Changing Your System Path in Windows Vista

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[Note: Since this was written, I downgraded from Vista (because it wasn't stable enough) and went back to XP.  These days I'm looking much harder at moving to a Mac.]

One of the things I really like about Vista is the help. So far it has delivered the goods as I get adjusted to the changes from XP. One of the things I didn’t find easily in Windows Vista help was how to change my system path.

A system path is an environment variable and has been around since the DOS days. Back then you wanted to be able to execute certain files from anywhere in your file system. Now-a-days there isn’t much emphasis on maintaining a good system path because people generally create shortcuts directly to the programs they need (or the installation software does it for you). Also most people don’t use the command prompt at this point.

Our local development environment for Podcastinople is pretty complicated. It uses a lot of Ruby on Rails components, ImageMagick, Rmagick, Tortoise SVN and Posgres SQL. I had to get all these installed and set up because of my migration to a clean install of Vista, and one of the steps is a manual change to the system path.

So when Windows Vista Help let me down I searched G for system path windows vista and came up with nothing. A little guessing based on a guide for XP and I was able to find it. There are two ways to do this.

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The easy way:

  1. Click Start and choose Control Panel
  2. In the Search box on the top right of the window type “system path” (no quotes)
  3. Click “Edit the system environment variables”
  4. Begin at step 4 below.

The hard way:

  1. Click Start and choose Control Panel
  2. Click System, on the right you’ll see “View basic information about your computer”
  3. On the left is a list of tasks, the last of which is “Advanced system settings.” Click that.
  4. The Advanced tab of the System Properties dialog box is shown. Click the Environment Variables button on the bottom right.
  5. In the lower box titled “System Variables” scroll down to Path and click the Edit button.
  6. Change your path as need be.
  7. Restart your system. Vista didn’t pick up the system path environment variable change until I restarted.

I go back and forth between Windows and Unix enough that I find myself typing “ls” the directory listing for Unix/Linux based systems when I meant to type “dir”. To fix this I add a file called ls.bat to a folder that is in my system path that contains the dir command. This saves me a few oops commands on occasion.

53 thoughts on “Changing Your System Path in Windows Vista

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