Shortcuts and Memory
December 1, 2010 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Does the number of desktop shortcuts effect a computers memory (Windows XP)?

So I got into a fight with the IT guy...

I would like to have 5-7 shortcuts added to the desktop of every computer on our network. These will be shortcuts to shared drive locations and internet sites (in IE).

The computers are pretty new, 3 gigs of RAM etc.

He claims that this "could be a problem, if not now, then at somepoint." This seems pretty far-out to me.

Also, they will all be added using a startup script, but its not really about the additional start-up time (which should be minimal).
posted by rosswald to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If your IT person thinks that shortcuts on a desktop will bring down your machine, I suspect the IT person is an idiot. This sounds more like wanting every desktop to look the same, which can make phone support a bit easier.
posted by zippy at 8:42 PM on December 1, 2010

Or alternately, IT person sees that eventually these shortcuts will be stale (the sites will change, the drives will move) and IT person will now have to clean up the mess.
posted by zippy at 8:43 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

If the shared drive or internet sites change location later, these will break, and then you've got a bunch of dead icons on the desktop. That's the problem he's probably referring to. Anything other than that sounds like a load, unless my mind is just fried and I can't think of anything else
posted by deezil at 8:45 PM on December 1, 2010

Yeah, my guess is that the problem he foresees is not the one you're assuming.

Alternately, it could be that the "problem" is that he doesn't think your idea is a good one and is trying to avoid some sort of political pissing contest with hand-waving.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:46 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nah, even if the things they link to go dead they will just be a few kilobytes to paint. There's debate on whether or not storing actual documents (not just shortcuts) on the desktop will slow Windows down, but I'm fairly certain it's not a big deal in any case.

Generally speaking, your IT guy should be able to back up anything he says about IT matters with good explanations. If he can't explain it in a detailed way, nor provide with a solid link that does, then he needs to maybe rethink things.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:47 PM on December 1, 2010

no. a thousand times no. you are being messed with.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:49 PM on December 1, 2010

He specifically said it would harm virtual memory.
posted by rosswald at 8:50 PM on December 1, 2010

> He specifically said it would harm virtual memory.

He'd better give some official Microsoft KB or something to prove that nonsense.

At any rate, if the links change you can remove shortcuts and IE favorites via scripts just as easily as you put them there.

Harm virtual memory---crock of shit.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:52 PM on December 1, 2010

That explanation sounds an awful lot like "baffle 'em with bullshit".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:10 PM on December 1, 2010

Many IT people are mostly competent but harbor weird wrong ideas. Shortcuts are tiny files that are inert. They occupy a tiny bit of space, but use no resources. A ways back, you could conserve some resources by not having wallpaper, bu that is now negligible.

If you get into a "You're wrong" match with him, its going to go badly, so just keep telling him that service to end users is your priority. If he's generally, no big deal. If he's this wrong really often, training is in order.
posted by theora55 at 9:27 PM on December 1, 2010

To be fair (although, yeah, the guy soulds like he's either an idiot or BS'ing you), there were hard limits on USER (icons, etc) & GDI (windows, tools, etc) objects in WinME & earlier. IIRC, the limit was 16k of each type (and quite possibly still is), but the big issue was that those earlier versions also allocated a fixed amount of RAM to accomodate both types. If you had lots of icons (especially in true-colour display mode) you could hit the allocated memory limit; alternately, if you were short on RAM and tried to run something that displayed lots of icons and tools, Windows would attempt to page out the USER & GDI RAM to disk.

But yeah, haven't seen that happen since WinME was current, I was installing ADSL, the modems we supplied were Winmodem-style Alcatel Stingrays, my employer insisted that we use their RAM-hungry Flash-based .exe installer, and the sales department coached people to lie on the "does your computer have at least 512MB RAM?" question on the application.
posted by Pinback at 9:40 PM on December 1, 2010

The IT guy isn't making this up, but he may be exaggerating the importance of this. There are multiple types of memory in the Windows architecture, and the desktop -- icons, wallpaper, system tray and toolbars inclusive -- is part of a resource fork called the desktop heap (yes, even with Vista). It's quite possible to have a system noticeably slow down when the heap is overused (or more commonly, to notice things speed up when you trim down bloat), and it's a typical step in optimizing a system to crunch out every last cycle. There are minimalists who right click on the desktop and uncheck the show desktop icons option, or physically eliminate all or all but one or two icons.

With newer systems this is not as much of a concern. I doubt it's a serious worry for your company's overall productivity. That said, your IT guy has every right to object here, because you're adding a new support component that will not just mean setup time for each PC but fielding help desk calls and fixing things when they break (e.g. a network resource moves). If you're on a corporate network of any size, this sort of tweak isn't minor -- it would require a use case and a review of the pros and cons as well as testing. For a smaller network you could just deploy but at the size of the network where you want to do that you're not going to be scripting much, so I worry about the scale you're contemplating here.

It does sound like you have some intranet resources that need management, and you may be better off by creating an intranet resource that people can link to and find these network resources.

I'm not saying you shouldn't do this, just that you should consider all the ramifications before you ram it down your IT guy's throat. Some IT guys are cautious mofos highly resistant to change, because they have learned through bitter experience that "oh, it's just a small little tweak" can mean hours or days of downtime.
posted by dhartung at 9:43 PM on December 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

1. More crap on the desktop does equal a longer boot time, but that's more in the case of actual files or applications than shortcuts, which are small.
2. Why not just train users to find network resources the normal way? They can't find network shares (click on the Network icon) or Internet shortcuts (add them to Favorites)? They should learn.
3. Making these icons a policy increases support's load because they will break or be deleted or lost. Also: someone has to put them on all the machines. Manually.
4. If it were up to me, I'd just send an email with the links to the users, and let them decide how to store that information individually. Everybody's got a different work flow. (If you put 7 icons for URLs and network drives on my desktop, I'd delete them.)
5. Your IT guy probably just made something up in lieu of saying "That's the stupidest policy I've ever heard of, and I don't want to do it or have to support it."
6. If you have seniority and you're really set on this policy, just tell him to do it anyway. He will. It's his job.
posted by goblinbox at 10:03 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're 100% right!!!

Ask him to put just one text file on the desktops. Surely a small text file can't consume so much "virtual memory" that it would cause instability, could it? 46 bytes (bytes!) - a text file named "metafilter.url" that contains the following:


(obviously you'd fix this a little bit...)

Once you show him it's only a small text file, then work on the rest of the stuff you want included.


You're 100% wrong!!!

Your IT department has put a lot of effort to standardize the desktop to support the minimum requirements of *all* users in your organization, and the change management process doesn't support every "good idea" that comes walking through the front door. Web links? They belong in the standardized (and managed) browser, not on the desktop. Shortcuts to mapped drives? They're already in Explorer, you don't need them on the desktop. If *you* want the shortcut to the L:\ drive on your desktop, that doesn't mean everybody needs another icon on their desktop.
As most everybody has described, this isn't a *technical* problem. This guy was wrong to blow you off with jargon, but that doesn't mean he was wrong.

What I'd do: accept his word as gospel, ignoring everything upthread. It truly is a virtual memory problem. Send his supervisor (or coworker) a note asking them to explain the virtual memory problem, conceding that it's technical, but you don't really understand why your good idea is a bad idea.

Either they'll tell you the real reason (you have a change management process, there's a better way to implement, something more realistic than harming virtual memory - and then you'll really know) or they'll keep up the charade to cover his hot air - and that's when you go all out and call them on the carpet for blowing off the user base, the folks that actually make money for the company/deal directly with the public/support the organization mission, as appropriate.

TL;DR - Find out WHY your idea can't be implemented. In my company, users have *requirements*, IT provides *solutions* for those requirements. Users don't propose solutions.

except RHIP
posted by panmunjom at 10:44 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

More crap on the desktop does equal a longer boot time, but that's more in the case of actual files or applications than shortcuts, which are small.

This is not entirely true: Another shortcut on the desktop means another icon needs to be fetched from disk at login time, when the disk is generally busy reading stuff like startup programs. The amount of data to fetch may not be large, but the disk still needs to stop what it's doing and go seek somewhere else for your icon. The amount of memory and CPU power is irellevant here, they will not speed up disk access.

I'm sure Microsoft engineers have identified bottlenecks like this and have done things to improve the situation in recent iterations of Windows, but your question is about XP, where my anecdotal experience is you do not indeed want to have extra desktop icons just lying around.

I used to support a particularly icon-happy user, and you could actually hear the disk groan and see the icons appear one by one after logging in. Said user figured it was a good idea to have an icon for EVERYTHING on the desktop (as well as keeping every piece of single-use shareware from the last 15 years on his current PC), and then wondered why he got 5-10 minutes startup times on bleeding edge hardware.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:57 PM on December 1, 2010

He claims that this "could be a problem, if not now, then at somepoint." This seems pretty far-out to me.

Complaints about virtual memory are unfounded. Depending on network and infrastructure, there are legitimate reasons why this could be very slightly more difficult than it sounds, but virtual memory is not one of them.

However, I can think of a few other reasons I would not like to do this. These are all things that have actually happened to me.

First, administrative hassle: I have to push out 5-7 shortcuts to every machine for all users. People will most certainly delete them, so the only logical choices are to push them every login or push once but make them read only. Now people will complain to me about why can't they delete these shortcuts. I don't want to read those emails, I don't want to take those phone calls. Also if I deploy from a network share, now I have a thing that deploys shortcuts and somehow it's critical to keep it up or people have bad logins and there are more calls. These are not good uses of time.

Second, support hassle: one shortcut goes stale, and now there are a whole bunch of legitimate (as in, user clicks something and it doesn't work) support calls for a stupid problem. I don't want support calls, and I really don't want stupid problems.

Third, messy: I will tell you right now, in any company of appreciable size, there is at least one guy whose entire workflow depends on the arrangement of icons on his desktop. He is usually in charge of something. I push 7 shortcuts and I fuck this guy over ("YOU DELETED MY SPREA, oh there it is"). And guess who he calls.

And that's just off the top of my head. So here we have 3 separate opportunities for people to interrupt me while I do real, actually important work that generates value for the company. And for what, precisely? I know it sounds mean, but these are the brutal truths of IT. Perhaps you know how to use a computer, but most people only think they do. If you asked me to do this in my environment, I would also tell you no, period.
posted by tracert at 1:49 AM on December 2, 2010 [10 favorites]

Shortcuts to web sites no worries, but links to shared folders can cause all sorts of strangeness. This kind of describes how this can be a problem. I definitely remember turning computers from unusable to usable by creating a folder on the desktop and dragging every other icon into it.

So yeah your IT guy might not just be being a dick.
posted by onya at 2:43 AM on December 2, 2010

Nthing the suggestion that the IT guy is hand-waving in an attempt to avoid some serious behind-the-scenes work on this.

I do IT support in a large, managed organization probably not too different from yours, and we get requests like this all the time. And by "like this", I mean requests for changes that (to the user) seem simple and easy, but that the IT team knows will eat up a HUGE amount of time and cause unnecessary support requests.

Here are some of the questions that popped into my head right away, assuming you're using Windows: And that's not even starting to ask all the questions about permissions and such that come with having network shares in the first place...

Long story short, I could see implementing this if it were fixing some actual problem, but if it's more like a feature that User #35709 just happened to think would be nifty, then I'd shoot it down.
posted by aheckler at 3:44 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Desktop and start menu shortcuts to stuff on network shares, in my experience, are often the cause of ridiculously slow Windows bootup times. Then if the shortcuts break, Windows will get even slower still. I've frequently been able to change customer machines from frustrating boot-time dogs back into snappy, responsive, usable computers just by deleting all the network-targeted shortcuts from the desktop, My Recent Documents and the recycle bin.

My standard setup for school workstations now includes a Shortcuts folder created in the All Users desktop. My software installation scripts immediately tidy away into that any desktop shortcuts left behind by software installers. Shortcuts has Deny Delete for Everyone NTFS access control applied to itself and all contents (the installer script, which only runs at system startup and shutdown, temporarily lifts this when moving stuff in there). As a user, you can either double-click Shortcuts and then double-click the shortcut you want, or you can Copy and Paste frequently-used shortcuts from inside it to your own desktop or quicklaunch bar; you can't accidentally or deliberately drag links out or rename them because Deny Delete blocks those actions. It's only a tiny imposition on desktop minimalists while still being really useful for most people. Oh, and I turn off the idiot Desktop Cleanup Wizards as well.

Windows Explorer does not appear to scan the insides of the Shortcuts folder at boot time. Broken network links inside it only make the folder itself slow to open.
posted by flabdablet at 4:33 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll concur with flabdablet about links to network shares and items on them can cause very slow boot times (Windows goes out to the files to inspect them, get properties, icons, etc. and when things go wrong and the network isn't available there can be a lot of waiting around before Windows gives up trying). So in general, your IT guy was totally being untruthful about why problems would occur with your proposal. With that said, there certainly could be some downsides to what you suggest.
posted by mmascolino at 5:54 AM on December 2, 2010

The virtual memory thing? He's yankin' your honk.
posted by deezil at 7:52 AM on December 2, 2010

I can't help but notice you've favorited all the comments that tell you what you want hear. You need to think about what people are telling you about the consequences of your decision.

If you want to waste it time having to support the kind of issues that people have described, that might blow back on you when you need something done and it is too busy with something that is a user issue and not a technology issue.

You seriously cannot imagine the questions that it will generate or the length of time to resolve them. In my personal experience boot time is increased by desktop clutter, but there's a bigger issue with the idea.

Do you not have a corporate intranet you can store as a web favorite and list them there?
posted by winna at 8:59 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nth the above - he's wrong, but that doesn't mean he's incorrect.

"Long story short, I could see implementing this if it were fixing some actual problem, but if it's more like a feature that User #35709 just happened to think would be nifty, then I'd shoot it down."

What he said. Without a bunch more details about what and why, I'd deny the request too.
posted by anti social order at 11:00 AM on December 2, 2010

I just had a long day, and haven't had a chance to come back to this thread (and keep up with the best answers).

Most of our users use the same locations on the T:\ (shared) drive over and over, but are kind-of to very computer illiterate. We have huge problems getting people just to check and respond to e-mail.

I am shocked, I figured that shortcuts were just inert text files with a link ("pointer") to another location. VM or no, it just sounded like BS to me.

I came up with this solution because I feel that if these shortcuts aren't on the desktop, people wont use them. For example, one is called "info binder" which used to be a physical binder in each room that had a common phone numbers list, inhouse directories, reference lists etc. I converted it to a shared folder on the network, but unless its on the desktop people won't really navigate to it.

Thanks for all the answers!
posted by rosswald at 6:18 PM on December 2, 2010

Most of our users use the same locations on the T:\ (shared) drive over and over, but are kind-of to very computer illiterate. We have huge problems getting people just to check and respond to e-mail.

I'm a primary school IT technician, and the staff's IT skills range from enthusiastic competence to absolutely Luddite, with the occasional side trip to willing but clueless.

I am shocked, I figured that shortcuts were just inert text files with a link ("pointer") to another location. VM or no, it just sounded like BS to me.

In any sensible OS, that's exactly what shortcuts should be, and they wouldn't do anything at all until you chose to interact with them. Windows is not a sensible OS. Windows is a bizarre collection of historical accidents held together with chewing gum, spit and questionable design decisions.

One of those questionable decisions is that Shortcuts Must Resist Breakage At Almost Any Cost - and in an attempt to enforce that, Windows will validate all the desktop shortcuts (and a few in other places) on every logon and adjust shortcuts whose targets appear to have moved. That behavior, coupled with the leaky abstraction that network-shared folders drives are just like any other folder, means that the more network-targeted shortcuts you have, the longer Windows takes to log on.

I came up with this solution because I feel that if these shortcuts aren't on the desktop, people wont use them.

In my experience, making onewell known place where all searches begin, and training the less-IT-savvy people to look for stuff there if it seems to have gone missing elsewhere, works sufficiently well. Another thing that's paid off for me is that when I occasionally move stuff around on the file server, I will always leave behind a shortcut in the old location, with the same name the resource used to have in that location, that points to its new location.

Most people don't want to think about the IT tools they use to get their jobs done. They want to spend (or waste, as they generally see it) as little as they possibly can getting to grips with the stuff, and I can't say I blame them - I have basically the same attitude when it comes to e.g. my car. So I try very hard not to make changes for technical reasons unless in doing so I can let people continue working the way they're used to.

I'm aware of the irony of criticizing Windows for embracing essentially the same philosophy :-) But seriously: how hard would it have been to put the shortcut validation stuff in a separate worker thread instead of blocking desktop access until it's all done?
posted by flabdablet at 1:15 AM on December 3, 2010

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