Sunday, January 20, 2008

Playing the Windows Shell Game

Despite what the post title might suggest, this isn't a post about Vista adoption numbers, Microsoft fighting negative Vista buzz, or even the next Windows OS.

The Windows Shell

At its most basic description, the Windows Shell is the graphical user interface that most folks see when they interact with the underlying Windows operating system.  These include the visual "folders and files" we see, virtual objects like printers, the Recycle Bin, the Control Panel, etc.

Windows Shell - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

There are a number of replacement Windows shells, if you want to get really freaky and ditch the familiar style of Windows:

Vista Start Menu - (freeware) - Windows XP and Vista. -Use this to replace your XP or Vista Start Menu that provides an alternative structure to your program files, accessories, and other functions. Vista's new Start Menu layout can be a challenge finding things, but while you can revert to the XP-style, it isn't nearly as pretty. Vista Start Menu gives you a balance between both. In addition, it is designed around something called cognitive identification which is a fancy way of saying it works like your (well, most people's) brain organizes information. And if you delete an icon or remove an application, it doesn't shift the items around, it just leaves a blank-space until you clean it up. I am intrigued by this program. It looks very polished and seems to make a lot of sense. I am going to try running it on some of my test machines to see what I think.

Vista Transformation Pack 8 - (freeware) - Make your XP system look very, very similar to Vista. This build lets you apply an "Aero Glass" effect to your XP system without needing WindowBlinds now. Also included is the free WinFlip application which mimics the Flip3D task switching tool in Vista. It provides better compatibility with hotfixes, now provides a suggested setup configuration during application to the system, and included updated versions of all the mini-utilities that make it render the Vista effects. Do use this with caution, as some users report problems uninstalling and removing the "bits" that make it work. A System Restore point would be a good bet.

Leopard Mods On XP - (freeware) - Make XP look like Leopard.

FlyakiteOSX - (freeware) - Another make-Windows-look-like-Apple package.

Fedora Transformation Pack - (freeware) - Make Windows look like Fedora.

Ubuntu Transformation Pack - (freeware) - Make Windows look like Ubuntu.

There are some other "lighter" tools out there as well that don't do full transformation but do modify some key areas.

However, that's not really what I am posting about today.

This is really about making the Windows Shell's right-click context menu more useful.

Power to the People - Right-Click Menus!

The Windows right-click context menu (RCCM) is a wonderful tool that brings action-shortcuts to hand when you right-click on a file or folder in Windows.  Depending on software and applications you have installed, you may see additional items listed to say, create a compressed file, send a file to your email editor, maybe open or edit a file in a particular program, create a shortcut, or send something to your desktop.

It is dead-handy, and can quickly make an average XP/Vista user a power-user.

And there are some options that you would expect to see, but are being able to create a new folder.

So I've collected a bunch of links, tips, and tools that can help you trick-out that right-click context menu and give you more power.

File/Folder Path Copy

Clip Path - (freeware) - This micro-utility is dead-helpful for a sysadmin like me.  Micro-sized, when installed it creates a "ClipPath" option in the RCCM.  Right-click on a file/folder or files/folders and it offers to copy the full path of the target.  I find it great when I am documenting guides as it saves a lot of typing and improves accuracy of my file-path references.  The cryptic "Create Outlook Link" option allows you to copy the path in a Outlook supported format.  Supports both Windows and Unix style path formats. "\" versus "/" as well as UNC paths for mapped network drives.

<file:///C:\Documents and Settings\Claus\My Documents\Standalone Apps\bookmarks.html>

Ninotech Path Copy - (freeware) - Really a must-have for Novell server administrators.  Like Clip Path but on steroids.  Adds tot he RCCM the following file/folder path copy formats: short name, long name, short folder, long folder, short path, long path, short UNC path, long UNC path, Internet path, custom methods.  "Short" formats are those that are converted to 8.3 Format naming conventions.  It is really amazing.  Spotted via Back Room Tech blog.

Grab Path Shell Extension - (freeware) - Like the others it grabs the file/folder path(s) to the clipboard. This one allows for choosing separation options when multiple items are selected for copy/paste.

Open a Command Prompt Window Here

Normally if you want to open a Windows Command Prompt Window, you can browse to the Accessories folder in your Start menu, or just type "cmd" in the Run wizard.  However, generally this results in the box opening at the root location.

Suppose you want to run a command-line only tool but it is buried very deep into your folders.  That could be a lot of typing to get into the right folder.  Wouldn't it be easier if you browse for it in Windows Explorer GUI then launch the command-line window directly into that location?

You can:

Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP - Open Command Window Here - (freeware) - Official (unsupported) Microsoft Power Toy does just what it says. Easy to install and use.

Additional RCCM Hacks

xpy » sendtosendto - (freeware) - Allows you to add items to the Send To sublist in the RCCM.  Handy if you have some favorite folders/locations you are always moving files into.

Create New Folder - (freeware) - Adds a "Create new folder" option to the RCCM. No more going up and fishing for the "File" -> "New" -> "Folder" option off the menu-bars.

O'Reilly Network -- Hack #29: A Power User's Hidden Weapon: Improve the Context Menu - (tips) - This on-line selection is pulled out of the Windows XP Hacks book by O'Reilly.  My brother made the mistake of letting me borrow it and I haven't given it back yet!

Although most of these tips require some "hands-on" work in the registry or other scary places, they can add some helpful options to your RCCM, including

  • Add "Copy To Folder" and "Move To Folder" Context Menu Options
  • Add and Remove Destinations for the "Send To" Option
  • Open the Command Prompt from the Right-Click Menu
  • Clean Up the "Open With" Option

RCCM Shell Suites

FileMenu Tools - (freeware) - If you are like me, you probably have quite a collection of right-click context menu items on your system.  I can do the standard things like copy/paste/move/send to, I can zip, I can open with Notepad++, I can secure erase files.  Stuff like that.  FileMenu tools lets you manage these items, but it does SO much more.  It's really designed for power-users of the context-menu.  The program comes with extra mini-utilities that you can also add as selections to your right-click context menu: Synchronize Folders ,Extended Delete, Find and Replace, Advanced Renamer, Delete Locked File, Delete and no move to Recycle Bin, Change Icon , Run with Arguments, Command Line From Here, Split File, Join File, Copy to..., Move to..., Copy Name, Copy Path, Copy Content, Paste Clipboard, Attributes, Change Time, Register DLL, Unregister DLL, Create New Folder, Size of Folders, Shred Files. Whew!

CFi ShellToys - (45-day trialware/$) - I don't normally offer trialware links. However, in the context of this post, this is a product that some might find just wonderful enough to decide to buy.  This utility places a "ShellToys" option on the RCCM.  Then you have 50 context-sensitive options to pick from along with 20 fantastic extra shell-based tools. Works on all 32-bit versions of Windows. Operation centers around a highly tweakable "ShellToys Control Panel" which allows you to select the options that appear.  This way you can only see the ones you want to use, and disable the ones you don't to keep things trim and proper. At around $40, this might be a tool power-users want to plunk down for and pick up. The site has some heavy screenshots if you look into the individual items.  Go spend some time on this site.  It might be worth your while!

Synesis - Windows Shell Extensions - (freeware) - I've already mentioned Grab-Path, but it is actually one of several windows shell extensions in the packaged offered by Synesis. The full list of items includes:

  • Command Box - opens a command prompt (DOS box) on the currently selected directory
  • Date Renamer - renames file(s) with the current date/time - new with version 2.0.1
  • File Case - changes the case of the currently selected file(s)
  • File Touch - changes the date/time attributes of the selected file(s)
  • Grab Path - copies the path(s) of the currently selected file(s) to the clipboard
  • Read Only - changes the read-only status of the currently selected file
  • Remote Reboot - shutdown/reboots another machine on your domain
  • Empty Directory Remover - removes any empty sub-directories of a given directory
  • Run Program - runs the currently selected program (.exe/.bat/.cmd) with arguments prompted from the user
  • RCCM and Shell Editors

    Sometimes you want to change what appears in the RCCM list.  These tools will help you explore, understand, and edit the lists.

    Context Menu Editor - (freeware) - Simple utility to let you delete links to programs on your context menus. Simple program but changes made cannot be reversed without reinstallation of the original application. Use with caution.

    ShellMenuView - (freeware) - NirSoft tool to view and manage the right-click context items for those who prefer a more zen-like experience.   You can easily enable/disable items so if you find you disabled something important, you can quickly restore it without needing to do a reinstallation of the application that placed it there in the first place.

    ShellExView - Shell Extensions Manager - (freeware) - Application also from NirSoft. Bit more advanced that ShellMenuView.

    Shell Extensions are in-process COM objects which extends the abilities of Windows operating system. Most shell extensions are automatically installed by the operating system, but there are also many other applications that install additional shell extension components. For example: If you install WinZip on your computer, you'll see a special WinZip menu when you right-click on a Zip file. This menu is created by adding a shell extension to the system.

    The ShellExView utility displays the details of shell extensions installed on your computer, and allows you to easily disable and enable each shell extension.

    ShellExView can be used for solving context-menu problems in Explorer environment. For more information, read the following article: Right-click is slow or weird behavior caused by context menu handlers

    Tidy Start Menu - (freeware/$) - Utility to allow you to quickly re-organize and clean up your Windows Start Menu and Program Files list.  Great tool to help categorize items and remove dead-links. Also do import/export of your Start menu items, as well as backup/restore. Clever!  Screenshots.

    Additional Microsoft TechNet Shell Resources

    Windows Shell - (Microsoft TechNet) - Contains technical information and parameters for the Microsoft Windows Shell.

    Shell Developer's Guide - (Microsoft TechNet) - Covers security considerations, an overview of the Vista shell, integration of applications into the shell for file format owners, shell extensibility, application support, miscellaneous topics, XP and early OS issues, Shell and common control versions.  Interesting stuff if you have to design and/or troubleshoot Windows Shell issues.

    Shell Reference - (Microsoft TechNet) - Detailed information going into Shell classes, interfaces, functions, callback functions, constants, enumerations and flags, lightweigh utility functions, macros, messages and notifications, object scripting, some C++ considerations, properties, schemas, and structures.

    Go ahead, hold 'em up to your ear and see what you hear.

    It might be the sound of your cooler fan, but, for some, it might just sound like relaxing call a distant Pacific ocean bliss.


    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Hey--so I REALLY need your help, and don't know where else or how else to get a hold of you on here. I've been using your posts and links to keep my Ad-Aware stuff going, but now neither version is working right. And nothing in any of your posts pertains to what's going on. So PLEASE--email me at your EARLIEST convenience: thanx