Help yourself to cool shortcuts!

If you’ve run Vista for a while, you probably know you can get to many programs by looking them up in Help and Support. This typically produces a list of help pages, among which you can usually find a link to launch the program you want. Take this infrequent but common Windows task, for instance: partitioning and formatting a new hard disk.

If you click on Start, Help and Support, and then enter “format hard disk” into the search box, you’ll see a display like this one:

Entry 1 is where we can find satisfaction in this instance

Click on entry 1. “Formatting disks and drives,” and you’ll find a mini tutorial like the one shown in the next screenshot to the left, which talks about when and why formatting a drive is usually called for—namely when adding a new drive to an existing Windows installation (or replacing a smaller old one with a bigger new one, as I did earlier this week).

The first paragraphs set the stage for formatting a hard disk, but the real gold comes later in this help page.

Scroll down into the file and you’ll see an expandable entry entitled “What do I need to do to format a hard disk?” Click on the triangle to its left to expand this information as shown in the next screenshot, where you see a link to another help page named “Create and format a hard disk partition.” This is depicted in the next screenshot.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. This is the very question whose answer we seek.Click on the link that reads “Create and Format a hard disk partition,” then expand the entry that reads “To create and format a partition (volume).” Notice the text that reads “Click to open Computer Management.” This is the Microsoft Management Console within which the Disk Management Utility resides, which is exactly the tool you’d want to launch to handle this task. This information appears in the screenshot to the right.

Finally! A link to the Microsoft Management Console we need to open to format a new hard disk.

OK, here comes the trick. Right click the Help window and select View Source at the bottom of the resulting pop-up menu. This opens notepad (or whatever default editor for HTML files you’ve set up on your machine) with the source code for the underlying help page in view. Use the Find command in the Edit menu to search for “Computer Management.” This will take you right to that part of the source code where the shortcut to access the right management console is buried. This text appears in the next screenshot, with the words “Computer Management” highlighted in blue. If you type “%systemroot%\system32\mmc.exe compmgmt.msc /s” into the search box at the Start menu, you can jump right to where you need to go.

Going to the source

While this may not seem like much of a trick at first blush, think about what this means. As long as you can find a link to the program or console you want to run somewhere in a Help file, you can find the precise syntax to launch at the command line (and by extension, in the Search box for the Start menu). If you build yourself a collection of such strings (I keep mine in a note file inside Outlook myself) you can start shortcutting your way around Vista like a real pro. Now that’s a real trick!

Added Note (7/8/08)

I stumbled across another potential source for shortcut information. If you can type a program or service name into the search box in the Start menu, and get a clickable icon as a result (type “reli” into this window to produce the Reliability and Performance monitor, for example). Right click-on the program name in the start menu, then select Properties from the resulting pop-up menu. There, you’ll find a target field that reads %SystemRoot%\system32\perfmon.msc /s. Cut’n’paste this into the search box, Run command Open textbox, or the command line, and it will take you straight to the program. Also paste this into your shortcuts file for future re-use. This only works for programs that the Search function can recognize by name (as with this example), so the Help method is more comprehensive, though this is more direct–when it works!

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About Ed Tittel

Full-time freelance writer, researcher and occasional expert witness, I specialize in Windows operating systems, information security, markup languages, and Web development tools and environments. I blog for numerous Websites, still write (or revise) the occasional book, and write lots of articles, white papers, tech briefs, and so forth.

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