Microsoft

Quick Tip: Create application shortcuts for the Windows Run command

Configure the Run command so that you can quickly launch your favorite applications by typing a simple shortcut.


You can easily launch almost all of Windows' native applications and some third-party applications simply by typing the name of the executable file in the Open text box and clicking OK. For example, you can launch Calculator by accessing the Run dialog box, typing Calc in the Open text box, and clicking OK. If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your system, you can quickly launch that application by typing Acrord32 in the Open text box, and clicking OK. As you know, these types of application shortcuts can be real time savers.

However, for almost all other applications, you have to type the full path to the executable file or use the Browse feature to locate the executable file. Wouldn't it be nice if you could configure the Run command so that you could quickly launch you favorite applications by typing a simple shortcut?

Fortunately, there is a way to make this a reality. All you have to do is add a special key to the registry and configure it for any application to which you want to create a shortcut. Once you do so, you can then easily launch your favorite application from the Run dialog box simply by typing its name. And, best of all, this technique will work in all of the most current versions of the Windows operating systems—Windows 98/Me and Windows 2000/XP.

Before we begin
Warning: The following article involves editing your system registry. Using the Windows Registry Editor incorrectly can cause serious problems requiring the reinstallation of your operating system and possible loss of data. TechRepublic does not support problems that arise from editing your registry. Use the Registry Editor and the following directions at your own risk. I recommend that you perform a full system backup before you attempt to perform any of the steps presented in this article. Or at least make a backup of the registry. In Windows 98, you can use the Registry Checker to backup the registry. (For more information on the Registry Checker, see my article, “Use Windows 98 Registry Checker to manually restore a corrupt registry.” In Windows Me and Windows XP you can use System Restore to backup the registry.

Native apps follow the path
As you may know, the reason that you can launch almost any of Windows' native applications using the Run command is that these executable files are located in the Windows or System32 folders, which appear in the path environment variable. Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

When you type the name of the executable file in the Run dialog box’s Open text box and click OK, Windows will search for the executable file in the current folder. If the executable file isn’t found in the current folder, the operating system uses the path to search for the executable file. If the path leads to a folder that contains the executable file, Windows will then launch it.

You can see the current path environment variable setting at any time by opening a Command/MS-DOS Prompt window and typing Set on the command line. The amount of detail you’ll see will depend on what operating system you’re running, but you will see a line similar to:
Path= C:\WINDOWS\system32;C:\WINDOWS; C:\WINDOWS\System32\Wbem

Why not use the path?
Since Windows can track down executable files by searching the path, you might think that you can simply add the paths of your favorite applications' executable files to the operating system’s path environment variable. And, of course, you can do that. However, chances are that the paths to your favorite applications are long and adding them to the operating system’s path environment variable would be a tedious operation and would likely result in a decrease in responsiveness when launching applications from the Run dialog box.

Third-party apps use the registry
You can launch some third-party applications by typing the name of the executable file in the Open text box and clicking OK—even though the paths to these applications don’t appear in the path environment variable. The reason that this is possible is because the installation procedure for some applications adds the executable file's path to a special registry key called App Paths.

When you type the name of the executable file in the Run dialog box’s Open text box and click OK, Windows searches for the executable file in the current folder. If the executable file isn’t found in the current folder, the operating system uses the path to search for the executable file. If Windows can’t find the executable file in a folder listed in the path, it then checks the App Paths key. If the executable file is listed in the App Paths key, Windows can then launch it. break

Use the Windows key
While you can easily access the Run dialog box by clicking the Start button and then selecting the Run command, there is an easier way. Almost all keyboards these days come with a little-used shortcut key called the Windows key. If you press [Windows]R, you’ll instantly see the Run dialog box. For more handy Windows keyboard shortcuts check out Itai Rolnick's TechRepublic article, "Teach end users to navigate Windows without a mouse".

Creating your Run Command Shortcuts
Creating your Run Command Shortcuts by editing the registry is a pretty simple procedure. To begin launch the Registry Editor as you normally would—by typing Regedit.exe in the Run dialog box. Once the Registry Editor is up and running, navigate to following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\App Paths

Once you open the App Paths key, you’ll see a whole set of subkeys, each titled after an executable file, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
The App Paths key contains a set of subkeys bearing the names of executable files.


Now, as you look through the list of existing Run Command Shortcuts, you’ll see several subkeys named after native Windows apps, such as Wordpad.exe (WordPad) and Iexplore.exe (Internet Explorer). The reason that some of the Windows native apps appear in the App Paths key is that their executable files are located in folders other than Windows or System32. For example, WordPad is located in the Program Files\Windows NT\Accessories folder, and Internet Explorer is located in the Program Files\Internet Explorer folder.

To create a Run Command Shortcut for your favorite application, right-click on the App Paths key and select the New | Key command. When you see the new key appear, give it a two to eight character name—something that’s mnemonic or easy to associate with the application—along with an .exe extension.

Run Command Shortcut naming conventions
As you look at the list of existing Run Command Shortcuts, you’ll notice that almost all of the keys carry the same name as the application’s executable file, yet I’ve recommended that you use a two to eight character mnemonic name instead. The reason for this recommendation is that it’s far easier to remember shorter Run Command Shortcut names that remind you of the associated application than it is some of the convoluted names assigned to certain executable files. For example, the Run Command Shortcut for Adobe Acrobat Reader—Acrord32—isn’t an easy one to memorize. You may want to rename some of the existing Run Command Shortcuts that you would like to use with shorter names. For instance, you might rename the Acrord32.exe Run Command Shortcut something like Acrobat.exe. However, I must caution you about going overboard. In other words, you should only rename those existing Run Command Shortcuts that you use most often and then you should only rename one at a time. After each rename, you should run several tests to make sure that you can still launch the application normally.

For example, suppose that you want to create a Run Command Shortcut for a screen capture program called FullShot99. If so, you might name the new key fs.exe, as shown in Figure B, rather than use the actual executable filename, which in this case is FullShot99.exe.

Figure B
You’ll want to use a two or three character name along with an exe extension for your Application.


Once you create the new key, you’ll see an empty String value labeled Default in the key. Double-click the Default value and when you see the Edit String dialog box, type the full path to the application’s executable file in the Value Data text box, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
You’ll type the full path to the application’s executable file in the Value Data text box.


To complete the Run Command Shortcut, click OK. As soon as you do, the registry is instantly updated and your new Run Command Shortcut is ready to use. If you wish, you can immediately access the Run dialog box and try out your new Run Command Shortcut.

You can repeat the above steps to create as many Run Command Shortcuts as you wish. When you’re finished, simply exit the Registry Editor.

Use copy and paste
You can save yourself from manually typing the path in the Value data text box by activating the Start menu and then locating and right-clicking on the application’s shortcut on the start menu and selecting Properties. When you see the application’s properties dialog box, the path to the application’s executable file, located in the Target text box will automatically be selected. Just press [Ctrl]C to copy the path to the clipboard, and then click Cancel. Now switch back to the Edit String dialog box and paste the path to the application’s executable file in the Value Data text box.

More information on the Run command
If you want to learn more about the benefits, as well as problems, associated with the Run command, check out these Microsoft Knowledge Base articles:

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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