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John Paul Cook

Customizing Windows 8.1 Menus and Creating Shortcuts for Modern Apps

It’s not possible to directly make a shortcut for a modern UI app like you do for a conventional application, but there is a workaround. You can add the shortcut to the desktop, the taskbar, or a custom toolbar menu. After my previous post on adding a toolbar menu for SQL Server, I have additional suggestions on making custom toolbar menus.

Skype on Windows 8.1 is a modern UI app that I wanted on my taskbar. That requires creating a shortcut, which isn’t as simple as right-clicking the exe and selecting Create shortcut.


Figure 1. This approach doesn’t work for modern UI apps.

Here are the properties for my modern UI Skype shortcut:


Figure 2. Notice the shortcut uses explorer.exe to invoke Skype.

Creating the shortcut isn’t difficult, provided you know what string to use for the modern UI application. Use Control Panel to begin the process of finding the application’s URL. Within Control Panel, use associate as your search string.


Figure 3. Search using associate as the search string and then select Change the file type associated with a file extension.

You won’t be changing any file extensions. It is necessary to scroll down past the file extensions until you see Protocols. Within the Protocols section, scroll down to find the URL for the Skype application.


Figure 4. The URL for Skype is URL:skype

Once you find the URL for a modern UI app, you’ll use just the string value to create a target for your shortcut that follows the pattern shown in the this example:

C:\Windows\explorer.exe skype://

At this point, you have a working shortcut that will invoke your modern UI app. If you want a transparent icon to go with your shortcut, there’s more work to do. Most of the modern UI apps that come with Windows 8 are found in C:\Program Files\WindowsApps, which you don’t have access to by default even if you are an administrator.


Figure 5. Default permissions for C:\Program Files\WindowsApps

You can either give yourself permissions if you are an administrator or use a command window. I decided to avoid changing security settings and used a command window and DOS commands instead.

C:\Program Files\WindowsApps>dir
Volume in drive C has no label.
Volume Serial Number is 5614-4F17

Directory of C:\Program Files\WindowsApps

01/03/2014 05:50 PM <DIR> 4DF9E0F8.Netflix_2.2.0.11_x64__mcm4njqhnhss8
01/04/2014 11:52 AM <DIR> Deleted
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFinance_2013.1119.716.4094_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFinance_3.0.1.174_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFinance_3.0.1.299_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFinance_3.0.1.299_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFoodAndDrink_2013.1009.24.3213_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFoodAndDrink_3.0.1.177_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFoodAndDrink_3.0.1.201_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingFoodAndDrink_3.0.1.201_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingHealthAndFitness_2013.1202.919.1616_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingHealthAndFitness_3.0.1.176_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingHealthAndFitness_3.0.1.335_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingHealthAndFitness_3.0.1.335_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingMaps_2.0.2009.2356_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingMaps_2.0.2210.2401_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingMaps_2.0.2210.2401_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingMaps_2013.1010.2301.1978_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingNews_2013.1123.1312.1382_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingNews_3.0.1.174_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingNews_3.0.1.321_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingNews_3.0.1.321_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingSports_2013.1010.2028.5997_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingSports_3.0.1.174_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingSports_3.0.1.203_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingSports_3.0.1.203_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingTravel_2013.1010.223.1706_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingTravel_3.0.1.174_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingTravel_3.0.1.202_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingTravel_3.0.1.202_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingWeather_2013.1010.2033.469_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingWeather_3.0.1.174_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingWeather_3.0.1.203_neutral_split.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.BingWeather_3.0.1.203_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.HelpAndTips_2013.1004.255.5080_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.HelpAndTips_6.3.9600.20274_neutral_HelpAndTips.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.HelpAndTips_6.3.9600.20274_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.Internal.Media.PlayReadyClient_2.3.1678.1_x86__8wekyb3d8bbwe
09/29/2013 10:08 PM <DIR> Microsoft.Media.PlayReadyClient.2_2.8.1947.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
09/29/2013 10:08 PM <DIR> Microsoft.Media.PlayReadyClient.2_2.8.1947.0_x86__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.Reader_2013.1007.1759.4672_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.Reader_6.3.9600.16422_neutral_glcnd.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.Reader_6.3.9600.16422_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.SkypeApp_2.0.0.5011_neutral_split.scale-140_kzf8qxf38zg5c
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.SkypeApp_2.3.0.1008_neutral_split.scale-140_kzf8qxf38zg5c
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.SkypeApp_2.3.0.1008_x86__kzf8qxf38zg5c
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.SkypeApp_2013.1112.1630.458_neutral_~_kzf8qxf38zg5c
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.VCLibs.120.00.Preview.Internal_12.0.20222.2_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.VCLibs.120.00.Preview.Internal_12.0.20222.2_x86__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.VCLibs.120.00_12.0.21005.1_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.VCLibs.120.00_12.0.21005.1_x86__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsAlarms_2013.1204.852.3011_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsAlarms_6.3.9654.20335_neutral_Time.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsAlarms_6.3.9654.20335_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsCalculator_2013.1007.1950.2960_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsCalculator_6.3.9600.20278_neutral_Numbers.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsCalculator_6.3.9600.20278_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_17.5.9600.20315_neutral_comm.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_17.5.9600.20315_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_2013.1113.2124.1473_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsReadingList_2013.1119.2112.818_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsReadingList_6.3.9654.20321_neutral_Stash.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsReadingList_6.3.9654.20321_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsScan_2013.1007.2015.3834_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsScan_6.3.9600.16422_neutral_ScanApp.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsScan_6.3.9600.16422_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsSoundRecorder_2013.1010.500.2928_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsSoundRecorder_6.3.9600.20280_neutral_SoundRecorder.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WindowsSoundRecorder_6.3.9600.20280_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WinJS.2.0.Preview.Internal_1.0.9385.3_neutral__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:36 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WinJS.2.0.Preview_1.0.9431.0_neutral__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:35 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WinJS.2.0_1.0.9600.16408_neutral__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:34 PM <DIR> Microsoft.WinJS.Preview.1_1.0.9345.0_neutral__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.XboxLIVEGames_2.0.139.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.XboxLIVEGames_2013.1011.10.5965_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneMusic_2.2.299.0_neutral_resources.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:56 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneMusic_2.2.299.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneMusic_2.2.41.0_neutral_resources.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneMusic_2013.1116.205.2878_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneVideo_2.2.299.0_neutral_resources.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneVideo_2.2.299.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 07:59 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneVideo_2.2.41.0_neutral_resources.scale-140_8wekyb3d8bbwe
12/15/2013 09:55 PM <DIR> Microsoft.ZuneVideo_2013.1116.205.5085_neutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwe
               0 File(s) 0 bytes
              83 Dir(s) 437,786,386,432 bytes free

Notice there are four directories for Skype:


The full path to the third directory is C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\Microsoft.SkypeApp_2.3.0.1008_x86__kzf8qxf38zg5c

You can navigate directly to that folder in Windows Explorer even though you can’t navigate to the parent folder as shown previously.


Figure 6. The color icons for Skype are in subfolders of the images folder.

I decided to use skypeSmall.png in C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\Microsoft.SkypeApp_2.3.0.1008_x86__kzf8qxf38zg5c\images\targetsize-32 for creating my transparent icon.


Figure 7. skypeSmall.png must be converted into a transparent icon.

Although Paint can be used to save a graphics file as an icon file, it won’t have any transparency. An icon editor is needed to perform the task efficiently. I used a portable version of IcoFx because it is free and I didn’t want to install anything extra on my machine. Open the png in IcoFx to create an ico file with transparency.


Figure 8. Use True Color + Alpha Channel (32 bits) to create a transparent icon in IcoFx.


Figure 9. Click File and select Save As to complete the process of creating your ico file.

After creating your icon file, use the Change Icon button on the Properties pages for your shortcut.


Figure 10. Click the Change Icon button.

Select your new icon and click OK and OK to update your shortcut.


Figure 11. Select your new icon file.

I copied the icon file to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs and made a custom toolbar which worked, but not quite as intended as I later discovered. What I should have done is create a copy of the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs folder, modify the copy, and make a custom toolbar pointing to the copy. That’s what I eventually did.


Figure 12. Creating a custom toolbar.

The problem with adding the new Skype shortcut to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs is that it will also appear under Apps in the modern UI – not what is desired. It’s a good idea not to make any changes to that folder.

Here is what I recommend. Copy the entire C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs folder to another location. I choose the my Documents folder to store the copy. Add the Skype shortcut to your copy. Make any further customizations to the copy. Create a custom toolbar pointing to the copy.


Figure 13. Point your custom toolbar to a customized copy of C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs


Figure 14. Custom toolbar showing cascading menus. Notice that the shortcut for Skype was added.

If you want to add your new Skype shortcut to your taskbar, go to the copy of the Programs folder and right-click the shortcut and select Pin to Taskbar.


Figure 15. Pinning the shortcut to the taskbar.


Figure 16. Shortcut pinned to taskbar.

Published Sunday, January 12, 2014 4:53 PM by John Paul Cook

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Voltron said:

How would one do this with the Modern UI version of Internet Explorer? It doesn't seem to be in the list

July 8, 2014 10:41 AM

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About John Paul Cook

John Paul Cook is a Technology Solutions Professional for Microsoft's data platform and works out of Microsoft's Houston office. Prior to joining Microsoft, he was a Microsoft SQL Server MVP. He is experienced in Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle database application design, development, and implementation. He has spoken at many conferences including Microsoft TechEd and the SQL PASS Summit. He has worked in oil and gas, financial, manufacturing, and healthcare industries. John is also a Registered Nurse who graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Master of Science in Nursing Informatics and is an active member of the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society. He volunteers as a nurse at clinics that treat low income patients. Contributing author to SQL Server MVP Deep Dives and SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Volume 2. Opinions expressed in John's blog are strictly his own and do not represent Microsoft in any way.

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