Saturday, August 23, 2008

Microsoft XP and Office “Places Bar” Tweaking

In case you didn’t know, the icon bar on the left-hand side of the dialog window you get when you “save-as”, browse folders, open folders/files, etc. is called the “Places Bar”.


A slightly modified form of It is also present in Microsoft’s Office line.

Most folks do quite well with the default set of icon/location choices offered them and don’t ever think of going beyond this.

However, a few power-users may find themselves accessing other common folder locations on their system when they browse to open or save a file.  And let’s face it, browsing the folder tree using the “”Look in” drop-menu or the “up folder” icon method can be click-consuming if your folders are well buried.

I was facing that very situation the other day at work.  Throughout the day I kept having to take additional time to browse to a deeply structured folder on my laptop.  And the default location choices just weren’t cutting it for me.

I knew they could be modified, but it had been a long time since I had reconfigured setting them up on my home system, so I had to go back to Google to refresh my memory on how to make the changes.

Turns out there are quite a lot of freeware applications to help you make this tweaking process smoother.  (Note: on some systems you may be required to have “Administrator” rights to make the changes.)  They all work on XP.  Vista is a bit different.

The Tools

First up is Microsoft PowerToys Tweak UI.  Download and install this long-time tweaking favorite.  When installed, launch Tweak UI and expand the “Common Dialogs” item, and select the “Places Bar” sub-item.  Click the “Custom places bar” radio button then pick which additional items you would like instead.  Or you can add your own custom folder locations.  See this post, How To Change Windows Default Save As or Open Location » Raymond.CC Blog for a walkthrough.

PlacesBar Tweaker - (freeware) – This freeware application is a piece of cake to use.  Install then launch.  You will get a nice little interface that lets you preview the Places Bar, select which custom folder you want to use, or use a common special system folder.  You can restore the defaults back, and you can move the icons in the Places bar around.

Shell Places Bar Editor - (freeware) – Very simple interface contains just the elements needed to get it done.  Pick one of the five items and browse to the new folder location you wish to use.  You can rearrange their order, delete items, or save them as a “scheme”.

PlacesBar Editor - (freeware) – A bit more “old-school” in the GUI style, it still is tiny (90K) and gets it done.

WinPlaE O.S. PlacesBar Editor - (freeware) – Basic but serviceable utility to modify the Places Bar. Also allows you to save loadable custom “lists” so you can reload new Places Bar sets depending on your needs (say switching between projects at work).

PlacesBar Constructor - (freeware) – Another very simple and basic places bar item editor. (Located at bottom of page link.) Only “drawback” is an upgrade ad seen when program is launched. Can be ignored with no loss of  functionality.

Additional “Old-School” Methods

As the PlacesBar Constructor page points out, what all of these tools are doing is actually just modifying a particular registry key sub-key value for each of the five item locations displayed.


I’ve found it on all my systems but I understand if just the defaults are used and haven’t been previously “tweaked”, it may not be present and can be created from scratch or by using any of the tools above to load a “default” set.

If you are using a version of Windows that supports the Group Policy editor (GPEDIT.MSC) then you can browse into there as well to tweak your custom choices.

1. Type GPEDIT.MSC in the Start, Run

2. Navigate to this location:

User Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Windows Explorer -> Common Open File Dialog

3. Double-click Items displayed in Places Bar and add your places.

(Note, it’s a bit different in Vista here.  See KB926167: How to customize the Favorites Links list in common file dialog boxes in Windows Explorer in Windows Vista for more info on that.)

The trick with making the changes in the registry turns out to come down to knowing the correct type of registry key to select.  Some custom items need to be created as “REG_DWORD” types while others need to be “REG_SZ” types.

You can use a string (REG_SZ) to identify the target folder for a PlaceX entry. You must specify the folder's full pathname.

You can also use a numeric index (REG_DWORD) to specify the target folder if it's a system folder.

I found in trying the tools listed above that if you make a change and it doesn’t appear in the Places Bar (even after a reboot) then it is likey that program didn’t choose the correct type. Try another utility.

If you know the correct DWORD value for a corresponding system folder, you can quickly make links in the Places Bar to a number of common and oft-used locations.

The Change the Default ‘Save As’ Locations post by windowsxp550 also shows an alternative technique you can use to make these changes in the registry.

Alas, the only drawback I see with this whole thing is that you are just limited to a maximum of five locations.

Tweaking the Microsoft Office Places Bar

If you have done the above tweaks (manually or with a tool) and also use Microsoft Office, you will quickly note that the Places Bar changes you made don’t appear to carry over into the similar one for the Office applications.

I ended up needing to do this as I have a number of common folder locations I am always saving attachments into in Outlook at work.

That isn’t a problem with the aforementioned tools, turns out Microsoft Office uses its own location and methods for its own version of the “Places Bar”.

The bonus is that you are not limited to just five locations in the Microsoft Office Places Bar but can have up to ten at once if so desired.

You just need to take a different approach to add these in.

Customize the Places Bar in Office XP/2003/2007 – Petri IT Knowledgebase

That post spells out the basics

  1. Open a MS Office application (say Word).
  2. On the File Menu, select an action like “Save” or “Open” that will open up a dialog window.
  3. Browse to the folder location you want to add and click once to highlight it.
  4. Click on the “Tools” menu item and pick “Add to My Places”
  5. There it is!
  6. You can move them up/down by right-clicking the item in the list and picking “Move Up/Move Down”
  7. You can also resize the icons by right-clicking anywhere in the Places Bar area and selecting “Small icons” option.

The Microsoft KB826214 How to customize the My Places bar in both the Open and the Save As dialog boxes in Office has even more juicy details:

For example you can find the Registry Key location these are saved in, just in case you want to export it for quick re-adding on another system or as a backup.

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\10.0\Common\Open Find\Places – Office XP

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Common\Open Find\Places – Office 2003

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Common\Open Find\Places – Office 2007

The Places key contains the following two subkeys:



The “StandardPlaces” items are the five default items that show up there in Office.

The “UserDefinedPlaces” are the “extras” that show up after you have added the ones you want.

Graham Mayor’s website page File Operations Places Bar has a great number of details and screenshots about this process/tweaking.

There’s quite a bit more registry information at the bottom of that KB as well that further details the registry key usage out.

Finally, if all this manual editing or inside-office adjusting isn’t your thing, the Zjooj Team has a freeware download utility to help with this process:

OPiE 2.0 Office Places Editor - (freeware) – Neat app in that not only can you add up to 10 Office Places Bar locations, but you can also save multiple lists of 10 so you can conceivably end up with an unlimited number of custom locations to pick from, you just need to load the particular set you want each time.

Miscellaneous Items

Folder Marker - (freeware) – While not really related directly to the Places Bars we have been discussing, this easy-to-use tool lets you quickly modify the Windows folders on your system.  You can select from several default sets of folder colors or iconized styles, or even add your own custom icons from other sources.  I like using this to tweak key folders for visual cueing and organizing the different project management folder stores I use.

Grand Stream Dreams: Weird XP Folder Issue--Solved! – Tips on what you need to look at if somehow your folder icon tweaking doesn’t result in what you expect.


--Claus Valca

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


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Big Thanks from The Zjooj Team!