In response to my article “Create custom technical support Help files with Microsoft’s HTML Help Workshop,” I received several questions from techs who wanted to make distributing technical support information to network users easier.

These questions revolved around the placement of the link to the custom Help file on the Start menu. More specifically, the techs were wondering if there was a way to add a permanent link on the main part of the Start menu, similar to the built-in Help link, rather than simply pinning the link on the top of the Start menu. (It’s too easy to unpin the link—you just right-click and select the Unpin From Start Menu command on the context menu.)

Fortunately, while pondering this question, I uncovered a hidden trick that will indeed allow you to add a permanent link to Windows XP ‘s newly designed Start menu—right under the Run command. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet come across a similar technique for other versions of the Windows operating systems.

Other ideas

Even if you aren’t using the custom Help file technique, you may still want to take advantage of this hidden trick to add links to other items, such as your favorite Web site. So read on!

A custom Help file refresher
For those of you who don’t remember or haven’t read the article on using the HTML Help Workshop to create custom Help files, let me provide a synopsis of the technique. Working as a support professional, chances are that you receive the same questions from users over and over again. To save time and effort, you can use HTML Help Workshop to create standard, compiled Help files that you place on a server. You can then send out shortcuts to the Help files that users can add to their desktops or Start menus, where they’ll be readily accessible.

This solution has two advantages: First, having the file on a server means that if you ever have to add or revise information, you only have to do so once and the update will instantly be available across the network. Second, everyone is familiar with the Help file format and understands that it’s a source for getting answers to questions. As such, they’ll naturally turn to it for information in times of need.

How I discovered this trick
I discovered this little trick while troubleshooting a problem on a new HP system that came preinstalled with HP’s OEM version of Windows XP. Toward the bottom of the Start menu, right under the Run command, I noticed an HP icon that, when clicked, launched Internet Explorer and connected you to the HP technical support site.

So I delved into the registry and tracked down the source of this link in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{2559a1f6-21d7-11d4-bdaf-00c04f60b9f0} key. Once I found the key containing the entries to create this link, I right-clicked on the key and used the Export command to create a Reg file.

I then installed the Reg file on a couple of Windows XP test systems and discovered that, in addition to creating a link that connects to a Web site, you can use the link to launch programs and open documents on your local hard disk as well as on a network server. In the case of the latter, the link can use a mapped drive letter as well as a simple UNC path.

The Reg file
Now that you have an idea of how this will work, let’s take a look at the Reg file in Listing A. As you study the listing, note that there are several line numbers followed by blank lines. These blank lines delineate the individual sections of the Reg file that create the various subkeys under the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{2559a1f6-21d7-11d4-bdaf-00c04f60b9f0} key in the registry. You’ll also see several sections of code that don’t have a line number. These sections of code are word-wrapped and actually belong on the same line as the code that preceded them.

Download the PermaLink.reg file
If typing or copying lines of code isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry; the PermaLink.reg file is available for download. To download the script, just click here. The file has been zipped, so you’ll need a file unzip utility to open it. To avoid problems with antivirus software during the download, this version’s filename is PermaLink.txt. Once you unzip the file, simply rename it to PermaLink.reg.

Customizing the PermaLink.reg file
Now, you’ll need to customize the PermaLink.reg file. To begin, you’ll replace the placeholder text on lines 3 and 22 with the title text that you want to appear on the Start menu next to the icon. Keep in mind that you’re limited to 25 characters for the title. If you type a longer title on both lines, it will be truncated on the Start menu. However, if you hover your mouse pointer over the title, a popup will appear and display the full title.

On line 6, you’ll type the full path to the icon that you want to place on the Start menu adjacent to your link. On line 23, you’ll enter the full path to your custom Help file. As you add your titles, path, and filenames, make sure that you place your text between the double quotes.

More detailed description

If you want to provide a more detailed description, yet want to keep the actual text on the Start menu short and sweet, enter the short title on line 3 and the more detailed description on line 22. You’d expect the detailed description to appear in a popup when you hover the mouse over the short title. However, that’s not the case. In order to see the more detailed description, you have to right-click on the short title.

The icon
The icon that you specify on line 6 must be a 24×24 pixel icon and must be saved in the ICO format. If you use a larger icon or an icon created in Paint and saved with an .ico extension, Windows XP will ignore your custom icon file and use a default yellow folder icon.

Installing the link
Once you’ve created or downloaded the PermaLink.reg file and customized it, installing the link is a snap. All you have to do is double-click the PermaLink.reg file, and the Registry Editor will display a confirmation dialog box prompting you to confirm the addition to the registry. To continue, just click Yes. You may have to log off or restart your system in order for the changes to occur.

Removing the link
If you ever want to remove the link from the Start menu, just make a copy of the PermaLink.reg file and name in RemovePermaLink.reg. Then, load this file into Notepad by right-clicking on it and selecting the Edit command from the context menu. Once the file is loaded into Notepad, locate each line that begins with:

and add a minus sign (-) between the left bracket and the letter H, as in:

Then, double-click the RemovePermaLink.reg file and accept the confirmation.

Changing the link
Once you’ve added the link to the Start menu, you can alter its configuration easily. You don’t have to do so with a Reg file. Instead, just launch the Registry Editor and drill down:

You’ll find the title text in the {2559a1f6-21d7-11d4-bdaf-00c04f60b9f0} and InitPropertyBag keys. You’ll also find the full path to your custom Help file InitPropertyBag key. The reference to your icon file will be in the DefaultIcon key.