In case you don't know how an overcrowded desktop looks like you should take a look at the image to the left. Having too many icons on your desktop will not only make you lose a lot of time but is also very strenuous for your eyes and brain. The easy solution of this problem would be to simply stop creating shortcuts, but what do you do when you need a quick way to access a great number of programs? I will try to help you find the balance between effectiveness and tidiness.
If you are a regular computer user and you have an overcrowded desktop, there is a high probability that your computer's screen is overrun by broken shortcuts and the links you don't actually use. Broken shortcuts are links to a no-longer existing executable file. In other words, these shortcuts came from applications that you have already deleted or uninstalled. To get rid of them you can either check them individually or take the easy way out and use Broken Shortcut Fixer. This free app will automatically scan all your shortcuts and determine if they are still functional. The tool will try to fix the broken ones by finding their related application (useful in case you moved the program that generated the shortcut) and any non-working link that can't be repaired will be deleted.
After removing all the broken links, check if there are any shortcuts that you don't actually need / use and if you find any, remove them. If your problem is still unsolved, you can use some specialized programs that can offer you an entirely new shortcut creation system. Here are some programs that can do the job.
Rocket dock is a free tool that creates a dock (a kind of sidebar) where you can store shortcuts to anything you want: applications, folders, webpages, etc. What's really great about this application is that it is highly customizable. You can minimize it, modify its position on the screen, or change its layer settings. Furthermore, this program integrates smoothly with your Windows environment, has a very clean look and even works well with other similar software.
Free Launch Bar
This free application will help you create a shortcut menu in your taskbar. Free Launch Bar lets you define your own categories, customize icons, colors, separators, etc. basically giving you full control over the way your shortcut menu will look like. The tool sports a wizard like interface which makes it very easy to control even for users who don't have a lot of experience with the computer. Although Free Launch Bar doesn't have the most comprehensive Help file you will ever see, I'm confident that you will be able to easily manage.
FSL Launcer (free) is a bit different if compared to the previous two. This tool enables you to create groups of shortcuts, that you can easily access. What's special about it, is that it doesn't take up any space on your desktop as it resides in the system tray. Although the graphical aspect of the shortcut list isn't as customizable as with other programs, FSL Launcer is still a solid application. The one thing that bugged me a bit about this tool is that you need to press a key combination or click on its tray icon in order to get to the menu that lets you access the group where your shortcuts are. A bit complicated, I think.
As you've probably guessed from its name, this free application tries to emulate the Stacks feature that can be found on the MAC operating system. The program helps you create categories of shortcuts to applications with similar or related functionality called stacks. 7stacks pins itself to the Taskbar (in Windows 7) or the Quick Launch Bar (Windos XP and Vista) and gives you an easy way to access up to 10 different stacks. In case you don't want the application pinned to your Taskbar, you can also keep it as a regular desktop shortcut.
Since you were patient enough to read up to this point, I'm gonna show you one more special tool that will help you make every computer you work on feel just like the one you have at home. PortableApps is an awesome open-source platform that enables you to build your own portable app suite. This means that no matter where you go you can always have the applications that you require. The way it works is pretty simple: the website offers you a comprehensive list of programs that you can choose from, you add the ones you need on the platform and then store the data on your hard disk, on a memory stick, on cloud storage, etc. The entire "trick" is that all the tools in the list are portable, which means that they don't require an installation in order to run. Furthermore, to make things even more convenient, you can customize the way the PortableApps menu looks like. Although certain programs which you require may not have a portable version, this still a highly useful piece of software.