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Windows 7 changed one of the ways to create desktop shortcuts from IE. I'll look at what's changed and how to create shortcuts that can be modified.

I recently purchased a new PC - HP with Windows 7. I would like my shortcuts (ex. Google) to show the Google square as red, white, and green, as opposed to the IE world. I ran Windows XP previously, and they had a place to change icons with several from which to pick. It's the same with files; it shows just an open manilla folder on the desktop, which I would like to change. Any info on this would be appreciated. I love your newsletter - I read it from top to bottom and could not find this anywhere.

That functionality's still there, but Windows 7 has thrown a curveball into the mix; this makes one of the most common ways to create desktop shortcuts result in a shortcut that's much harder to customize.

I'll show you what changed.

Then, I'll show you how you can still create a desktop shortcut with an icon that can be customized.

But first, a word from the website...

Websites have the ability to provide a "default icon" that can be used for several purposes. They do so by placing a file called "favicon.ico" in the root of the site. For example, Ask Leo!'s favicon is at http://ask-leo.com/favicon.ico.

When you bookmark a site or add it to your Favorites, the favicon is typically used as the icon that then appears in the Favorites toolbar or menu - hence, the name: favorites icon. "ico" is the file format used for icon images.

Depending on your browser or your system, you may see the favicon in the browser address bar while you're visiting a site:

Ask Leo!'s favicon in the address bar

If a site doesn't provide a favicon, it's up to the browser to pick one. Usually, it picks its own icon - IE's 'E' icon, Firefox's fox, and so on.

Pinning a desktop shortcut

When using Internet Explorer in Windows 7, you can click and hold on the favicon in the address bar and drag it to the desktop to create a shortcut to that page:

Creating a desktop shortcut from IE

Visit the page that you want the shortcut to go to, click and hold on the site's favicon, drag that to the desktop and then, release. Windows will create a shortcut using the favicon supplied by the website or the default browser icon, if the site doesn't provide one.

Google's shortcut icon on the desktop

The problem is that what Windows creates in this situation is a special kind of shortcut called a "Pinned" shortcut. And while it is possible to change the icon by hand-editing certain files buried in your system, Windows apparently doesn't show any user interface for the process.

In other words, there's no super easy way to change the icon. However, because the icon is that of the site, perhaps you don't want or need to change it by this point.

What's worse is that the icon used when you run a Pinned shortcut will actually appear in Internet Explorer and in the Taskbar as Internet Explorer's icon when you run the browser via that shortcut - even after you browse to another site:

Pinned shortcut icon persists after browsing on

In this example, I simply clicked the Pinned shortcut to Google that I created above to fire up Internet Explorer, and then I browsed to http://ask-leo.com. Note that the Google icon remains. It also remains as the application's icon in the Taskbar.

Personally, I consider this to be a bug, but it is what it is.

Creating a desktop shortcut another way

Another approach to creating a desktop shortcut is to simply right-click on the desktop and click New and then Shortcut:

Right clicking on the desktop and then New

After that, you'd type or paste in the URL that you wanted the shortcut to go to - say http://google.com - and you'd be done.

Shortcuts made this way are typically given the icon of the program that would open them. In other words, it would be IE's icon if it's the default browser or Firefox's icon if it's the default.

If you want something else, then the advantage of this method becomes clear:

This shortcut's icon can be changed.

Changing a shortcut's icon

Right-click the shortcut icon that you created using New->Shortcut above and click Properties.

Web shortcut properties

Note that in the Web Document tab, there's a Change Icon ... button:

Change icon dialog

Icons are typically stored inside of .exe or .dll files. As you can see here, the default icon for the shortcut that I've created is a Firefox icon. That's because Firefox is the default browser on my system and it comes from firefox.exe itself.

A very popular place to get alternate icons is c:\windows\system32\shell32.dll:

Icons from Shell32.dll

On my machine running Windows 7, that one .dll file contains over 300 different icons to choose from.

Alternately, you can also download or create ".ico" files and specify them.

If you want the actual site's icon, you'll need to download it to use it. With Google as our example, go to http://google.com/favicon.ico in your browser; that should display the favicon image. Right-click that image and click Save picture as..., navigate to the folder where you want to save the file, and save it with the name google_favicon.ico.

You can then specify it as the icon for the shortcut to Google:

Change icon specifying local copy of Google's favicon

With 300 icons to choose from in shell32.dll, you may not need to do this, but it's nice to know that you can.

Article C4972 - November 3, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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6 Comments
Bonnie
November 8, 2011 8:51 AM

This is such a wonderfully clear tutorial. I will use this technique often -- thank you!!

Rob
November 8, 2011 3:25 PM

Interesting and would be useful but my Win 7 chooses not to display any "Web document tab" in the shortcut's properties. Is this easily fixed, I wonder?

GREG JACKSON
November 8, 2011 6:36 PM

FYI RE: Icons
I've found most custom icons and folders to somewhat boring. I've come across some excellent ones that are created by artists vs tech people. The difference is worthy of sharing. They are free, and the artist only ask for their recognized due.
My FavCons are:
http://deleket.deviantart.com/gallery/
The full gallery is:
http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=Icons&order=9&offset=48
** Quite a big difference when icons arise from the minds of artists.

Marvin Fretwell
November 8, 2011 8:18 PM

I am familiar with favicon.ico(ns) because I own a few websites. Hadn't thought about capturing a favicon.ico by simply typing in its address. Doh!

Anyway, I decided to put your website in a desktop shortcut. This was easily accomplished, but in the process I discovered that two of the three major browsers are not displaying your favicon.ico at all!

Now, I'm confused. Conventional wisdom is that the favicon.ico is stored in the root directory of a website, and the server automatically loads it. But when I put in http://ask-leo.com, it loads in Firefox but not in IE nor in Chrome.

Rob
November 9, 2011 1:56 PM

Re the missing web document tab feature, I found by dropping the url in a folder and then creating a desktop shortcut I got the full 'change icon' option in properties. Only a work-around but good enough for me. Found a good selection of Google icons at findicons.com. Sorry to have wasted your web real estate.

Diana
November 15, 2011 6:59 PM

THANK you! I hated it when I got Vista and could no longer save the link to the desktop. All this time I just thought it was no longer an option. Who knew it was as simple as pulling it from the url box? Now if I can just figure out how to save some of my favorite sites to my toolbar, I'll be all set! :^)

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