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Creating Windows 7 Jump Lists With The API Code Pack and Visual Studio 2008

  • December 15, 2009
  • By Jani Järvinen
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Now that Windows 7 is readily available at every computer store, it's only a matter of time until the new operating system becomes mainstream in both homes and corporations. Especially this will happen once new computers start replacing old ones.

From a developer perspective, Windows 7 brings many possibilities. One of the most visible and prominent new features is the improved taskbar, through which applications are launched and even managed. In this article, the focus is on a feature called jump lists, which can be thought of as being a mini Start menu when right-clicking an icon on the taskbar (Figure 1).

A basic Windows 7 jump list
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Figure 1. A basic jump list.

Jump lists are active both when right-clicking an icon on the taskbar, but also when pointing at an application icon in the Start menu's initial view (Figure 2). Thus, there are two ways to make jump lists visible; however these menus have a different focus: jump lists on the Start menu are about the recent documents, whereas the taskbar-activated jump list contains more options to manage the application and its windows.

Figure 2. Jump lists in the Start menu.
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Figure 2. Jump lists in the Start menu.

Programming both instances of jump lists requires only a single implementation. Under the hood, jump lists use a COM based API, just like many other features in the Windows shell. Although it is possible to access these COM interfaces directly from your application, there is an easier way. Microsoft has developed a free package for .NET developers called the Windows API Code Pack (Figure 3), which contains many ready-made classes to access Windows features, such as Windows 7's jump lists.

The Windows API Code Pack download page.
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Figure 3. The Windows API Code Pack download page.

Next, you are going to see how you can use Visual Studio 2008 and C# to enable custom jump lists in your own .NET applications with a WinForms sample application (Figure 4). A similar method could be used with Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2. With Visual Studio 2010 however, you can also use WPF 4.0's new support for Windows 7 shell integration. Even so, these classes are out the scope of this article, but the topic will likely be addressed in the near future.

The sample application
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Figure 4. The sample application.

Briefly About Jump List Features

Jump lists on Windows 7 can be considered streamlined mini versions of the Windows Start menu. Furthermore, they are tailored for each application. Just like in all Windows versions after Windows 95, you can right-click an icon on the taskbar, and see a popup menu. Jump lists in Windows 7 are an evolution of this menu.

Indeed, even if you don't do anything special, Windows 7 will display a popup menu for your application when its icon is available on the taskbar (see again Figure 1). If you have pinned an application to the taskbar, the default menu will give you the option to unpin it or launch the application. If the application is running, the default menu contains options to pin the program to the taskbar, close it, or launch another instance.

If an application has associated a file type (file extension) with itself in the registry--for instance, Word with .doc and .docx files--Windows will collect a list of recent files opened with the application. This happens automatically if the application uses Windows common file dialogs to open files, or uses the SHAddToRecentDocs API function to let Windows know that files were opened. Windows will also keep track of which files are used most frequently.

Files opened with an application from two so-called known lists. These are the Recent and Frequent lists. The difference between these two is that Recent will collect the most recently opened files (say, five of them), and the Frequent list will on the other hand collect files that are most commonly used over time. The application can control whether one of these lists is shown in the jump list, or neither.

These known lists are said to contain destinations, or nouns. Destinations are always files, and because of this, a file handler for a given file type (or types) must be registered. Windows will also make sure the files are available before showing them on the list.

Another important part of jump lists, and the focus of this article, is the support for verbs. Verbs allow your application to freely add custom commands to the jump list, and then allow users to quickly interact with your application while it's running. Unlike nouns, verbs do not require you to associate a file extension with your application.

Verbs are file based commands that point back to your application, and instruct it to run certain commands. For example, if you were writing a sales application, then the jump list verbs could start a new order, find a customer, and so on. Since these lists are customized for each application, every application has its own set of verbs.

Using the Windows API Code Pack

The freely downloadable Windows API Code Pack (see the Links section at the end for the URL) is a set of .NET classes compiled into several different assemblies. You can easily reference these from your own projects, and thus benefit from the classes.

To get started with the code pack, you first need to download it. It comes in a regular zip file, which you should extract to a convenient location, such as under your Visual Studio projects folder. Then, navigate inside the newly extracted folders, and open a solution named Shell.sln with Visual Studio. Build the whole thing, and then note the location of the resulting DLL files, usually under the bin\Debug folder.

After a successful build, you should see two assemblies, Microsoft.WindowsAPICodePack.Shell.dll and Microsoft.WindowsAPICodePack.dll in the output folder. The latter file is automatically created, as the Shell project depends on a project called Core. The Core project is also part of the code pack.

The next step is to start a new project (or open one, if you already have one) in Visual Studio, and add the two code pack DLLs as references to your project (Figure 5). With the proper references in place, you can start writing code. The assembly filenames already give a hint of the correct namespaces; to use the code pack for jump lists, add the following using statements to your C# code:

  using Microsoft.WindowsAPICodePack.Shell;
  using Microsoft.WindowsAPICodePack.Taskbar;

References have been to the sample project
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Figure 5. References have been to the sample project.

Inside the latter namespace, you can find a class called JumpList, which is a great starting point to begin exploring the features in jump lists. For instance, let's see how you could add a custom jump list verb to your application's menu.

The first step is to create an instance of the JumpList class. After this, you need to construct an object supporting the IJumpListTask interface for each custom verb you wish to add to your jump list. This can be done with the help from the JumpListLink class, also part of the Microsoft.WindowsAPICodePack.Taskbar namespace.

For instance, you might want to add commands into your application's jump list to quickly launch Notepad or Calculator. To do this, you could use the following code:

  JumpList list = JumpList.CreateJumpList();
  string systemFolder = Environment.GetFolderPath(
  string notepadPath = System.IO.Path.Combine(
      systemFolder, "notepad.exe");
  JumpListLink notepadTask = new JumpListLink(
      notepadPath, "Open Notepad");
  notepadTask.IconReference = new IconReference(
      notepadPath, 0);
  string calculatorPath = System.IO.Path.Combine(
      systemFolder, "calc.exe");
  JumpListLink calculatorTask = new JumpListLink(
      calculatorPath, "Open Calculator");
  calculatorTask.IconReference = new IconReference(
      calculatorPath, 0);
  list.AddUserTasks(notepadTask, calculatorTask);
  MessageBox.Show("Custom tasks have been added!");

Here you are creating a new jump list object, and then constructing two verbs with the JumpListLink class. The constructor requires a file-based command, and in this case this is the full pathname to Notepad.exe (and Calc.exe) in the Windows\System32 directory. The System.IO.Path class helps in the process. Also, menu icons are added using the IconReference class, which takes in a full path and an icon index. Zero means the first icon in the file, which is commonly the main icon.

Finally, the AddUserTasks method of the JumpList class is called to add the new verbs to the menu. Windows 7 will create the commands under the Tasks generic group, and thus the verbs added here can also be called tasks. Note that Windows will keep a record of the tasks you create. Thus, you will only need to create your tasks once.

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