Turn the Windows Quick Launch Bar into a Super Application Launcher

If you are looking for a free application launcher you don’t have to look any further than your Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 system. This post discusses a little-known feature in Windows that provides you with a powerful application launcher, that will launch not only applications, but also open files, open folders, start playlists, and many other tasks.

If you are using Windows 7, you may want to look at our previous post How to restore the Quick Launch bar in Windows 7, before proceeding.

After installing many programs on your computer, you may notice that not all the icons fit on the Quick Launch bar. The icons that don’t fit are accessed using the >> button to the right of the visible icons.

Extra icons on the Quick Launch bar

You may have found this annoying in the past, but it can be used to your advantage. This “overflow” area can be used as an application/file launcher by filling it with the icons (shortcuts to programs, files, folders, etc.) of your choice. You can even add subfolders, customize the icons, and add separator lines.

If you are using Windows 7, using the Quick Launch bar as an application launcher will only work if you revert to a Windows XP- or Windows Vista-style Taskbar and enable the Quick Launch bar. To enable the Quick Launch bar, see our previous post, How to restore the Quick Launch bar in Windows 7. The following section shows you how to Windows XP- or Windows Vista-style Taskbar.

Preparing the Taskbar

To revert to a Windows XP- or Windows Vista-style Taskbar, right-click on the Taskbar and select Properties from the pop-up menu.

Opening Properties for the Taskbar

The Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box displays. Select either Never combine or Combine when taskbar is full from the Taskbar buttons drop-down list. You can also select the Use small icons check box to shrink the Taskbar down. Click Apply and then OK.

Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box

Setting Up the Application Launcher

To start setting up your application launcher, you need to open the Quick Launch folder which contains the icons (shortcuts) that display in the Quick Launch bar.

Click the Start button and enter shell:quick launch in the Search box.

Opening the Quick Launch folder

Press Enter. Windows Explorer opens with the Quick Launch folder active.

Quick Launch folder in Windows Explorer

Now, all you need to do to create your application launcher is to create shortcuts in this folder to any program, file, or folder you access often. You can create shortcuts to just about anything (programs, hard drives, control panel applets, network drives, etc.) and you can organize the shortcuts in subfolders. Each subfolder displays on the Quick Launch bar as a submenu.

It is useful to have a shortcut to the Quick Launch folder itself on the Quick Launch bar. This allows you to easily access the Quick Launch folder to add and delete shortcuts and reorganize the icons.

To add a shortcut to the Quick Launch folder, locate the Quick Launch folder in the left pane of your Windows Explorer window and right-drag the folder (click and drag with the right mouse button) into the right pane of the window. A pop-up menu displays.

Creating a shortcut by dragging and dropping

A shortcut to the Quick Launch folder is added to itself.

Quick Launch folder added

Some third-party application launcher programs allow you to add separator lines for breaking up the icons on your menu into smaller groups. There is no feature for doing this in Windows, but there is a workaround.

Right-click in the Quick Launch folder in Windows Explorer, and select New | Shortcut from the pop-up menu.

Adding a new shortcut for the separator

It doesn’t matter what you type as the location of the item, because you are not using this shortcut as a link to anything. It is just for appearance and organization. For example, you can type “notepad.”

Typing the location of the shortcut

Click Next. As the name of the shortcut, type some dashes. It doesn’t matter how many dashes you type.

NOTE: If you want more than one separator line, each line (or shortcut) has to have a different number of dashes in it.

Entering the dashes for the separator line

Click Finish. The “separator line” shortcut is added to the bottom of the Quick Launch menu.

Separator line added to Quick Launch bar

You will notice that the separator line shortcut still has the Notepad icon associated with it. To remove this, right-click on the separator line and choose Properties from the pop-up menu.

Getting properties of the separator line

The Properties dialog box displays. Click the Change Icon button.

Properties dialog box

The Change Icon dialog box displays. There is a special file that contains many icons for use with Windows shortcuts. Type the following into the Look for icons in this file edit box: %SystemRoot%\system32\SHELL32.dll. Press Enter.

Change Icon dialog box

Icons are displayed in the lower box. There is a blank icon in the 13th column in the 2nd row. Highlight the icon and click OK. Click Apply and then OK on the Properties dialog box. Your separator line now has no icon on it in your Quick Launch bar.

No icon on separator line

Changing the Width of the Quick Launch Bar

You may end up with an icon or two on the actual Quick Launch bar. This is because it still behaves like the original Quick Launch bar in that it puts programs on the actual bar and the bar cannot be shrunk any smaller than one icon in size, as shown in the following image.

An icon left on the Quick Launch bar

To minimize the size of the Quick Launch bar, such that most of your icons display in your menu, right-click on the Taskbar and select Lock the taskbar from the pop-up menu.

Unlocking the Taskbar

Dividers display on the left side of the Quick Launch bar and the Taskbar items. Click and drag on these dividers to move the Quick Launch bar and/or the Taskbar items. If you move the Quick Launch bar to the far left of the Taskbar using the divider to drag it and move the Taskbar items directly to the right of the Quick Launch bar (as shown in the image below), you can minimize the size of the Quick Launch bar to one icon.

Moving the divider

Right-click on the Taskbar and select Lock the taskbar again once you have the Quick Launch bar and the Taskbar where you want them. The dividers will go away.

Organizing Your Shortcuts

Once you have added all the shortcuts, separator lines, and subfolders you want to your Quick Launch bar, and moved the bars into position, now you can organize them into a desired order.

NOTE: Rearranging the shortcuts in the Quick Launch folder in Windows Explorer has no effect on the order of the shortcuts on the Quick Launch bar or menu.

To do this, click and hold on an item in the Quick Launch bar and drag it to the desired location. Here we have moved our separator line to the spot above the two Microsoft programs.

Separator line moved

NOTE: Be careful, when moving icons, not to drop an icon on top of another icon.

This may seem like a quirky workaround to get an application launcher, but it actually works quite well and doesn’t cost you anything extra. [via HowToGeek]

by Lori Kaufman

Comments [3]

  1. Ajay says:

    Thanks for the article, pretty cool stuff.

  2. mprst says:

    I prefer the same approach, but using Links toolbar instead of Quick Launch, as Links toolbar allows for the use of folders as submenus.

    BTW a quick tip to everybody using Windows 7 (maybe works in Vista too), the way to avoid the message "Open File – Security Warning" "Do you want to open this file?" (Unknown Publisher) when placing a shorcut (.lnk) in Links toolbar is creating this link right in the desktop and then moving (not copying) it to Links toolbar.

  3. AJM says:

    Windows 7 will display folders as submenus IF you get the ">>" and the folders are hidden. Visible folders open in Explorer.

    Does anyone know how to make folders ALWAYS act as submenus? Even when they are visible?

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