Windows Desktop Shortcuts Give me Quick Access to Anything
Updated 2021-July-28

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2021-April-5  Published this evolving⁠[1] article.

What is Windows desktop

On Windows the background screen is called the desktop. It is accessible from anywhere in Windows by either…

  • pressing Win+D,

  • right clicking an empty region of the taskbar and choosing Show the desktop,

  • or clicking the very narrow (almost invisible) vertical button on the far right of the main taskbar.

Each of these three techniques are toggles and when done a second time, change the display to as it was before showing the desktop.

Since the desktop is so easily accessible, it is useful to use it as a launchpad for folders, files, and applications that you regularly use.

 

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Each item on your desktop uses some of your system’s RAM (random-⁠access memory) so it’s a good idea to put only items that you regularly use on it.

 

Why Windows desktop is a better launchpad than Windows File Explorer

On Windows, you can use File Explorer and its Quick access sidebar to manage and launch files and folders. Unfortunately, this sidebar has some issues, including…

  • it’s a pain to reorder the Quick access items,

  • you cannot launch executables from it,

  • and you cannot give items meaningful aliases. For example, Visual Studio Code’s Roaming User directory is listed as simply User rather than something meaningful like VSCode Settings.

Because of these Windows File Explorer issues, I prefer to use Windows desktop as my launchpad for frequently used items.

 

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  • Win+D displays the Desktop.

  • Win+E displays File Explorer.

 

Example: Launch qutebrowser’s config folder from the desktop

When configuring the qutebrowser web browser, I often do things in my C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\qutebrowser\config\ folder. To make it easy to get there, I do the following.

  1. Use Windows File Explorer to navigate to this AppData⁠[2] Roaming qutebrowser directory.

  2. Right click its config subdirectory and choose Send to > Desktop (create shortcut).

  3. View the Desktop by pressing Win+D.

  4. On the Desktop, Right click the newly-created shortcut icon⁠[3] that’s labeled config - Shortcut, choose Rename, and name it something more meaningful, for example qutebrowser config.

 

After doing this, I can use Win+D to view the Desktop and then…

  • double click the shortcut to open the directory in Windows File Explorer,

  • or Right click the shortcut and in the pop-up context menu choose either…

    • Open in Windows Terminal,

    • Git Bash Here,

    • Open Folder as IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition Project

    • Open with Code,

    • or Properties;

  • or Shift+Right click the shortcut and choose…

    • Open PowerShell window here.

Note that the options you see when you Right click or Shift+Right click a shortcut depend on what apps are on your system.

 

More examples

You can do the above for C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Code\User\ and any other directory that you regularly visit.

Another example, which includes editing a shortcut’s Properties, is in the desktop shortcut section of Infinite Ink’s Launching Git Bash.

 

Organizing your Windows desktop

To configure your Desktop, Right click an open spot on it and specify the settings that you would like. Here are some of the Desktop View > settings I use:

  • Auto arrange icons

  • Align icons to grid

  • Show Desktop icons

With the above settings, I can drag and drop my shortcuts and arrange them however I like.

 

Desktop background image

To change your desktop’s background image, right click an open spot on it and choose Personalize. Starting in April 2020, you can use Microsoft’s Bing Wallpaper app to automatically set your desktop image to the current Bing image.

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If you quit the Bing Wallpaper app, the current Bing image will continue to be your desktop background image (until you choose to change it).
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These Bing images are stored in:

C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local​\Microsoft\BingWallpaperApp\WPImages

 

Endnotes


1. Many Infinite Ink articles, including this one, are evergreen and regularly updated.
2. Windows default is to hide the AppData directory. To unhide it, select Show hidden files, folders, and drives in File Explorer’s View Options.
3. Newly-created shortcut icons are usually placed near the upper left corner of the desktop.

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