Windows Wednesdays – Keeping Your Favorite Apps Closer, Part 3

Last post in this “Keeping Your Favorite Apps Closer” sub-series, I promise, and today’s installment will be short. The last place for keeping your frequently-used apps close at hand (not counting programs that have a part that keeps running in the background and leaves a mini-icon in the Taskbar Notification Area) is the Desktop. And adding icons to the Windows 11 Desktop is pretty much the same as adding icons to the Desktop in previous versions of Windows, most notably Windows 10.

The main thing to remember about adding icons to the Desktop is that, for the most part, you want to create shortcuts to the programs you want, not move the icons or program executables there. The reason I mention this is that the most intuitive way to put an icon on the Desktop is to drag and drop it there. But in this case, that’s exactly what you don’t want to do. That’s because unless you’re familiar with the nuances of Windows’ drag-and-drop behavior, you may not realize that when you drag and drop something from one folder to another on the same drive, Windows moves the item. When you drag and drop from one drive to a different drive, Windows copies the item. Personally, I was never very good at remembering this subtlety, but I learned a long time ago (back when Windows XP was the most popular operating system, I think) that if you drag and drop using the right mouse button instead of the left, then Windows pops up a context menu at the destination, and that menu asks you explicitly what you want Windows to do with whatever you just dragged and dropped.

Windows offers multiple ways to do most things, and copying, moving and creating shortcuts in File Explorer are among them, so it may not surprise you to learn that you don’t have to drag and drop with the right mouse button to accomplish what we’re after today. If you hold down the [Ctrl] key while dragging and dropping with your left mouse button, Windows copies the item. Hold down the [Shift] key while dragging and dropping with your left mouse button, it moves the file. And if you hold down the [Alt] key while doing this, it creates a shortcut at the destination. Intuitive enough for you? Me, neither! That’s why we’ll be dragging and dropping with the right mouse button.

(If you’re one of the few, proud, enlightened left-handed Windows users who learned how to set Windows to reverse your mouse buttons, then you normally click and drag with your right mouse button, and you’ll need to remember to use your left mouse button for this exercise.)

So, let’s get started. The most logical place to look for a program you might want to access from the Desktop is the All apps menu. (Why? Because if you’re sophisticated enough to be running “portable” software from your Downloads or some other folder, then you probably aren’t reading my blog.) So let’s click the Start button and go there:

Next, we click on the “All apps” button (circled), and then go look for something we want on the Desktop. It would be nice to have a shortcut to my printer manual on the Desktop, so let’s right-click on that:

That opens a File Explorer window with the shortcut I want to have on the Desktop. The window may contain multiple program shortcuts; in this case, it contains only one. Now, right-click and hold on the program shortcut you want to copy to the Desktop, drag it out of the window, and drop it on the Desktop as indicated by the arrow:

As shown in the picture, a context menu will appear. Left-click on “Create shortcuts here” (circled). Voila, you now have a Desktop shortcut to the program you want, and you may close the File Explorer window.

It’s even easier to do this from Start Menu search results, because “Open file location” is in the context menu when you right-click on the item in the search results.

But wait… what if you right-click on an item, but you see an unfamiliar context menu that lacks “Open file location”?

If that happens, it means you’ve clicked on an app that came from the Microsoft Store, what I often refer to as a Windows 11 Sandbox App. (in my case, I right-clicked on “AudioDirector for MSI”.) You can’t create a conventional Desktop shortcut from those because they aren’t run from executable files or shortcuts in File Explorer windows. There is a way to get such apps on the Desktop, but that involves looking up long, arcane strings of gobbledygook, then right-clicking on the Desktop, choosing “New”, then “Shortcut”, and keying them into the Create Shortcut dialog box. That is beyond the scope of this blog entry.

I hope this helps make your programs more convenient to access. Next week, we’ll move on to something completely different.

Windows Wednesdays – Keeping Your Favorite Apps Closer, Part 2

Start Menu Pinned Section

Last week, we saw how to pin program icons to the Taskbar. This week, we will have a closer look at the improved Start Menu.

In Windows 11, as in Windows 10, the Taskbar is “prime real estate”. In fact, it’s the most valuable prime real estate, since it displays key controls, like the Start button, clock and network status, pinned program icons and icons for programs that are running. Taskbar behavior in Windows 11 is somewhat more intelligent than in Windows 10, at least to a point. In Windows 10, an overloaded Taskbar used to spawn a second, hidden tier with an up/down arrow control to the right for switching between tiers. It was a usable solution, but a bit clumsy. In Windows 11, the Taskbar decreases the size of the icons as you open more programs. When there are too many icons to display at once, the Taskbar sprouts a vertical separator line, like this:

The separator line is indicated by the red oval.

It’s not clear to me, as of this writing, how to access the overflow icons on the right side of the separator. However, the Taskbar’s usability is effectively negated long before the vertical line appears. By the time you have a dozen programs running, the Taskbar is essentially just a long, unsorted list, and it’s too difficult to recognize the reduced-size icon of any program you might be looking for. At that point, it’s easier to use another method of task switching, such as [Alt][Tab], to switch between programs. So, it’s best to only pin your most frequently used icons. For most people, that’s just three or four. But what about the icons for your not-so-frequently used, but still favorite applications?

The most logical place to put those icons is the Start Menu. Microsoft greatly simplified the Start menu in Windows 11. In Windows 10, pinning icons to the Start Menu was something of a free-for-all. You could pin as many as you wanted and move them around, and there was even a way to organize them into sections. But moving and organizing icons in the Windows 10 Start Menu was cumbersome and unintuitive, so most users never learned how to do it. In Windows 11, the Start Menu has just two sections: a Pinned section and a Recommended section. For today, we will focus our attention on the Pinned section.

The Pinned section of the Windows 11 Start Menu can display up to 18 icons at a time. You can pin more, but if you do, then your Pinned section will grow additional panels: a second one when you pin the 19th icon, a third one when you pin the 37th icon, and so on. You’ll be able to navigate among the panels using a series of vertical dots, an up arrow and a down arrow to the right of the icons, similar to how the home screens on a smartphone work. But I’m not going to show you this, at least not now, because having that many icons on the Start Menu detracts from its convenience. Besides that, few people have that many favorite applications, so 18 icons are more than enough.

You can also unpin icons from the Pinned section of the Start Menu, and you can drag and drop icons to rearrange them to your liking. Let’s see how this works.

As of this writing, my Start Menu looks like this:

First, let’s remove a couple of unused icons. I don’t use the Facebook app, and I’ve never used the Windows Tips app. So, I right-click on Facebook, and click “Unpin from Start”, as shown:

Repeat this for the Tips icon, and now my Start Menu looks like this:

Next, I’ll pin a new icon to my Start Menu. I use Firefox frequently (along with Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome), so it would be nice to have it closer at hand. Pinning an icon to the Start Menu is very easy in Windows 11, because when you right-click on any program icon in Windows 11, no matter where or how you found it (in the Taskbar, search results, the All Apps list, the Desktop or File Explorer), the context menu includes “Pin to Start”. So, I’ll search for Firefox, right-click on it and click “Pin to Start”:

Almost done! My Start Menu now looks like this:

But it would be nice to have all my web browsers grouped together. This is also quite easy, as it’s just a couple of simple drag-and-drop operations. I start by clicking and holding (with the left mouse button) on the Firefox icon, and dragging it next to Edge, as shown:

The other icons obligingly shift to the right to make room, and when I release the left mouse button, the Firefox icon drops right where I want it, next to Edge. After I repeat this for Google Chrome, my Start Menu looks like this:

Now it’s your turn. Try unpinning icons you don’t need, pinning icons you want to get to more quickly, and rearranging icons on your Start Menu to see how much better you can make the menu work for you!

Windows Wednesdays – Keeping Your Favorite Apps Closer, Part 1

Start Menu Pinned Section

Everyone who has used Windows for awhile knows how to keep your most frequently used programs close at hand: just create a desktop shortcut for that program, of course. But what if you’re one of those desktop packrats whose Windows desktop is an unsorted, edge-to-edge array of program shortcuts and data file icons? Enter the Start Menu shortcut.

Displaying the Start Menu has been simple enough in all versions of Windows since Windows 95 (except for Windows 8, which used a “Start Screen” that behaved differently, but we’ll ignore that for now). Just click your Start button or press the Windows key (the key with the Windows logo on it), and there it is.

Pressing the Windows key also makes the Windows 11 Taskbar appear, if you have yours set to automatically hide itself when you aren’t interacting with it. If you didn’t set your Taskbar to auto-hide, then it’s visible all the time. Either way, this Taskbar functionality is identical to prior versions of Windows, going back all the way to Windows 95. What has changed in Windows 11 is that it’s easier to pin frequently-used icons to the Taskbar that it was in Windows 10 and Windows 8, and that’s what today’s Windows Wednesdays installment is all about.

The steps for pinning an icon to the Taskbar vary, depending on where you find the icon. For example, if you find the icon in the All Apps list…

… then right-click on the program icon you want to pin (Audacity, in this example)…

… then click on More, which displays a fly-out menu …

… and, finally, click on “Pin to taskbar”. Your icon is now pinned to the Taskbar, as shown here:

It’s actually a little easier to pin an icon from Windows Search. Click the Start button or press the Windows key on your keyboard to display the Start menu.

Then begin typing. Optionally, you can click first in the “Type here to search” field, but if you don’t, Windows will know to send your keystrokes to that field. In this example, we’re searching for Audacity. As indicated by the gray characters at the end of the word in the “Type here to search” field, as shown below, even before we finish typing the name of the program, Windows has already made a good guess as to what we want!

Now, right-click on Audacity from the search hits, and “Pin to Taskbar” appears in the context menu, as shown below. Just click “Pin to Taskbar” to finish up.

It’s easier still to pin an icon that’s currently on the Start Menu. But why would I want to do that? After all, both the Taskbar and the Start Menu are prime real estate in Windows 11, aren’t they? The most logical reason to pin something that’s already on the Start Menu to the Taskbar would be as the first step in moving it from the Start Menu to the Taskbar. I would only do this for an icon that I use very often, so often that I don’t even want to have to click the Start button to get to it.

Calculator is an app that I use often enough that might want to move to the Taskbar, so I’ll use that as an example. First, click the Start button.

Next, right-click on the Calculator icon.

Finally, click “Pin to Taskbar” from the context menu.

That’s all there is to it.

There are still more “Pin to Taskbar” instances I could show you, such as pinning an icon from File Explorer or from the Desktop, but this is already a very long post, so I think I will save those for later installments about managing the Start Menu and changes to File Explorer.

Connecting Windows 11 to WiFi

Windows 11 WiFi Glyph

Windows 11’s user interface changes – dare I call it a face lift? – improves some things, while making (or leaving) other things counter-intuitive. Connecting to a wireless network decidedly falls into the latter category. If you mostly use a computer with a wired connection, or your computer pretty much stays at home, then it may be quite awhile before you notice how this has changed. But if you carry a laptop with you frequently and often have to connect to different wireless networks, you’ll run into confusion pretty quickly.

Please note that this is a “how-to” post, not a troubleshooting post. If you know how to connect to a wifi network with Windows 11 but are having difficulty doing so, then your best bet is to go to our Contact page and request a service call. (Or you could go back to good ol’ Google and keep searching…)

As you can see from the introductory screen shot on this post, the first change to the wi-fi interface is actually a good one. In Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, the wi-fi icon in the Taskbar Notification area looked like the cellular signal strength bars that people were used to seeing on their mobile phones. In Windows 10, Microsoft changed that icon to something similar to the wi-fi signal strength indicator seen on Mac computers and smartphones, but they rotated it 45 degrees to the left so it appeared to sit on its side. Since I know of no other milieu in which the wi-fi symbol looks like that, I began describing it to clients as a “quarter of a target”. The symbol for “no connection” was even less intuitive – a line art image of a globe. (There is a subtle difference between the “No Internet” and “No Connection at All” versions of the globe, but most people fail to see it.) Unfortunately, the “no connection” icons haven’t changed noticeably for Windows 11, but the wi-fi connection now looks like the ones found in Mac OS and on most cell phones, with the slice of the target standing on its point, allegedly resembling radio waves coming off of the top of an antenna. I don’t know if the latter interpretation qualifies as intuitive, but at least it’s consistent with other devices now, and thus should be less confusing.

As with Windows 10, when you want to connect Windows 11 to a wireless network, click on the network glyph in the Taskbar Notification Area:

No Connection network glyph

So far, so good, or at least so familiar. Unfortunately, what appears next is not:

Notification area status dialog

The pop-up that appears is actually a combined status dialog box. Starting from the top row, left corner, we have wifi status, Bluetooth status, and the last-used VPN, if any. On the second row, we see Airplane Mode, which toggles all networking on or off; Focus Assist, which we’ll ignore for now (there will be a future blog post on this), and Accessibility, which we will similarly ignore for now. Below that we have a brightness control (if you’re using a laptop or all-in-one with software-controlled brightness) and volume control.

Windows 11 leaves the uninitiated wondering what to do next. The most intuitive thing to do is click on the wifi symbol in the upper left, but all that does is turn the wifi radio off. (Click it again to turn it back on.) What you actually need to do is click on the “>” in the right half of the button with the wifi symbol.

Connect to wifi

Doing that brings up a the familiar list of wireless networks. From this point on, the procedure is the same as in Windows 10: choose the network you want, enter the password when prompted and Windows 11 connects right up.