yesterday of which the owner claimed Word had disappeared. What had happened was that is was no longer on the start menu.

    This user depended on that ‘useless’ feature to do all his PC work.

    By the way Raymond will the series cover what happens when the dektop wizard cleans up unused icons?

  10. James Green says:

    So what effect does the "Remove from this list" context menu item have?

    Does it reset the counter to 0 for that program?  or just enough to get it off the "hit list"?

    I haven’t been able to see a pattern…

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