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How to Add Any Application to the Windows Desktop Right-Click Menu

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If you want really quick access to launch a frequently used application without putting extra icons on your desktop, you can add that application to the context menu for the desktop with a simple registry hack. Here’s how to do it.

Naturally, we’ve also covered the opposite scenario—how to clean up your messy Windows context menu, which is an equally useful read if you’ve got a bunch of items you want to remove from the menu.

Note: this article was originally published a few years ago, but we’ve updated and polished it for Windows 7 and are republishing it for you today.

Adding Applications to the Desktop Context Menu

For today’s lesson we’ll show you how to add Notepad to the menu, but you could add any applications you want instead. The first thing you’ll want to do is open up regedit.exe through the Start Menu search or run box, and then browse down to the following key:

HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\Background\shell

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The screen should look similar to this one if you are in the right place.

Next, you’ll want to create a new key underneath the shell key, the name of which is exactly what is going to show up on the desktop menu. Right-click on the “shell” key, and then choose New \ Key from the menu.

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Give the new key the name that you want to show up on the desktop context menu. For this example we’ll be using Notepad.

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Optional: If you want to assign an “Alt” key to this menu entry for quicker access, you can change the (Default) value on the right and put an & character in front of the key you want to use. For instance, if you wanted to be able to just use the N key to launch Notepad once the desktop context menu pops up, you can do this:

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Personally I don’t find this terribly useful since you have to use the mouse to right-click on the desktop… may as well just use the mouse to click the item. Still, for completeness I’ve included it.

Next you’ll need to create the command key that will actually hold the command used to launch the application. Right-click on the new Notepad key, and then choose New \ Key from the menu.

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Give this key the name “command” in lowercase.

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To complete this step you’ll need the full path to the application that you want to launch. You can use Shift + Right-Click to get the Copy as Path menu item to find this more quickly. Note: of course, for Notepad you wouldn’t need the full path, but this is just an example.

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Now click on “command” on the left side, and then double-click on the (Default) key in the right side to edit the string value.

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Paste in the full path to the executable that you got from the “Copy as Path” step above, or you can put in the full path yourself if you’d like.

Once it’s done, it should look like this:

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And right-clicking on the desktop will produce the new menu item… naturally, using this menu item should launch Notepad.

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You can add as many applications to the desktop context menu as you’d like, just repeat the steps again with a new menu item name.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/3/10

Comments (66)

  1. Scott

    very useful little tidbit of info … for customizing .. thanx ..

  2. Phao Loo

    Very useful and informative post. But playing with registry is so dangerous for novice users, we should back registry first (even create a restore point) before change something there.

  3. The Geek

    @Phao

    That’s a good point. In fact, creating a restore point is a good idea in general before following any of our articles, which often deal with the registry.

  4. rabuksak

    Wonderful! Thanks Geek.

    On the a.-retentive side (nice sensor there), is there any way to order/reorder the items added in the menu besides deleting and re-adding items in the order preferred?

  5. The Geek

    @rabuksak

    Aren’t they in alphabetical order? I was under that impression… but I didn’t really think about it before. Will check into that.

  6. Chris

    I’d be glad to create a quick .NET utility to provide a point-and-click UI for these steps. If there’s interest, let me know, and I’ll try to have something ready to try by tomorrow (Dec 16th).

  7. 0zSpitt

    can i put firefox and my commonly used programs on this? i like this hack, i can use it…

  8. Stephen

    I like it the fact you can add those to the right click but was wondering if you could add a folder to it with programs already in there.

  9. Barry Carlyon

    This looks really useful, not for notepad obviously, as windows + r, then notepad is so much quicker.

    My issue is I use the quicklaunch and my desktop is never visible, as programs are always open.

    Nice tutorial tho :-)

  10. Dusty

    Will this work with XP?

  11. The Geek

    @Dusty

    No, it won’t, but if you really don’t mind some hacking, there’s an excellent Vishal article on the subject:

    http://www.askvg.com/a-complete-tutorial-to-customize-desktop-context-menu-in-windows-xp-using-resource-hacker/

  12. Spacegold

    Um, would it be possible to write this up as a batch file that we could edit to insert the name of the program we want to include? Just wondering……

  13. Chris

    @Spacegold

    Have written a utility that I’ve submitted to The Geek that will make it pretty simple to add elements. It currently isn’t especially UAC aware but if you’ve turned off UAC and are running with local admin privileges, it works fine. Will see about revving to a more UAC-friendly version if warranted. However, since modifying HKCR should, I would guess, require admin rights, simply running the tool using “Runas” may also work.

  14. Stepen

    What utility did you add and where can I find this utility?

  15. Chris

    I uploaded it to the moderator and he’s going to decide if it’s something he’d provide a link to on his site.

    Future enhancements would include the ability to remove an entry after adding it without having to go into the registry.

  16. Spacegold

    Thank you, Chris. I hope Geek determines it worthy. And the unloader would be a definite plus.

  17. Spacegold

    Now, if we could just get a “close window” option in all rightclick menus except desktop.

  18. Chris

    Version 1.0.2 has been provided to The Geek. It now forces the UAC “enter admin credentials” prompt when the program is launched and you have UAC enabled. If you have UAC disabled, you can run the program but without admin privileges, your changes won’t be saved. Next version will clean that behavior up a bit.

  19. Andrelis

    Can I change the order of Desktop Right-Click Menu in Vista? For example, that Notepad would be the first item above all?

  20. Xavier Van Vlasselaer

    Hi,

    Very nice idea!!! I have used your idea to create a post on my blog.
    Of course your Web site is referenced in my article… (http://www.cegx.com/cegxblog/petit-truc-pour-les-fichiers-nef-du-nikon-d80)
    The issue is that it is in French, but I explain the summary…

    I have the Nikon D80… and I use always the NEF and the JPG in high quality… I use the JPG for quick view and quick use… The NEF for picture rework…

    The problem with the Nikon is that it puts the NEF and the JPGs in the same directory. I used therefore your tip to create a BAT file and call it with a Right click… using your idea…

    Many thanks,

    Xavier

  21. brad

    to link to a folder simply type this for the command default entry

    explorer.exe “C:\path to folder”

  22. Stephen

    to link a folder does that work in the regeidt because I tried and kept on saying no path found please can you give me more on that how to link a folder in the regeidt. Thank you

  23. Stephen

    I did figure it out how to do it but I do have a question how can you get that arrow key like you have for new with the arrow key to choose those items to open up the same way for the folder I created on the right click is there anyway to do that or its imposible.

  24. Chris

    Go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, Directory, Background, shell. With shell selected, choose Edit | New | Key. Give it the name/text you want to appear when you right-click on the desktop (e.g., Launch Explorer). After creating this key, select it, then choose Edit | New | Key. Name the new key “command” (without the quotes), under the key you created previously. Select the command key, then double-click on the (Default) entry in the right pane, and type in something like the following:

    C:\Windows\explorer.exe c:\windows

    There are essentially two pieces to the above entry: (1) full path to the Explorer executable and (2) the full path to the directory you want displayed when you choose your newly created item from the Context Menu.

    Hope this helps!

  25. shan

    ya its very useful…

  26. Astralnaut

    Hey Geek, I just want to say thank you. Your Website is absolutely “The Best” for
    Desktop customization. I’ve tried 80% of your tips and always had success.
    Windows Vista/Linux Ubuntu

  27. Dave

    Hi, Ok That worked,
    Now lets see how smart you guys are…
    How do I put wordpad into my NEW submenu?
    In other words, right click then click NEW and in this
    NEW menu I want to be able to create a NEW wordpad.
    Thx
    Dave

  28. xternalfixator

    ********

    is it possible to create a *drop-panel-menu*,
    like View, Sort By and NEW, to add program items and short cut links? …

    ive looked thru HKEYS but couldnt find a way to do it,
    plus ive searched all over “adding a drop panel menu to desktop”
    without any luck either

    thnx

    *******

  29. robmaister

    any way of adding an icon to the right click item?

  30. hooba

    thanks alot for this tip, it’s realy useful

  31. jomimogi

    I would like advice on how to put the Favorites yellow star on my desktop; I now have Vista and can’t do it, although I was able to put it on the desktop in Windows XP. Thanks.

    Mike M.

  32. jomimogi

    I forgot to ask to be notified via email opn your sage advice.
    Thanks Mike M.

  33. Trevor

    I have looked for the utility that Chris submitted but am unable to find it.
    Was it accepted by this site?
    If so, where is it?

    I also wish to add notepad to the right-click menu but much prefer to use a utility, that has been proven to work, than fiddle around in the Registry.

  34. George E. Crane

    Disappearing cursor, Who knows how to FIX it????? This has been around for a couple of years and has not been fixed yet.

    Using Vista Primium, Logitech TrackBall mouse.

    All the helpful hints from the Internet have failed to fix this problem!!

  35. David

    Would I use this same method to add a “Start Task Manager” button to the right-click menu? I tried but it didn’t work… Perhaps I did something wrong… I don’t know. Could I have some help? Please?

  36. Daniel Murray

    Awesome tip! If you need help with this sort of thing, howtogeek almost always has the answers. Cheers guys ;)

  37. David

    Hi, I tried this on Windows 7, and it worked for the most part. If I right click a folder, the custom entry appears, but if I just right click somewhere on the desktop it doesn’t show up. Any ideas?

  38. Ali

    @The Geek: can u please tell me how to add ‘empty recycle bin’ in the explorer context menu

  39. PeaceSold13r

    @Ali Try looking within this key: [HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}\]. That’s the Recycle Byn key, I think you should use “Delegate Execute” string, but I’m not sure.

    I know how to add a “drop-panel-menu” on the context menu, if someone’s interested I can post it.
    http://i52.tinypic.com/swtzc2.jpg

  40. PeaceSold13r

    @David To add an item to desktop right-click menu, you have to create the key and the sub-key under “DesktopBackground\Shell”, and not in “Directory” nor “Folder”.

  41. Kevalin

    This is all lovely…but how do you get items OFF of the context menu? I’ve got, like, twenty items on the right-click menu, two-thirds of which I never use. It’s a poison to

  42. Kevalin

    F#@kin’ Swype! This new version is an unadulterated pain in the…

    Anyway, it’s a real pain to have to scroll down fifteen items to find “rename”, because there are so many things on the context menu above it that I never use. How to remove them?

  43. HCamper

    @Kevalin
    If you check or (Google,Bing) for previous post in “How-To-Geeks” labeled

    “how-to-fix-the-10-biggest-windows-annoyances” a detailed guide is given for cleaning

    context menu for windows and for internet explorer. If you go to the Top Menu of this page and select

    Windows 7 there is a list of many ways to make Windows behave as you require.

    Also if you check or (Google,Bing) “Ask VG” he has guides and pre-made scripts for menu and other items. It just takes a bit of reading to get things setup.
    I hope this helps.
    Martin
    :-)
    Windows and Linux can Work Together

    customization. It is not hard to remove,add items as needed.

  44. Matt Brown

    A little off topic, but I really like the desktop background that you’ve used in several of the screen shots on your site (the starry one). Where can I get it?:) Thanks.

  45. Hariks

    @PeaceSold13r

    Whoever reads the article and comments upto yours will definitely like to have the “drop-panel-menu”. If you are really waiting for a request, please accept mine. Please link or post the steps to be followed for the menu.

    TIA :)

  46. matty k

    PeaceSold13r

    I would like to know how to add a “drop-panel-menu” on the context menu..

    Cheers..mk

  47. sumanth

    superb tip ..u guys really write good technical stuff..

  48. Yoshiyah

    Great tip. WinBubble is another great tool that is compatible for Windows Vista & Windows 7. Not sure about Windows XP though

  49. Z0NE

    w00t!!! this is really awesome, i can see my right click menu getting REALLY big now, im adding all sorts of stuff to it IE,UTorrent,even my FPS game CombatArms.exe to it THANX HOWTOGEEK!!!!

  50. enventr

    Do you have one for Win XP?

  51. Joshua Carlin

    Thanks for this, however is there any way to add items to the Righ click –> “new” menu?

  52. Joshua Carlin

    Sorry, I meant “Right”, not “Righ”.

  53. PeaceSold13r

    I wrote a reply, but the admins didn’t accept it. Probably it will become an article :P

  54. WebGizmos

    A problem I’m having with this is that in this entry “HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\Background\shell” I do not see “Directory” listed in the “HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\”. I’m running Windows 7…64 bit so would that have anything to do with why I’m not seeing that?

  55. RMcD

    Is there anyway to make it open up an application menu, similar to how it does on Xubuntu (once you remove all the desktop items)? That is, having the Windows Menu inside the right click menu. So you can browse straight to your folders/programs/files without having to go down to the bottom left of the screen (or indeed having a taskbar at all)?

  56. Terry

    Does right click work with Win 7 64 Bit?

  57. Mohamed Ismail

    Mr. Geek..

    I try to add vlc player but i getting error while clicking VLC menu from right click. Only system32 files only working.

  58. prosenjit

    sir, it is not working on windows xp sp2.
    don`t show any notepad option in context menu after follow yours steps.

    please solve my problem.

    and if you dont mind please send the steps of my mail.

    regards
    prosenjit muhury
    from india

  59. Sergey

    Very Cool thank you, I add even more apps, that I usually use, Very handy

  60. Jim

    I can not find the folder “SHELL” under the root

    “HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\Background\”

    What I can see instead is “SHELLEX”

    Is this the same thing?

  61. satyen

    thanks a lot friend

  62. Papaharpo

    Excellent thanks, however where you state ” use shift and right click to copy as path”. Where do you have the cursor I couldn’t find this path. However I typed it in longhand and it worked.

  63. Subin

    tictac awesome regedit
    thank you howtogeek!

  64. Paul

    Unfortunately, when right clicking on desktop, all applications open up a window asking which program to use to open the file. This is much more time-consuming than using a desktop icon.

    Paul

  65. Paul

    ok… useful. I want to put the Control Panel to my right click menu. How can I do it?

  66. Dean Mitchell

    This is an awesome addition to the user’s abilities with the right click menu and I have used it for a number of additions that reduce time and increase productivity. Thank you for the “How To”.

    Now that we have this capability how do we go to the next step which is associating an icon with the entries we add to the right click menu? Since it is in the registry I don’t want to start experimenting and then screw something up.

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