Clean up context menus

QUESTION: I recently installed the "Smartstor" backup and restore utility. I didn't find it useful so I uninstalled it. However, during the installation that program created two new entries in the "right-click" menu: Backup and Restore. After uninstalling, those two entries still appear in the right-click menu when I select a file in Explorer. How do I remove them?

ANSWER: This is another example of an application trying to be helpful and doing a pretty poor job! When you install a new application, your system will often be changed in ways that aren't immediately obvious. Changes to the "right-click" (context) menus are a case in point.

These menus are called context menus because they are supposed to be intelligent enough to display a different set of options, depending on where and what you click. If I right-click an HTML file on my system, the resulting context menu offers me a choice of twelve or more actions. If I select Open, the file will open in Internet Explorer. If I choose Edit, the file appears in FrontPage 98 -- and so on. While choice is usually a positive, it's not always what you want. Context menus can become bloated with dozens of options, which forces you to waste time scrolling up and down in search of the item you need. To make matters worse, context menus aren't quite as bright as they should be: if you remove the application that created a context menu item, that item may be left behind -- inoperable but still taking up space on screen. A good uninstall routine will remove all such items; a bad one will leave debris all over your system.

Context menu information is stored in the Registry, but you don't have to edit it directly in order to put your Windows house in order: you can clean up by editing the file association details in Explorer. Here's how it's done.

In Explorer, choose View-Options and select the File Types tab. Scroll down the list of Registered file types until you find an affected type (if more than one file type displays a problematic context menu, you will need to repeat this procedure for each type). With the file type selected, click Edit. The Actions list will display all the context menu items for this type of file. Select the defunct action (on Danny's system this would be Backup or Restore) and then click Remove. Click OK and then Close to dismiss the dialogue boxes. The unwanted item will no longer appear in the context menu.

Now that you have removed all that dead wood, why not use the Options dialogue box to add some context items of your own? Let's take HTML files as an example. Normally, if you double-click an HTML file in an Explorer window, it will open in your default browser. That's probably what you want in most cases, but if you manage a Web site there will probably be times when you need to open the file in a text editor such as Notepad. To create the new context menu item, navigate to the Options dialogue box, scroll down the list of file types and select Internet Document (HTML) -- or Microsoft HTML document -- and click Edit. Click New. In the Action field, type a name for the item, eg Open in Notepad. In the Application used to perform action field, type the full path to the desired application, eg c:\windows\notepad.exe. Close the dialogue boxes and then test your changes by right-clicking an HTML file in Explorer. Open in Notepad should now appear as an option in the resulting context menu. Select it to open the file in Notepad.

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