The Windows Start Menu hides duplicate shortcuts

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Yesterday, I changed an installer package to create two shortcuts to the main application - one in the folder that appears on the Start Menu, and one outside it, in the "root" of the Start Menu. I tested under Windows 7 and after a lot of fiddling (I use the WiX Toolset - very powerful but sometimes incomprehensibly complex) I got it to work. Of course, I then tested the setup procedure under Windows 10.

Guess what? No second shortcut.

By now, I knew exactly where to look, so I quickly found out that the Start Menu folder (C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu) contained all the right information - both shortcuts were there, as planned. So why didn't they both appear on the Start Menu itself?

Some experimentation revealed that Windows 10 hides duplicate shortcuts to the same file. And apparently, it has been that way since Windows 8.1.

On afterthought, this is probably by design: installation programs aren't supposed to pollute the Start Menu by creating too many shortcuts that basically do the same thing. And it discourages programs from making themselves look important by spreading themselves all over your menu.

And in my case, clients had complained that they couldn't find the shortcut to our application because it was outside of the folder we created. In Windows 7, this might be an issue - the shortcuts in the root of the Start Menu are grouped together at the top,while the ones in a folder are below. Windows 10 mixes them, sorted by name. In practice this means that our shortcut and our Start Menu folder appear next to each other, which does indeed reduce confusion. So maybe it's not a bad thing after all that the second shortcut is ignored.

But it sure was a surprise.