By using desktop shortcuts, you can quickly access a file or launch a program in Windows 7 or 8.1. To launch a program, you must create a shortcut that points to the executable of the program -- the file that you double-click to launch the program. The shortcut contains only the path to the file; it does not contain the file or any of its data. After you create the shortcut, you can change its icon to something more intuitive.
Finding Files and Creating Shortcuts
Locate the file you want to launch using the shortcut. A shortcut can point to any file -- including text documents, images and multimedia files -- not just to executable files.
You can locate and access all files on your computer from File Explorer. Launch the utility by pressing Windows-X to display the Power User menu and selecting File Explorer.
In Windows 7, expand the Start menu and select Computer to launch Windows Explorer.
Right-click the file, select Send to and then click Desktop (create shortcut) to create a shortcut to the file on the desktop.
Programs are usually installed in the Program Files or Program Files (x86) (on 64-bit systems) folder on the system drive -- C: in most cases. Executable files have an EXE extension and are usually named after the program they launch.
If you don't know how to find the file, search for it using the search box in File Explorer. Select the folder or drive from the left pane and then type the name -- or at least a part of the name -- of the file into the Search box. Results are displayed in the right pane.
You can locate an executable from the Search charm. Press Windows-S to display the Search charm, type the name of the program, right-click the program in the list of search results and select Open file location to open the File Explorer.
Files displayed by the Search charm are shortcuts, so opening their file location doesn't reveal the location of the real file. To find the file they point to, right-click the shortcut in File Explorer and select Open file location from the context menu.
You can create shortcuts directly from the desktop. Right-click on an empty spot on the desktop and select Shortcut to create a new shortcut.
If you know the path to the file, type it into the field; otherwise, click the Browse button, select the file and click OK. Click Next.
Type a name -- any name you like -- for the new shortcut into the field and click Finish to create it.
Changing the Shortcut Icon
Right-click the shortcut on the desktop and select Properties from the context menu to display the Shortcut Properties window.
Click the Change Icon button to display the Change Icon dialog. If you need to locate the target file, click Open File Location.
Select a different icon from the list and click OK to use it. To view all native Windows icons, click Browse, and select the Windows\System32\Shell32.dll file.
Shortcuts can be recovered from the Recycle Bin just like any other file.
Files are opened with the default programs when you double-click their shortcut.
Shortcuts are used to make programs launch automatically when you start Windows. To achieve this, place the shortcut into the Startup folder. To open the Startup folder, press "Windows-R" to display the Run box, type "shell:startup" into the field and press "Enter."
Another way to create a shortcut to an executable is to select it, press "Ctrl-C," switch to the desktop and then press "Ctrl-V." This method works only for executable files; otherwise, this method copies the file to the desktop.
To create a shortcut in the same folder as the original file, right-click the file and select "Create Shortcut" from the context menu.