Make Any Folder a Quick-Access Virtual Drive With Visual Subst

Your computer only uses a few of the alphabet's 26 letters to name its drives. A free utility lets you assign the rest of them to folders on your hard drive for instant access.
Published: Jul 2, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows

There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but your computer probably only uses a few of them for its drives--maybe C: for your hard drive and D: for a CD or DVD drive, and a few more when you plug in a USB device. You might not know that for years now Windows has come with a cool utility called Subst (for "substitute") that lets you assign any folder a drive letter, so if there are folders you use frequently you can access them even more quickly from My Computer, the command line, or the Run box. However, Subst is a command-line utility and has no graphical interface, and furthermore must be run every time you start Windows for your "virtual" drives to be in place, which isn't terribly convenient. That's where Visual Subst comes in.

Visual Subst is a free utility that essentially puts a GUI on top of the subst command, making it easy to set up, change, and remove virtual drives. Better still, the Visual Subst installer is a tiny 110kb download. To get started, go download it from NTWind Software, run the installer, and launch Visual Subst from the Start Menu.

Visual Subst

You'll see a mostly blank window like this when you first start Visual Subst. To assign a virtual drive letter to a folder, first click on the drop-down menu at the bottom and choose a drive letter. I recommend picking something you'll remember, like the first letter of the folder's name (e.g. W: for Web or P: for Pictures). Then you need to choose the directory that drive letter will link to. If you have a good memory for folder paths (e.g. C:\Users\Jordan\Pictures...) you can just start typing into the box to the right, or you can click on the magnifying glass to see a more familiar tree view and select the folder you're looking for.

Visual Subst

Once you've got your drive letter and your folder chosen just click on the green plus button and the link will be created and appear in the list above. You can do this until you've run out of letters.

In order to change one of your letter assignments just click on it in the list, make your change below, and then save your changes with the diskette button. To delete an assignment click on it and then click on the red X button.

And by now you've probably noticed the "Apply virtual drives on Windows startup" checkbox. If you want your virtual drives to be present every time you start Windows, just check this option before quitting Visual Subst. Easy!

How to make it work for you

If you're not used to using drive letters you might be wondering what use this could be to you. It's most useful if you're not afraid to navigate directories using they keyboard rather than the mouse. Once you've created a virtual drive--let's use W: as an example--try this out: Go to the start menu and click on Run..., then type in w: (either upper- or lowercase will work) and press enter. Immediately the folder you assigned to W: will open. This is even faster if you memorize the keyboard shortcut for the Run box: Hold down the Windows key (next to Alt on your keyboard) and press R (for "Run") and the Run box appears. As you can see, once you've memorized a few keystrokes, accessing a favorite folder is boiled down to a quick Win-R-w:-Enter. Likewise, in any Open or Save dialog box you can quickly skip to your virtual drive by entering w: and pressing Enter.

Hat tip to Download Squad for discovering and sharing this super-useful free tool.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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