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Deploying Shortcuts and Favorites to SharePoint Sites

I am regularly asked, "How can I make it easier for users to get to the SharePoint sites they need?" This question arises especially frequently in the context of document libraries. When users of an Office application attempt to open or save a document in a document library, the Open and Save dialog boxes don't make it particularly easy to navigate to the library.

There are many, many ways to attack this issue. One is to deploy network locations or (as they are called in Windows XP) network places. Network locations/places are the beautiful love child of mapped drives and shortcuts. A network location/place expands and collapses in the Explorer folder tree (like mapped drives) but has all the rest of the benefits of a shortcut: It can have any name, does not create a performance-killing permanent connection, can be placed in any folder, and is not limited to a small number of available drive letters.

Another way to provide navigation to SharePoint sites is to deploy shortcuts. Shortcuts have fewer steps required to deploy and manage, and with the new Group Policy Preferences (GPP) extensions, there are some slick new ways to work with shortcuts. In this issue, I'll lay out the steps required to deploy a shortcut to a SharePoint site for a user. I'll create the shortcut in the Favorites folder, but you can deploy a shortcut to any other location: the desktop, the Documents folder, or a project specific folder, for example.

Group Policy Preferences
If you haven't learned about GPP extensions yet, do. They are a new addition to the management toolset for Windows XP and later OSs, and they are super powerful. With GPP, it's likely that you can do everything you currently do with logon scripts, but within the Group Policy framework, which delivers significant manageability benefits. You can learn more about GPP by reading Microsoft's white paper. The steps for deploying shortcuts with GPP are as follows:

  • They extend the capabilities of Group Policy to manage all kinds of things, including mapped drives, file deployment, shortcuts, the Registry, environment variables, printer deployment, application configuration and much, much more.
  • You need one Windows Vista SP1 or Windows Server 2008 system on which to run the new version of the Group Policy Management tools, so that you can configure the preferences settings. But you need only one such system to administer GPP.
  • The preferences settings can be applied to XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP1, Vista and Server 2008. For XP, Server 2003, and Vista (without SP1) systems, you need to deploy the GPP extensions, a very small set of code that gives those OSs the ability to process GPP settings. The extensions are part of Windows Update and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), so they're easy to deploy.
  • Vista SP1 and Server 2008 already include the extensions.

Deploying Shortcuts with Preferences

The steps for deploying shortcuts with GPP are as follows:

  1. Open the Group Policy object (GPO) that you want to use to deploy and manage shortcuts.
  2. Expand the User Configuration node.
  3. Expand the Preferences node.
  4. Expand the Windows Settings node.
  5. Select Shortcuts.
  6. Right-click Shortcuts and choose New, Shortcut.
  7. Choose Update as the Action. This will create or update the shortcut.
  8. In the Name field, enter the user-friendly name of the shortcut.
    •Tip: If you want to put the shortcut in a folder, enter the path of the Folder and shortcut. For example, using the name SharePoint Sites\Special Projects would create a folder called SharePoint Sites and a shortcut called Special Projects.
  9. Choose URL as the Target Type.
  10. For the Location, make your choice. To create a Favorite, choose Explorer Favorites.
    •Tip: To deploy a shortcut into the Network Locations (Vista) or My Network Places (XP) folder, choose My Network Places. This is probably the best place to store shortcuts to document libraries. When users of Office Applications go to open or save a document, they can click the My Network Places folder (XP) or the Computer folder (Vista) and see the shortcuts, making it a "two click" jump from Open or Save into the library of their choice.
    •Tip: You can also choose "Specify full path" and enter the exact path to the shortcut, using Preferences variables such as %DesktopDir% or %FavoritesDir% to create paths relative to the user's shell environment.
  11. Finally, enter the path of the SharePoint site in the Target URL box.
  12. Click OK and close the Group Policy Management Editor.

There are other ways to deploy Favorites, but the new Group Policy Preferences is easier to deploy and manage and offers more flexibility. Explore the Shortcut Properties dialog box and click the Common tab to discover what this type of preference can do. In a later issue, I'll document how to deploy Network Locations/Places using preferences if you really need the ‘expanding folder' in the Folder tree of Explorer. Well, I'm off to finish preparing for this week's live MASTERING SHAREPOINT online event with my friends and über-gurus Michael Noel and Andrew Connell. Today is the last day you can register. Hope you can join us!

Until next week, all the best!

Dan Holme
danh at intelliem dot (top level commercial domain)


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