The Power of the Right-Click

How to Edit the Context (Shortcut) Menu

Customize the context menu your way. Learn how to add, delete, or modify items from the context (shortcut) menu. Find out the many ways to make the right-click work better for you.

The right-click context (shortcut) menu is a very powerful tool so it is fortunate that it is easy to configure and customize. You can remove unwanted entries or add new ones of your own. You can even modify existing items to suit your own preferences.

There are two basic approaches to editing context menus. The context menu information is in the Windows Registry so one approach is to edit the Registry directly. However, Registry hacking does not appeal to everyone and there are also free programs that provide a friendlier interface. I will discuss each approach.

Modify the context menu in the Registry

Before doing anything to the Registry, be sure to back it up or make a system restore point. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with editing the Registry at the level given in this guide.

The major Registry hive where context menu data is kept is HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. Depending on the nature of the object whose context menu is being configured, editing can take place in a number of subkeys. A compendium of the many Registry keys that might be involved can be found at this link.

Because of the complexity of Registry editing, I will give only one example of Registry editing, one which I think is of general interest and which will illustrate the principle. For the most part, it is easier and safer to use one of the applications for editing context menus that are discussed further on.

Add "View with Notepad" to context menus for all files

I find it very useful to be able to view unknown or suspicious files in Notepad. This provides a safe way to check out files. I have been adding this item to my context menus since Windows 95.

Since we are adding to the menu for any file, regardless of type, the Registry key of interest is:
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shell

Here is the procedure:

  1. Using Regedit, navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shell.
  2. Right-click and choose "New-Key"
  3. Name the new key "View with Notepad" (without quotes)
  4. Right-click this new key and add another new key as a subkey under "View with Notepad"
  5. Name this new subkey "command" (without quotes)
  6. Double-click "Default" in the right pane listing for the "command" subkey (See figure below)
  7. Enter a value
    notepad.exe "%1"

The new entry should appear in file context menus immediately.

Adding Notepad to context menu

The procedure would be very similar for adding any other program to the file context menu. However, in general, it is necessary to enter the entire path for the executable file. In the case of Notepad, simply using notepad.exe works because Notepad is a system utility. If it were not, the correct entry would be
C:\Windows\System32\notepad.exe

Modify context menus with software

Given the complexity of directly working with the Registry, it is not surprising that numerous utilities for editing context menus are available. Some of these are simply for cleaning up and removing entries but some have additional features for adding new functions. Here is a survey of some of the better ones.

In general, making changes in context menus will require elevated rights and software utilities will have to be run as administrator

Utilities for removing or disabling context menu entries

A lot of programs like to stick entries in the context menu when they are installed and menus can get cluttered. Also, when you uninstall a program, its context menu entries are often left behind. Several programs are available for cleaning up unwanted context menu items.

Two free cleanup programs to consider are from NirSoft. They are ShellExView and ShellMenuView. They are very small, stand-alone utilities that come in in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. They work in Windows XP, Vista, and 7.

ShellExView displays Shell Extensions; these include much more than context menu entries but are the way some programs add to the context menu. More details about the program and its download link are on this page.

ShellMenuView displays the list of static menu items that appear in the context menu of files or folders and allows you to easily disable unwanted entries. More details about the program and its download link are at this link.

Utilities for adding context menu items

There are a variety of free utilities for managing and adding to the  context menu. They vary considerably in capability and sophistication. None is perfect and you should back up the Registry before using any of them. Here are four I will mention:

  • Ultimate Windows Context Menu Customizer - One of the better ones of this type. Has a variety of functions. The developer's site has an extensive description. It is small and portable. There is a review at this link
  • Right-click Enhancer Portable- Another program with a variety of functions. There are five different tools in the package.
  • FileMenuTools - Comes with a variety of functions. Download the portable version only. The supported version will try to install extraneous software and change your home page. Internet Explorer 9 gives a warning about it but Web of Trust marks it green. I mention this program because it is popular. There is a review at this link and a description of its use here
  • Context Menu Editor - This one is simpler than the others. It only provides for adding to the file or folder context menus.

Customizing the Send-to Menu

The Send-to function in the right-click context menu is especially useful for average PC users since it is simple to add handy functions to it. How to add or remove items easily is described on another page.