Why did the shortcut template change in Windows Vista?


Since Windows 95, when you right-dragged an item and selected "Create Shortcut", you got "Shortcut to X". But in Windows Vista, the name is now "X - Shortcut". Why is that?

Two reasons.

The first reason is globalization. The template "Shortcut to X" made X the object of a preposition. In some languages, this may require changes to X (for case) or to the word "to" (based on grammatical properties of X). Constructing sentences from phrases is a dangerous endeavor due to language issues like this, and the new formulation sidesteps the issue by not trying to make a phrase out of the result.

The second reason is sorting. With the new format, the shortcut sorts next to the original object, making it easier to find. (This is particularly helpful when you're in an auto-sort view. "Hey, where's that shortcut I just created? Oh well, I'll just make another one.")

Comments (50)
  1. Anonymous says:

    I prefer it because you just get to see more of the original name when it gets truncated on screen.

    Instead of "Shortcut to A long f…" you get "A long folk tale fro…" when the name is cut off. Much more readable.

  2. BryanK says:

    As opposed to sorting all of the "shortcut to X" items together, so the shortcuts are easier to find when you have a large list of both files and shortcuts.  (And when the shortcuts aren’t necessarily pointing to those particular files, but possibly random other files and/or folders, all strewn about the FS in random places.)

    I suppose that whether the shortcuts are now "easier to find" or not depends on what the average user does more often: do they create a shortcut inside the same folder as the source item, or do they drag items somewhere else to make shortcuts?  If the shortcut isn’t in the same place as the source item, then it won’t sort "next to" the original object no matter what you call it, because it’ll be in a different list.

    (Of course, the globalization / i18n reason is still valid regardless, so I do think it was a good decision.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Was the same thing done with "Copy of X"?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Briank: If you want to have the shortcuts together in a large list of files and shortcuts, you can sort the files by type. That way you have all the shortcuts together, not only the one beginning with "shortcut to".

  5. Anonymous says:

    Slightly off-topic I’ve always wondered why shortcuts to folders are treated as files when listing/sorting Explorer windows.

    Coming from a Mac background, that was really confusing to me… "ok, I get that it sorts folders first, then files, but how come Shortcut To My Documents is sorted with the files?! It’s a folder!" It makes browsing for folders really annoying, since you can’t use shortcuts. Half the shortcuts on my desktop, I can’t even remember what network drive they actually point to.

    Sure, I know they’re implemented as files, but I hate to think that Microsoft sorts them with files just because they were too lazy to mask implementation details. ;)

  6. Anonymous says:

    James: If I had to guess, it’s probably for performance reasons. You don’t want to have to go looking up the target of every shortcut to decide whether or not it’s a folder just to list a directory.

  7. Anonymous says:

    AndyC: The performance reason doesn’t really apply here, since explorer is already looking at the target to get the icon.  I would think sorting with the files is due to the fact that shortcuts really are regular files that are treated specially by explorer.  

    If you use a junction instead, explorer sorts it in with the rest of the folders.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I like this method better.  It’ll save me some hassle in renaming the short cuts I create when moving to a new system or reinstalling Windows.  I’ve got about a dozen programs that I don’t reinstall, just create shortcuts in the start menu for.  (A couple even go in my "start up" folder.)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Stuart Ballard: Yes.  "X – Copy"

  10. BestSnowman says:

    I seriously doubt it was a laziness issue. I’m guessing it was a design decision to that they are shortcuts. For example if you are sorting by file type and shortcuts to folders are with folders, are shortcuts to excel files with excel files? It might be handy but would probably blur the line between whats a file and whats a shortcut. (I’m not an expert source on it so this is just guessing)

    But for James a junction would work for you.

  11. BryanK says:

    mareek — That’s true; I didn’t think of sorting by type.  Duh.  Good catch.  :-)

  12. Anonymous says:

    i just discovered this yesterday, by accident. I was setting up my mother-in-law’s new laptop with Vista, my first experience with Vista. At one point I needed to duplicate a file in order to make a backup, so I selected the file and did Ctrl+C Ctrl+V to make a copy. I was surprised and very pleased when the newly created copy was sorted immediately after the original file with " – copy" just appended to the end.

    good job

  13. Anonymous says:

    I love this change.  I’ve been doing something similar for years for better sorting.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Now rename “My Documents” (and similar)into “Documents – %username%”

    [So that your documents sort next to other people’s documents when viewed… how exactly? -Raymond]
  15. Anonymous says:

    That reminds me of a annoying translation fumble in Outlook. See, if you add a birthday to a contact outlook will automatically add a event to the day, saying ‘whoevers birthday’.

    Thats nice and useful. Now the german (and spanisch) translators did translate this with: ‘Geburtstag von Whoever’ (or cumpleanos de Whoever in spain).

    Sounds harmless, but if you look at a week overview, or worse on the month display, you’ll see lots of shortened ‘Geburtstag v…’, which are not helpful at all.

    In the english version you’d see the beginning of the name of the contact, and you could guess it to be a birthday, much nicer.

    I just got no idea where to report this, or even better, change it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    And I still wonder why would I want to keep the original file and the link in the same folder.

  17. Anonymous says:

    SM points out how to turn off the automatic " – shortcut" suffix in Vista. But what about the traditional spooky auto-disable: in Windows 95 this would occur if the user repeatedly (x5) renamed new shortcuts by deleting the "Shortcut to ". I don’t recall if there was any notification but it gave the impression of reading your mind, especially as in the era ‘Before TweakUI’ it wasn’t well known how to change this setting.

    Despite being a kewl h4ck, it probably fails all manner of UI guidelines (discoverability, consistency, …) and I can’t help guessing that it only worked for English Windows. KB253212 implies that it was only in the 9x shells.

    Does this still work in Vista? If not, which version of the shell was the last to do it?

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad "Copy of" changed as well. It bothered me a lot more than "Shortcut to" for some reason.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Ahhh, things are now consistent with the naming strategy in the taskbar, where the object’s name comes before the more generic container or type, e.g, “The Old New Thing – MS Internet Explorer”

    My biggest gripe regarding shortcuts to folders has to do with the Open Folder diaglog used by many apps. The common Open Folder dialog, like the rest of the system, does not list shortcuts to folders, only real folders. And it does not have a text box. So I’m forced to click my way thru the heirarchy instead of using the folder shortcuts I’ve created in My Documents (because lots of apps always default to My Documents when they display the Open Folder dialog)

    WinZIP also has a Open Folder selection box. But they also have a text box for you to type the path! It’s often faster for me to open an Explorer window, click on the folder shortcut I’ve already created, then cut-and-paste the path from Explorer’s address bar into WinZIP’s dialog.

    If I remember correctly, junctions have two differences from shortcuts: they can’t cross filesystems; and if you delete a junction in Explorer, it will delete all the files in the target directory (unlike deleting a shortcut – only the shortcut disappears)

    Rant: why do Ui designers try so hard to remove keyboard navigation? Every folder/file selection dialog should have a text box for typing the filename.

    [If there’s no edit box, it’s because the programmer chose not to pass the BIF_EDITBOX flag. -Raymond]
  20. Anonymous says:

    df: It was definately in the later shells.  I’ve probably used it in 95-XP, myself.

  21. Anonymous says:

    df: It was definately in the later shells.  I’ve probably used it in 95-XP, myself.

  22. Anonymous says:

    ” Now rename “My Documents” (and similar)into “Documents – %username%”

    [So that your documents sort next to other people’s documents when viewed… how exactly? -Raymond]”

    Having the username as part of the folder can be useful if you have multiple accounts or machines. It’s a reminder exactly whose files you’re working with.

    [If you want different names for My Documents for each account, then feel free to rename it. It seems strange, however, to make the default something that would be ugly for 90% of the users out there. -Raymond]
  23. Anonymous says:

    There’s already some devious chicanery involved with the naming of the "My Documents" folder. If you ever browse someone else’s machine (or someone else’s user folder on your own), you’ll notice that it’s displayed as "name’s Documents" where name is the name – not user name, just name, of the user it belongs to.

    However, the actual folder name is still "My Documents", and that’s the path you need to use.

    So yeah, let’s not make this any more confusing…

  24. Anonymous says:

    It’s amazing how often I see empty folders named "New Folder", and shortcuts TO that folder (usually two or three shortcuts to that folder).

    And shortcuts to a subfolder, in the same folder as the subfolder.  Finger-slips, I think, but people don’t know enough to delete them.

    Office workers need a short, basic course in "Concepts of files, folders, subfolders, and shortcuts" in Windows.

  25. Anonymous says:

    James Schend: try dragging the folder to All Programs/Programs on the Start Menu (perhaps with Ctrl+Shift held down). That’ll make a folder that links to the target, and sorts with other folders. You can then drag it out of the Start Menu.  Not the best interface, but then I doubt there’s much demand.

    Josh: icons are stored in the shortcut, so you can copy them to another computer.  And it is partially performance – imagine if the target is on a server that’s unavailable.

  26. Anonymous says:

    "I’ve always wondered why shortcuts to folders are treated as files when listing/sorting Explorer windows."

    The file manager I use sorts such shortcuts with the folders and also tells you the target of each shortcut in the "Description" column. Both are rather handy and seem to have no noticeable affect on performance.

    How shortcuts are named is also configurable using strings like "%1 – shortcut" (with %1 for the filename and %2 for the count when the name is already in use).

    I’m glad the default has changed in Vista. It’s a small change but one of those things that was a frequent minor irritation. (Similarly, you no longer get an irritating (and patronising for computer-literate users) message if you rename a file and change its extension.)

  27. Anonymous says:

    "[So that your documents sort next to other people’s documents when viewed… how exactly? -Raymond]"

    When viewed via a Find/Search, I guess, though it doesn’t seem especially useful and the Owner column already lets you sort that way when/if you want to, without adding ugly redundancy to the path. (Nobody wants paths like "LeoDocuments – Leo")

  28. Anonymous says:

    Shortcuts should have a bit inside of them to indicate whether they point to a folder. That would allow them to sort properly without doing any additional work beyond that required to see its icon.

  29. Anonymous says:

    "Shortcuts should have a bit inside of them to indicate whether they point to a folder."

    What if the thing that was pointed two was replaced with something else?

    Assuming the shortcut points to a file on a local HDD that is not spun down, it costs next to nothing to call GetFileAttributes on the target to find out if it’s a file or a directory (or missing).

  30. Anonymous says:

    The other naming thing I just noticed was that if you have a file selected and hit F2 to rename, it only highlights the filename portion and not the extension. So if you have foo.txt, hit F2, type "bar <enter>", you’ll rename it to bar.txt instead of just "bar" like what would happen in XP if you didn’t deselect the extension.

    I just discovered this last night, and was very pleased with it. Good job there too.

  31. Anonymous says:

    That sounds good. If you use the keyboard as much as possible (mouse wrist probs), you type the first few letters of a file to select it in the explorer window. If you have more than one shortcut, you have to type the entire "shortcut to " before you can start zeroing in on a specific file.

    This is also a behavior that makes "My ___" folders slower to navigate, though to a lesser degree.

    Of course, keyboard preferring individuals with Vista will also be able to use Instant Search.

  32. Anonymous says:

    AndyC: "If I had to guess [why shortcuts to folders aren’t sorted with folders] it’s probably for performance reasons. You don’t want to have to go looking up the target of every shortcut to decide whether or not it’s a folder just to list a directory."

    Josh: "The performance reason doesn’t really apply here, since explorer is already looking at the target to get the icon."

    The icon is different.  It’s loaded in the background, after sorting takes place.  If it takes a couple of seconds to appear, it doesn’t really matter.  If after a couple of seconds the shortcut suddenly jumps somewhere else in the window, people would be screaming about bad UI design.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Recent versions of Windows (I’m not sure when this began) actually do support proper "Folder shortcuts" that act properly as folders.

    If I recall correctly (don’t have a Windows machine handy to test at this moment) this is implemented as a folder with a single shortcut inside it called "folder.lnk". Since it is legitimately a folder, Explorer and the common dialogs will treat it like a folder in most respects.

    I suspect that this sort of structure is what Explorer is creating when you drag a folder into the Programs menu as Mark Steward described above, which is why it preserves its folder-like behavior when you move the shortcut elsewhere.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I always go looking for the registry hack to nix the "Shortcut" text altogether.  In XP you could also do it with the TweakUI powertoy.

    I finally found the way to do it in Vista last week at:

    http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/remove-shortcut-text-from-new-shortcuts-in-vista/

    Just a personal preference, I guess. I already know they’re shortcuts and prefer to keep the names shorter. Of course, as a last resort, one *could* just manually rename the shortcuts.  But I’m a lazy programmer!  I like to automate things.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Evan Driscoll: Nautilus (GNOME’s equivalent to Finder/Explorer) has done this for a while. I wonder whether MS has started copying from GNOME? (Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

  36. Anonymous says:

    The change to “Foo – copy” in the OS is great, but it does not carry through to all apps, they still get to write filenames for themselves if you create a copy within the app. I first noticed this in Picture Manager 2007 because I often copy a bunch of pictures so I don’t edit the originals.

    I also love the selection of the filename and not the extension with F2, but the GUI does not behave in a way that I expect. When I hit F2 then right-arrow I would expect the behaviour to match what happens in most applications when you have a selection – de-selection and the cursor drops to the right of the selection. The Vista OS implementation actually moves over one character as well (to the other side of the . before the extension).

    I’ve discussed this and the “Foo – copy” feature here:

    http://veroblog.wordpress.com/2007/08/18/10-great-features-to-use-in-windows-vista-part-1/

    [I guess “most applications” don’t use a standard edit control, since the behavior you’re describing is normal behavior for the standard edit control. (Try it with Notepad for example.) -Raymond]
  37. Anonymous says:

    @Ben Cooke:

    the "Folder shortcuts" you mention were introduced way back in Windows 95 and used within "Network Neighborhood" for example.

    Their AFAIK "official" name is "shell links".

    You need the two files TARGET.LNK pointing to the target and DESKTOP.INI with following contents:

    [.ShellClassInfo]

    CLSID2={0AFACED1-E828-11D1-9187-B532F1E9575D}

    Flags=2

    placed together in an (empty) folder with DOS attributes "system" and/or "read-only".

    VB scripts to create two samples are available at the URL under my name.

  38. Anonymous says:

    James Schend: try dragging the folder to All Programs/Programs on the Start Menu (perhaps with

    Ctrl+Shift held down). That’ll make a folder that links to the target, and sorts with other

    folders. You can then drag it out of the Start Menu.  Not the best interface, but then I doubt

    there’s much demand.

    Thanks for the tip– I’ll try that when I get home.

    My major complaint is the folder browser dialog that Driver Dude points out. I use shortcuts all the freakin’ time, constantly. Every so often, I hit an application that uses that dumb folder browser that doesn’t let me use shortcuts– this dialog assumes I know what drive/path my shortcuts point to. I don’t! That’s half the point of making shortcuts in the first place!! So I have to close the folder browser, select my Shortcut Properties and figure out where the actual folder is.

    Whoever designed that folder browser in Windows did a really bad job, IMO.

  39. Anonymous says:

    "If there’s no edit box, it’s because the programmer chose not to pass the BIF_EDITBOX flag. -Raymond"

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll suggest that to some of my favorite apps…

  40. Anonymous says:

    @DriverDude:

    As far as I know the ‘My documents’, ‘My picture’ ‘My …’ have all been changed to ‘Documents’, ‘Pictures’ etc.

    Probably because more women are using PCs now and there are languages where the ‘My’ part may vary with the gender of the person being indicated.

  41. Anonymous says:

    @James Schend: Or you could map a drive letter to your folder and use that. Unless you use shortcuts to so many folders that you don’t have neough driveletters. (For me at home that would be a about 13 shortcuts as my driveletters go up to N: on drives)

  42. Anonymous says:

    can’t say i agree with the ‘x – copy’ approach. it’ll be really hard to track down the copy of the a cwhole bunch of files if you accidently copy them [varying names].

    i’ve done this via accidental drag and drop many times. i liked it.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Stefan: I have to point out that shortcut folders act like folders on their own, not like proper shortcuts. To the shell, a directory reached directly through its folder and the same directory reached across a folder link are two different folders altogether, and they will get different view states, settings, etc. On change notification events, shortcut folders can confuse the tree view horribly, too. Sure, non-shell applications will always receive the same filesystem path for both (… except if you cross a shortcut folder recursively), but be prepared for glitches in all and any shell applications

  44. Anonymous says:

    mikey, what’s difficult there? Just do a Find on *copy or similar (or apply a filter if your file manager allows such things, but a basic Find/Search will do fine) and there they all are.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Another advantage of "X-Shortcut" and "X-Copy": When scanning down a list of files in search of a document, the eye naturally falls first on the most informative part of the name –the "X," which is more likely to tell the user if it’s the sought document or not. This is in contrast to having to read through "Copy of " or "Shortcut to " before deciding if the document is the right one or not.

  46. Anonymous says:

    What about “New X”? This frequently annoys me because it doesn’t work at all with German. What’s even worse is that instead of picking one of the three possible translations “Neuer X”, “Neue X” or “Neues X” at random (The correct form depends on the gender of X, Raymond has a table of adjective endings somewhere in his archive) and being correct one third of the time, the translation team decided to put “Neu X” there which to my mind is the most incorrect phrase possible.

    [If you take a closer look, you’ll see that this is also fixed in Vista. -Raymond]
  47. Anonymous says:

    As an experienced user of multi-user systems, I got really confused when Windows first started creating it’s "My Documents" and other "My X" folders.

    The general logic went, if *I* create a folder and call it "My X", it’s mine.

    However, if I find a folder called "My X" that I did not create, it must belong to someone else. Therefore, I should not mess with it.

    The windows installation process does not refer to me as "me" or "I" anywhere else, it refers to me as "you" or as an implicit other. If it had referred to me as "me" or "I" that would have been *really* confusing – imagine the request "Will I please remove the CD before rebooting." So why should it start referring to the folder it’s created for me as "My documents"?

    If the windows installation process had created a folder called "Your Documents" that would have made sense. I’d have instantly understood that as a folder having been created for me.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I hate "Copy of …", thank god it’s no longer there.

  49. Anonymous says:

    KJK: Ben Cooke already mentioned that "folder shortcuts" act like folders (and that’s the reason why I often use them on clients where users have their HOME directory on a server).

    I know that the shell treats the targets as different folders, depending how one navigated there. There’s but no difference to the handling of UNC paths and drives letters mapped to the same UNC paths! The same glitches^Wissues^Wproblems can rise there too, as well as with all the folder shortcuts Windows creates by itself in the "Network Neighborhood".

    And: there are quite some MSKB articles which describe slow network behaviour with mapped drives, but not with UNC paths, especially with XP and its massive use of DESKTOP.INI files.

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