Place shortcuts to your favorite folders in Windows' common dialogs

A few simple tweaks let you add the location of your choice to Open and Save dialog boxes in Vista and XP.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
3 min read

A few weeks ago I complained that I couldn't figure out how to change the default location when opening or saving files in Windows' great little Paint imaging utility. That one still eludes me, but I came up with an alternative approach that's almost as fast: Put shortcuts in common dialogs to your favorite folders via XP's Places Bar and Vista's Favorite Links.

Customize XP's common dialog boxes
To add new folder shortcuts in XP dialogs, click Start > Run, type gpedit.msc, and press Enter to open the Group Policy applet. Navigate in the left pane to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Explorer > Common Open File Dialog. Double-click Items displayed in Places Bar in the right pane, check Enabled in the resulting dialog box, and enter the folder paths in the five text fields below it.

This part is a little tricky, because if you don't know the path, you have to select the folder in Windows Explorer, copy the path in the address bar, and paste it into the Items displayed in the Places Bar Properties dialog box's text fields one at a time. The problem is, as soon as you navigate away from that dialog box, it closes, so you have to double-click the entry in the Common Open File Dialog again to reopen it each time. (You can also find the folder path by right-clicking a shortcut to the folder, choosing Properties, and copying the path in the Target field.)

You can save time by writing down the paths to the five folders you want to add before opening Group Policy, and then keying them in one by one. Another catch: You have to enter five folder paths, or Windows adds a placeholder icon for each blank field that leads nowhere and can cause problems. Once you've entered paths in all five text boxes, click OK and exit Group Policy.

The Items displayed in Places Bar dialog box in Windows XP's Group Policy applet
Add the paths to your favorite storage folders to the Common Open File Dialog in Windows XP's Group Policy applet.

A quicker way to customize the Places Bar in XP's common dialog boxes is by using the free Tweak UI utility in Microsoft's PowerToys collection. Simply open the program, choose Common Dialogs under Explorer in the left pane, check Custom places bar, and enter the folder paths, or select one of the folders on the drop-down menu. (Note that with Tweak UI, you can choose "none" on the drop-down menu without breaking anything, so you needn't enter five locations.) Click OK when you're done.

Microsoft's Tweak UI PowerToy for Windows XP
Use Microsoft's Tweak UI PowerToy for Windows XP to customize the shortcuts on the Places Bar in common dialog boxes.

Add custom shortcuts to Open and Save dialog boxes in Vista
Adding folders to the Favorite Links list in Vista common dialog boxes is straight-forward. Start by opening Windows Explorer and navigating to the Links folder in your user profile. It's likely located at "C:Users\your name\Links." Right-click in the right pane, choose New > Shortcut, and either enter the folder path, or click Browse, navigate to and select the folder, and click OK. Then click Next, give the shortcut a name (or accept the default folder name), and click Finish. A faster way to create the shortcuts is to simply click and drag the folder's icon into the right pane, and release it.

The Create Shortcut wizard in Vista
Create a shortcut to your favorite storage location in the Links folder of your user profile to add it to the Favorite Links in Vista common dialogs.

To access one of the folders on your custom list of shortcuts while in one of Vista's Open and Save dialog boxes, click More under Favorite Links, and choose the folder from the drop-down menu that appears.

The Favorite Links drop-down menu in Windows Vista's common dialog boxes
Select "More" under Favorite Links to view and select your custom folder locations in Vista's common dialog boxes.

Tomorrow: Get started faster in Ubuntu.