Microsoft

Uncover the performance benefits of the Favorite Links list in Vista

It seems that many users are unaware of the navigational features of Microsoft Vista's Favorite Links list. Greg Shultz delves into the Favorite Links list feature and shows you how to take full advantage of its features. He will also show you how to customize the Favorite Links list to suit your needs.

I got an e-mail from a friend the other day asking why Microsoft had done away with the Places Bar in the Save and Open dialog boxes in Windows Vista. I was a bit surprised at first, but I wrote back and explained to my friend that Microsoft had not really done away with the Places Bar in Vista but had replaced it with the Favorite Links list, which essentially has the same functionality as XP's Places Bar and much more. For example, not only does the Favorite Links list appear in the Save and Open dialog boxes, it also appears in Windows Explorer. Plus, the Favorite Links list is easier to customize than the Places bar.

I was even more surprised by the response. It seems my friend had been ignoring the Favorite Links list for so long that he simply overlooked it and was always using the Folders tree. He was flabbergasted to learn that what he had been seeking for so long had been right in front of his face the whole time.

I later asked a few of my colleagues whether they were using the Favorite Links list as a navigation aid in Vista and was surprised by the responses I received. It seems that not many folks are really using or are aware of the navigational features of Vista's Favorite Links list.

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll delve into the Favorite Links list feature and show you how to take full advantage of it. As I do, I'll show you how to customize the Favorite Links list.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

The case of the missing Favorite Links list

As I began investigating why not many people were using the Favorite Links list, I discovered that several people had no idea what I was talking about. When I went to a couple Vista systems to show them what I was referring to, I discovered why.

It seems that some of these folks had hidden the Favorite Links list soon after they first began using Vista and never remembered doing so. As such, all they had showing was the Folders tree. If you look at the sequence of images in Figure A, which shows the Open dialog box from Paint, you'll see that by default the Favorite Links list and Folders tree share the panel, but that you can click and drag the divider up until you completely hide the Favorite Links list such that all that is showing is the Folders tree.

Figure A

You can completely hide the Favorite Links list so that the Folders tree takes up the whole panel.

Investigating the Favorite Links list

In order to take full advantage of the Favorite Links list, your best bet is to click the down arrow control in the Folders section divider. When you do, the Favorite Links section takes over the entire panel, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You can hide the Folders section and work strictly in the Favorite Links section.

As you can see now, the Favorite Links list actually contains quite a few links. Let's take a closer look.

Right off the bat, you'll notice the Documents, Pictures, and Music, which are simply shortcuts to these common folders. Since these are the folders that contain the files that you most likely need to access on a regular basis, having these links in the Favorites will allow you to quickly find what you need without having to drill down through a standard folder tree. If you still want to be able to access all the folders on your hard disk, you can just click Computer or Desktop and drill down through the folders or out over the network. If you are sharing files to the local users or over a network using the Public folder system, you can click Public on the Favorite Links list and access those files.

The item on the Favorite Links list titled Searches is a link to the main container for all the Search Folders, as shown in Figure C. As you may know, Search Folders are essentially searches that you save and are designed to make it easy for you to quickly find your files, regardless of where they actually exist on your hard disk. When you open a Search Folder, the operating system instantly runs that saved search and immediately displays up-to-date results.

Figure C

As shown in this Open dialog box from Word, the Searches item on the Favorite Links list provides access to the main container for all the Search Folders.
Another helpful item on the Favorite Links list is titled Recently Changed and is designed to show you files from your Documents, Pictures, and Music folders that you have created or modified in the past 30 days, as shown in Figure D. As you might imagine, the Recently Changed link is actually a Search Folder.

Figure D

When you access the Recently Changed link from the Favorite Links list in Windows Explorer, you'll instantly see all the files that you have created or modified in the past 30 days.
The item on the Favorite Links list titled Recent Places also provides a very handy feature. As shown in Figure E, clicking the Recent Places link essentially will show you a history of all the folders that you have recently accessed. This can be a real time saver when you can't remember the exact name or location of a particular folder.

Figure E

Recent Places will show you a history of all the folders that you have recently accessed.

Customizing the Favorite Links list

Because the links that appear in the Favorite Links list are stored as simple shortcuts, customizing the Favorite Links list is very easy. In fact, the folder that serves as the host for the Favorite Links list lives in your user profile folder and is called Links. Therefore, you can customize the Favorite Links list simply by adding links to the Links folder. You can use drag and drop or you can launch the Create Shortcut wizard from within the Links folder, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

You can customize the Favorite Links list simply by adding links to the Links folder.

What's your take?

Have you been using the Favorite Links list? Now that you know that the Favorite Links list exists in Vista's Open and Save dialog box as well as Windows Explorer and know how it works, will you abandon the Folders tree and begin using and customizing the Favorite Links list? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About

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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