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Yes, Windows is Dumb: 'Send To' tips

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Excerpted from
Yes, Windows Is Dumb
Easy Ways to Master Your PC
Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt


'Send To' tips and tricks

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt

Microsoft gave power users a tough time when it created Windows 95. Some of the tricks that power users like to boast about aren't really tricks any more; in many ways, they're features already built into Windows.

One of my favorite examples is the Send To menu. If you've never seen that menu, I'll bet you haven't tried clicking that "other" mouse button—the right one, in typical setups—on a file or some other object in Windows 95. The Send To menu lives under that other button. (To make things simple, I'll call it the right button. If you've changed your mouse over to left-handed operation, translate everything I say about the right button to the left button.)

The Send To menu is just one of many that can pop open when you press the right mouse button. Microsoft calls these pop-up lists Context Menus. It's a good term because the menus change according to the kind of action—the context—that is possible when you make that click.

For example, right-clicking on the Recycle Bin causes a different menu to open than right-clicking on My Computer. And right-clicking on a folder shows yet another menu. Each menu is based on the context of what you're doing. It's a clever idea. (To be fair, I'll point out that Microsoft didn't invent this approach. It got the idea from IBM's beautifully designed interface in the OS/2 Warp operating system.)

When you right-click on anything that can be moved—a folder or file—you see Send To as one of the choices. Hold your mouse pointer over the words Send To for a fraction of a second and a list of choices will pop up. You may only see a few or you may see a lot. Don't worry if you see only two or three; I'll tell you how to add all the Send To choices you want.

Send To means just what it says—more or less. (I'll explain that part shortly.) Clicking on one of the choices—the targets, in computer talk—sends the item to that target. In simple terms, if you right-click on a folder, open the Send To list and choose the one labeled "3½ Floppy," Windows will send that folder to the floppy disk.

The "more-or-less" difficulty is rooted in the way Windows works. Sometimes Send To actually sends the object—moves it, in other words—and sometimes it just copies it. That behavior is based on the move-and-copy routines in Windows. They work like this: Drag an item to another location on the same disk drive and you move it; drag it to a location on another disk drive and you copy it. There is a third possibility in which you get none of the above, which I'll mention later. I'll also tell you how to get something to move or copy despite the wishes of Windows.

The real power of Send To can be found inside the Windows folder on your hard drive. Open the Windows folder—it may have another name, such as "Win95"—and look for a folder named "SendTo" (yes, it' spelled without a space in the name). You'll see a few files in that folder. They're shortcuts. Because they're shortcuts, you can add any other shortcuts to that folder yourself.

Many Windows 95 users need help with shortcuts, so I'll explain them briefly. Shortcuts are items that represent files or folders. Make a shortcut by dragging an object with your right mouse button and choosing "Create Shortcut(s) here" when you let go of the button. Then drag the shortcut to any folder and drop it there, or put it on the desktop.

The next part is really simple. Any shortcuts you add to the SendTo folder show up immediately on the Send To menu.

But this simplicity hides some real sophistication.

Why? Because those shortcuts don't have to be destinations—they don't have to be folders, in other words. They can be printers, an e-mail program, just about anything. (Surely you've thought about "sending" something to the printer, or "sending" e-mail. So the notion of having a shortcut to a printer or to an e-mail program on the Send To menu makes sense.)

Let's dig a little deeper. If you think about the idea of "sending" a file to a program for a minute, you'll probably see how much faster it can be than the method most people use. That slow-as-molasses method goes like this: Run the program, open the File menu, choose Open, navigate through a bunch of folders to find a file, then click on the one you want to open.

Only a rock would fail to see the point of this. Using the Send To function cuts out a lot of steps when you want to open a file in a program.

There's a catch, of course. (There always is.) If you pay attention to the next point, you'll be far ahead of most other Windows users. And you might even earn one of those "Office Guru" titles.

The catch? Don't use shortcuts in the Send To menu to send files to programs that will open those files anyway if you double-click on them. It makes no sense to use Send To when you want to open a Microsoft Word document in Microsoft Word, for example. It's a waste of time.

But you can use the Send To menu to get around the vexing Windows problem of allowing only one program to automatically open a file when you double-click on the file. (Note that there are other ways to do this; the Send To method is just one of the easiest.)

Here's an example that should make this clear. When you install Microsoft Word, Windows assigns all files that have a DOC extension to Word. This means Word automatically opens a DOC file when you double-click on the file.

But suppose you want to take advantage of Microsoft's junior word processor, the one that comes free with Windows, called WordPad? It pops onto your screen much faster than Word does, takes up only a small amount of memory, and handles Word documents fairly well. (It can't deal with Word 97 documents, but that's a good subject for another article.)

The solution? Easy. Just find the shortcut to WordPad that's already on your Start Menu (look in the Accessories folder) and copy it to the "SendTo" folder. The next time you right click on a document you want to open in WordPad, choose Send To and move your pointer over to "WordPad" and let go.

The Word document that would have been opened in Word will be opened in WordPad instead, much more quickly It's that simple.

Here's another example. You'll see a lot of mystery files in Windows—files that have generic icons, meaning Windows doesn't know what to do with them. Sometimes they are odd files that work with programs that Windows knows nothing about, and sometimes they're just texts with odd filename extensions. (You might see "README.1ST," for example.)

One of the easiest ways to deal with such files is to send them to a standard viewer. Because of lot of them probably are texts, opening them in Notepad (or a Notepad replacement) makes sense.

And a quick way of doing that is to put a shortcut to Notepad (or a Notepad replacement, if you get my hint) in the Send To menu. Find your current Notepad-or-replacement shortcut in the Start Menu and copy it to the SendTo folder.

(I've written about Notepad replacements before, and will no doubt so it again, so I'll just mention them in brief. Notepad is Microsoft's tribute to sloppy programming. It cannot automatically open up with word-wrap enabled, cannot save its own window size or position and cannot handle large documents. It's not even a 32-bit program. You have a choice of dozens of replacements for Notepad, all of which perform better than the one that comes with Windows. Search any of the big Windows software sites on the Internet for Notepad replacements and try one or two of them out.)

What else can you put in the Send To menu? How about shortcuts to some of the main folders in your Start Menu? If you do that, you'll have no trouble adding items to the Start Menu.

If you want to copy or move a shortcut from your desktop (or any other place—the desktop is the most common location for errant shortcuts), just right click on the icon and use the Send To menu to place the shortcut in one of the Start Menu folders. Ideal candidates for Send To status are the Accessories folder, the main Start Menu folder and the Programs folder. (If you're not sure how to add something to the Start Menu, just keep in mind that the Start Menu is just a folder. One simple way to open it is to right-click on the Start button, then choose Open.)

Here's an insider's tip: Put a shortcut to your Startup folder in the Sent To menu. The Startup folder, inside the Programs folder in the Start Menu folder group, has a special significance: Anything you put there is run automatically when Windows starts up. Having it on the Send To menu gives you a fast way of giving any program the auto-run status. (But put a shortcut to the Startup folder somewhere handy, so you can open it and take out anything you really don't want to run automatically.)

And here's something sly: Put a shortcut to the Send To folder on the Send To menu. If you've followed these explanations closely, you'll realize right away that what I'm saying is that the SendTo folder can contain a shortcut to itself. Just create a shortcut to the SendTo folder (right drag on the SendTo folder, then follow the prompts) and drag that shortcut into the SendTo folder.

That way, if you want to add any shortcut to the Send To menu, you can do it right from the Send To menu itself.

You'll recall that I recited the Windows copy-and-move rule earlier. It goes like this: Drag an item to another location on the same disk drive and you move it; drag it to a location on another disk drive and you copy it.

But it doesn't have to work that way. You can make sure an item is always copied or always moved if you learn how to use a couple of keyboard modifiers (keys you press to change the way Windows works).

They're the Shift key and the Control key. (The Control key is usually labeled "Ctrl.") The rules go like this:

  • Hold down the Shift key, and the item you drag with the left mouse button is always moved.
  • Hold down the Control key, and the item you drag with the left mouse button is always copied.

These two rules always work. But I must admit that one of the original rules—the one that says dragging to a folder on the same drive always moves the item—isn't true all the time. This occurs because the default action, the one Windows takes if you don't override it, is different for program files than it is for all other files.

This means you can drag a support file for a program—a so-called DLL—from Folder A to Folder B on the same drive, and Windows will move the file. But if you drag the program itself, Windows will neither copy it nor move it. It will create a shortcut instead.

This minor aspect of the way Windows works is a major annoyance. It's one of the main sources of confusion over what happens when items are dragged to folders in Windows.

To make sure you're controlling which files are moved and copied, and to be sure Windows doesn't slip in a shortcut when you thought you were making a copy, get in the habit of using those two modifier keys. Use Shift for move and Control for copy any time you are dragging files from one location to another. Or drag using the right mouse button and choose the action you want from the pop-up menu.

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