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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.

20 comments
jscanzoni
jscanzoni

Is there a way to turn off the default links?

saateesht
saateesht

Having used Vista for over a year now, I am more than little dazed at my own incomprehension of this simple tool. I vaguely figured out what it was but never really used it, and tortured myself thru tedious Folder navigation,that Vista managed to make even more stupid by putting "Computer" in the middle of the "Start" pane. Thank u for releasing me from my misery!

dmjohnson
dmjohnson

I was aware of Favorite Links, but did not comprehend its utility.

bulk
bulk

I was a big user of this in Vista, but it seems to have lost functionality in W7. I only see a max of 7 items in the left pane even though many more are visible in the favourites folder, and there are no down arrows so that the favorites list can be made to fill the left panel. Am I missing something? Richard

clare-john
clare-john

One thing I noticed right away about the Favorite Link list--it doesn't include Favorites! I've since added it, but thought it a bit strange it wasn't there by default.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Just like many others, this is something that was overlooked. Thanks, this is a helpful tip.

mike.codding
mike.codding

This is a fantastic alternative for people who use their desktop for a 'favorites' and/or 'recently used' folder! Say good-bye to desktop clutter!

rwpank
rwpank

This shortcut is not a default nor did a search reveal its location. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks Ron

bbonesnew
bbonesnew

'Recent Places' is a very useful shortcut, but it only shows up by default in the "Save As" dialogs. To add it to your Favorite Links do this: 1. Open any doc in Word or excel or just about any app. 2. Go to File>Save As 3. Right-click on 'Recent Places' and select 'Create Shortcut' 4. This will create a shortcut to Recent Places on your desktop, which you can then drag into your Favorite Links folder.

pmansbach
pmansbach

I thought the Favorites links would be useful, but too many of my applications don't display it.

ken.mcleod
ken.mcleod

Have a look at the free plugin, FileBox eXtender. Works great in all windows versions. I haven't found an application it doesn't work in, but have turned it off in some... http://www.hyperionics.com/index.asp You can also go directly to a "Favorite Place" directly from a popup menu on your taskbar. Very handy.

cdaal
cdaal

Perhaps you can drag an app shortcut to the quick launch toolbar (or copy and paste shortcuts in the quick launch folder), that should do the trick. The same thing can be done with folders.

rmmccoy
rmmccoy

It is interesting to note what we as users notice and don't notice. I am a lover of the tree layout and sometimes wish it was available in more places; but quite literally, the favorites link was one of the first things I noticed about Vista. It wasn't long before I had modified that area, removing here, adding there. However, I have only been using Vista since the end of last year and I am still stumbling onto something new. I suspect that is going to continue for a while.

mleclercq
mleclercq

Indeed, i have been computering since 1999 and had no idea that the favorite links even existed. Thank you for a very usefull tip.

Loosegoose
Loosegoose

I have been using Rocket Dock in a similar fashion and it only takes one click.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I admit it; I have not been using the Favorite Link navigation feature regularly. 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?

Ron_007
Ron_007

I've been using the Favorites links a little for the last year or so. Your article has pointed out a few more things I wasn't aware of, thanks! Suggestion: pull "bones's" "Recent Places" tip into the body of the text. Question: is there any way of modifying the search criteria of the predefined "Searches". When I tried "recent documents" it didn't include 99% of the documents I have used "recently". I would like to modify the search criteria to reflect where I store files other than "My Documents"

Sacha.Perzoff
Sacha.Perzoff

I discover with your article that we can personalize the Favorite Links. If we move a data folder to the left pane (Favorite Links) Vista create directly a shortcut. Then it is possible to sort by name with right click. Thank you for the good id?e. Sacha PERZOFF (Switzerland)

CMB from Omaha
CMB from Omaha

Great information! I had wondered why Vista's drive/folder navigation seemed so frappin' user-unfriendly. This will save me tons of time, over time--thanks!

PackMule64
PackMule64

I had not really been using it. This was one of my peeves about Vista. When you save something you can no longer just expand the folder dropdown list and choose like C drive and go from there. So you were stuck with the stupid left hand list to choose from. NOW with adding a few folders and the "My Computer" I can navigate nicely. Great tip!