Windows Tips: Remove Unsolicited Junk From Your Context Menus

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I'd like to remove several items from the menus that pop up when I right-click in Windows Explorer, especially shortcuts to programs that I don't use (such as 'Add to Zip'). How do I do it?

Francois Robert, Vung Tau, Vietnam

Right-click menus are called "context menus" because the commands they list change depending on where you right-click. File utilities, various freeware programs, and other applications add commands and submenus to some of your context menus to make using the programs easier. Unfortunately, the more this happens, the more cluttered and less useful your right-click menus become.

Some utilities that add commands to the context menus also provide easy ways for you to customize or remove the items. This is the best and safest approach to tossing context-menu junk. If no such option is available, you can usually alter the menus in all versions of Windows via the Registry. But first, let's look at some common offenders and their built-in menu-trimming solutions.

Unzip WinZip menus: The popular compression utility WinZip may add several commands (such as 'Add to Zip') to your right-click menu for selected items, or it may place the commands on a separate WinZip submenu. To make changes, start WinZip; if it opens in the wizard mode, click WinZip Classic. Choose Options, Configuration. In version 8.1 and later, click the Explorer Enhancements tab. To avoid the hassle of clicking a submenu for these commands, uncheck Display context menu items in a submenu (version 8.1 and later). To change the commands on the menu, check or uncheck items in the 'Context menu command' box. To get a slightly sprightlier menu, uncheck Display icons on context menus (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Wipe WINZIP commands from your context menu individually or all at once.
). Finally, to remove WinZip commands from your context menus entirely, uncheck Use shell extension (versions 7 and 8) or Enable Explorer enhancements. Note, however, that this will also remove the extraction options you see when you right-drag a .zip file, and it will end your ability to drop items on a .zip file icon. When you're done, click OK.

Disenqueue Winamp: The Winamp freeware media player may add three commands to your folder menus: 'Play in Winamp', 'Enqueue in Winamp', and 'Add to Winamp's Bookmark list'. To remove the commands, choose Options, Preferences (or right-click in the window or the title bar and choose Options, Preferences). In the tree pane on the left, select File types under the General Preferences branch (the Setup branch in earlier versions). Now uncheck Show Winamp in folder context menus in Windows Explorer (see FIGURE 2

FIGURE 2: Block WINAMP additions to the context menu via the Preferences dialog box.
) or Directory context menus in older versions; then click Close.

Power down PowerDesk: If you have V Communications' fabulous shareware file manager PowerDesk or PowerDesk Pro, you can fine-tune what the utility adds to your context menus. Choose Options, Preferences and click Context Menus. Each check box in this panel corresponds to one menu command; uncheck the ones you don't want (see FIGURE 3

FIGURE 3: Customize powerdesk context-menu options via Preferences.
). To place all of them on a single submenu that cascades off your context menu, make sure that Cascade Menus is checked. Click here to download the trial version of PowerDesk (registration required); PowerDesk Pro costs $50.

Although PowerDesk's Preferences dialog box lets you remove most of its context commands, you'll still see its File Finder command when you right-click a folder. To eliminate this, see the next tip.

Restrict Explorer context menus: In Windows 2000 and XP Pro, you can use the Group Policy tool to remove certain items from the context menu for My Computer and folders. Say you don't want the Manage option on My Computer's right-click menu (which launches the Computer Management administrative tool): Choose Start, Run, type gpedit.msc, and press <Enter>. In the tree pane on the left, navigate to and select Local Computer Policy\User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Explorer. Double-click Hides the Manage item on the Windows Explorer context menu, select Enable, and click OK.

You can still launch the utility by choosing Start, Programs (or All Programs), Administrative Tools, Computer Management, or by clicking Start, Run, typing compmgmt.msc, and selecting OK.

To remove the entire context menu for folders, navigate to the Windows Explorer icon on the left as described above, and double-click Remove Windows Explorer's default context menu (in Windows 2000) or Remove Windows Explorer's default context menu (in XP). Select Enable and click OK. The next time you right-click a folder, the desktop, or any icon in Explorer, nothing will happen (toolbar context menus will still work, however). As with the previous tip, undo these changes by returning to the dialog box in question, selecting the Not configured option, and clicking OK.

Resort to Regedit: If a program doesn't provide a way to remove its commands, you may have to edit the Windows Registry. First, back it up in case something goes wrong. Click here for step-by-step instructions.

With your backup in place, select Start, Run, type regedit, and press <Enter>. At the top of the tree in the left pane, double-click HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. This Registry key contains data on file types, including the context menus associated with each. To trim items from the right-click menu for folders, navigate the tree diagram on the left to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell. Double-click shell to see additional keys. Each key corresponds to one command on the right-click menu for folders. You won't see Windows' built-in commands for folders (you can't remove those); but you should see folders for commands that have been added by other applications.

Back up this portion of the Registry in case you change your mind later or make a mistake. With the shell key selected in the left pane, choose Registry, Export Registry File or File, Export Registry File. Find a suitable location for your backup file (don't worry; it will be small), give the file a name, and make sure that Selected branch is highlighted. Click Save, and then select the key corresponding to the menu command you want to eliminate. For example, to remove the 'Scan for Viruses' menu command installed by McAfee VirusScan, select the VirusScan key and press <Delete> (or right-click it and choose Delete). When you're done, select File, Exit to close the Registry Editor. The next time you right-click a folder, the extra command will be gone. If you change your mind, locate the Registry export file you created earlier, right-click it, and choose Merge. Click Yes and then OK to acknowledge the process.

Some commands that appear when you right-click a folder aren't part of the Directory key but instead are part of the Folder key--specifically, they're a subbranch of HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\shell. So, for example, if you installed the utility TreeSize that I discussed in last August's Windows Tips column, and now you don't want its command to appear on the context menu, export a backup file of the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\shell folder, as explained above. Then select and delete the treesize key.

To remove similar commands for other file types, follow a similar process, deleting the appropriate key inside the shell key for the specific file-type key. Unfortunately, finding the right file-type key isn't always easy. One method is to open Windows Explorer (or any folder window), select a file whose context menu has commands you want to remove, and press <Shift>-<F10> to see its context menu. Note how the command appears.

Now return to the Registry Editor, and select HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT to begin the search there. Choose Edit, Find and type the name of the command that you want to remove. Make sure that Data is checked in the 'Look at' section, and click Find Next. If you're lucky, you'll find the command within a key in the shell key of a given file type. File-type keys usually contain the extension in the name--for example, "txtfile" for files with the .txt extension. That should tell you if you're on the right track. As before, export the parent key (such as the shell key) for any keys you delete, in case you make a mistake and need to undo the damage. Then select the key nested within shell and press <Delete>.

More Registry revisions: In some cases, the same context-menu commands are present for multiple file types whose icons you may right-click. You can remove some of these commands by first opening the Registry Editor as described above, and navigating to and selecting HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers. Choose Registry, Export Registry File or File, Export Registry File to back up this section of the Registry, and then look for keys underneath this branch that correspond to the menu items you want to remove. For example, to delete the commands that Adobe Acrobat 6 adds to many file types, select the Adobe.Acrobat.ContextMenu key and press <Delete> (see FIGURE 4

FIGURE 4: Excise context menu intrusions permanently by editing the Windows Registry.
), or right-click it and choose Delete. To remove the 'Open With' submenu that appears on file context menus, delete that key. If you want to undo the action, merge your exported Registry-key file back into the Registry as explained in the previous tip.

Learn to live with it: Every application that customizes the context menu does so in its own way. In some cases you may need to hunt through dialog boxes, scour the application's help file, or scan the vendor's Web site to find out how to remove context-menu entries. In other cases you have to accept that some context menu commands are there to stay. For example, though you can use the Registry editing tip above to remove the 'Scan for Viruses' command added by McAfee VirusScan, I have encountered no way to remove the context-menu commands added by Norton AntiVirus. Your only option in these cases is to live with the extra clutter and to contact the software manufacturer to voice your opinion on this subject.

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