Windows / Customizing Your Open Files Places Bar

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Customizing Your Open Files Places Bar

As of Windows 2000 (and thus it is in XP), Microsoft added a feature to the Open File dialog - the Places Bar, which is the vertical toolbar that appears on the left side of the window to let you select a frequently visited folder. As you can see in Figure 1, the Places Bar contains buttons to take the user directly to five folders: My Recent Documents, Desktop, My Documents, My Computer, and My Network Places. If those are not the places you use most commonly, you can do something about it.

NOTE: Following this procedure will not affect the Open File dialogs in Office XP or 2003. Those are special. See Microsoft Office Tips and Tricks for information on customizing the Places Bar there.

Default Open File dialog
Figure 1. The Open File dialog with the default Places Bar

Using Tweak UI (Windows XP)

The easiest way to modify what is available in your Places Bar is to use the Tweak UI XP Powertoy. It is available for free from the Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP page. Simply download the TweakUI.exe file and run it. This will create a “Powertoys for Windows XP” folder in your Start menu. When you run Tweak UI, click on the + next to “Common Dialog” (in the left pane) or double-click on “Common Dialog”, then click on “Places Bar”. The result is shown in Figure 2.

Tweak UI Screenshot 1
Figure 2. Initial Places Bar configuration settings

Click on “Custom places bar” and you can specify up to five locations to be shown. If you clicked Apply or OK without changing any of the five “<none>” choices, your Places Bar would be empty (see Figure 3). Note that the Places Bar is still shown in an Open File dialog even though it is empty; if you don’t want a Places Bar at all, select “Hide places bar”.

Open File dialog with empty Places Bar
Figure 3. The Open File dialog with an empty Places Bar

You can select from standard locations using the drop down selector; or you can simply type in the full folder name (remember to include the disk information, e.g.C:\My folder\My subfolder”) for each position in the Places Bar. It has been reported that the top place can handle only 30 characters, while the remaining ones can handle at least 60 characters. Figure 4 shows the configuration I wanted at work, and Figure 5 shows the Open File dialog with my customized Places Bar. Note that the mapped network drives (X: and Z:) display their full description in the Places Bar, not simply “X:” and “Z:”. I would rather see “X:” and “Z:” rather than the bizarre names I tried to avoid needing to remember by mapping the drives in the first place; but I don’t know how to change it.

Tweak UI Screenshot 2
Figure 4. My Places Bar configuration settings
Open File dialog with my Places Bar
Figure 5. The Open File dialog with my customized Places Bar

Editing the Registry (Windows XP)

The more direct way to modify what is available in your Places Bar is to use the Registry Editor. Editing your Registry can be dangerous, if you screw something up, you may not be able to boot Windows anymore; so don’t screw anything up! If you are not comfortable taking the risk of manually editing the Registry, then you either live with the Places Bar Windows gives you, or you use the Tweak UI Powertoy. For information on how to run the Registry Editor, see Windows Registry Tweaks.

Find the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies (see Figure 6). Right-click on Policies and select New then Key as shown in Figure 7. Name the key ComDlg. Similarly, create a key called PlacesBar under ComDlg. Now, if you bring up an Open File dialog somewhere, your Places Bar should be empty (as shown in Figure 3 above).

Registry Screenshot 1
Figure 6. Find the desired Policies key in the Registry Editor
Registry Screenshot 2
Figure 7. Create the ComDlg key

Select the PlacesBar key. If you wish to specify a specific folder, you need to create a String Value by right-clicking in the right pane of the Registry Editor and selecting New then String Value as shown in Figure 8. Name that value PlaceX where X is a digit from 0 to 4 (Place0 is the top item in the Places Bar, Place 4 is the bottom one). Double-click on that new item in the right pane, and specify the desired folder name for the value (as in Figure 9).

Registry Screenshot 3
Figure 8. Creating a String Value
Registry Screenshot 4
Figure 9. Entering the value for the new String Value

If you wish to specify a special destination, like My Computer or My Documents, you need to create a DWORD Value instead. The table below indicates the value you need to enter for the special destinations that Windows defines. Make sure you set the Base to Decimal when you enter the value (as shown in Figure 10).

ID Folder
0 Desktop
2 Programs folder on Start menu
3 Control Panel
4 Printers
5 My Documents
6 Favorites
7 Startup folder on Start menu
8 Recent Files
9 Send To
10 Recycle Bin
12 Start menu
17 My Computer
18 My Network Places
20 Fonts
Registry Screenshot 5
Figure 10. Entering the value for the new DWORD Value

You should probably not leave a gap by skipping a number for the PlaceX values you create. In other words, if you want only three items there, define Place0, Place1, and Place2 (rather than any other set of three PlaceX values).

As soon as you define a PlaceX value, you can open up a new Open File dialog to see the change.

< Getting Back the Folders Sidebar | Working With Windows | Windows Registry Tweaks >

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