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Exploring Windows XP's Interface

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In this sample chapter from Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Windows XP in 21 Days, John Mueller explores Windows XP by looking at the most important tool in the Windows user interface, Windows Explorer, and discussing how to manage and customize the user interface.
This chapter is from the book

The user interface for an operating system is its spokesperson. The rest of the operating system does the work, but the user interface is what people see. Therefore, it's important that the user interface gives the user the best impression. Windows XP provides more than a few surprises when it comes to the user interface. Not only do you get more interface choices than ever before, but you'll also find that this interface is more flexible. Windows XP allows you to have things your way—at least, to an extent.

We'll begin by looking at the most important tool in the Windows user interface, Windows Explorer. At one time, Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer were two separate tools. Today they're the same tool with two different user interfaces. Therefore, I'll use the term Explorer to talk about both applications. We'll use the Windows Explorer version of the interface because we'll discuss Internet Explorer during Day 4. Remember, however, that you can perform the same actions with both tools within the limits of each application's interface.

Our next discussion will also include managing the user interface. I'll show you how to change various interface elements so that you can switch from the simple Windows XP interface to a Windows 2000 look-alike and everything in between. By the time this day is over, you'll know enough about the Windows XP user interface to create a comfortable environment for yourself or anyone you're working with.

An Overview of Windows Explorer

Of all the tools in Windows XP, the most important tool to learn is Windows Explorer. This single tool provides access to resources, both local and remote. You can use it to view Web pages, as well as the content of your disk drives. Using Windows Explorer, you can set security on your drives and use the Address bar as a command line substitute. Context menus allow you to manipulate objects in various ways, and you can even extend Explorer to fulfill other needs. Figure 3.1 shows a typical example of the Windows Explorer interface. However, as we'll see today, this is just one of many ways to view this utility.

Figure 3.1 Windows Explorer is the one tool that everyone should learn to use

Beginning at the top of the display, you'll see the main menu and three toolbars: Standard Buttons, Address Bar, and Links. (Microsoft might hide the Links toolbar by default, use View | Toolbars | Links to display it.) I'll describe each of these toolbars in the "Toolbars" section that follows. You'll use the View | Toolbars menu options to activate and deactivate each toolbar. The dots on the left of each toolbar allow you to move it. (Microsoft might lock the toolbars by default, use View | Toolbars | Lock the Toolbars to remove the check next to this option.) When you have the toolbars in the desired position, use the View | Toolbars | Lock the Toolbars command to remove the dots and keep the toolbars in place.

Below the toolbars is the data area. As you can see, Windows Explorer as shown in Figure 3.1 contains two vertical panes (you might see other configurations). Changing some of the settings will vary the number of panes between one and two. The right, or detail pane, is always present. Each pane serves a specific purpose as listed below.

  • Explorer Bar The Explorer Bar pane normally appears on the left side of Windows Explorer. This pane contains a hierarchical view of your drives (as shown in the figure), a search form, or even a list of contacts. We'll discuss the Explorer Bars in more detail in the "Explorer Bars" section that follows.

  • Details You'll normally see a list of objects in this pane. The content of this pane will vary but will generally include details about the object selected in the Explorer Bar pane. For example, if you select the Folders Explorer Bar and choose a folder, the Details pane will contain the files within that folder. Likewise, if you perform a search, the Details pane will contain a list of objects matching the search criteria.

The Tip of the Day is a special pane that appears between the middle and right panes. You'll use the Tip of the Day to learn more about Windows Explorer. Turn this feature on and off using the View | Explorer Bar | Tip of the Day command. The Next Tip link within the Tip of the Day pane allows you to view each tip in the database in rapid succession.

The very bottom of the Windows Explorer display contains a Status Bar. This helpful element provides quick information about a selected object. For example, if you select a file, the Status Bar will show the file size. If you don't have any objects selected, the Status Bar tells you the number of objects within the current container. Finally, when you select multiple objects, the Status Bar contains the number of objects selected and could contain other amplifying information. You turn this feature on and off using the View | Status Bar command.

One of the Explorer Bars that you'll use most often is the Folders Explorer Bar. In fact, Windows Explorer will normally start with this Explorer Bar. You can divide the Folders Explorer Bar into several functional areas. The following sections tell you about each of these areas and detail how you can use them to your benefit.

My Documents

One of the features that has followed users around for several versions of Windows is the My Documents folder. (In some cases, Windows XP might use your name for this folder such as John's Documents.) This folder can appear in a number of places, such as the Desktop. It's also one of the folders that appears within Windows Explorer. Microsoft has set aside a My Documents folder for each user on the machine. It's your private storage area.

Windows XP includes a new feature. You'll only see it when using single pane folders and only if you select the Show Common Tasks in Folders option on the General tab of the Folder Options dialog box. Figure 3.2 shows this view of the My Documents folder when you select this option from the Start menu (in order to obtain the single pane view).

Figure 3.2 The Task pane for several of the My Documents subfolders provides special functionality.

As you can see, the My Documents folder contains two subfolders: My Pictures and My Music. These folders are special because they provide additional capabilities when you continue to use the Task pane on your machine. The Task pane for the My Pictures folder contains a special set of tasks that allow you to view your pictures as a slide show, order prints of your pictures from the Internet, or print copies of your pictures. You can also set a picture as the wallpaper for your Desktop. Figure 3.3 shows an example of these extra commands. Likewise, the Web content for the My Music folder contains special tasks that allow you to play all of the entries in the folder or shop for music online.

Figure 3.3 The My Pictures folder contains special commands to manage your pictures.

You can also change the appearance of the My Pictures folder. Right-click on any open area in the folder and choose View | Filmstrip from the context menu. The folder now contains a set of picture-viewing tools as shown in Figure 3.4. (Note that you might see a My Videos folder that contains an extended set of these controls.) Selecting an object will allow you to use the controls to size the picture and move from one picture to the next. The tools also include two controls for rotating the picture, a handy feature when working with pictures captured in landscape, rather than portrait orientation. Without it, you'd have to tilt your head sideways to see the picture at the correct orientation.

Figure 3.4 You can modify the My Pictures folder to contain special picture viewing controls.

Pocket PC users who have ActiveSync installed on their system may see a My Pocket PC folder here. This folder will contain all of the data files from your Pocket PC. This folder doesn't appear to provide any special functionality other than a link to your PDA.

Some people don't need the My Documents folder. Company policy might dictate that you place all user data on the network so that it's easy to monitor and backup. What this means is that you'll have an empty My Documents folder hanging around on your system. You can get rid of this folder from the Desktop by using the Tools | Folder Options command to display the Folder Options dialog box. Select View and clear the Show My Documents on the Desktop in the Advanced Settings list.

Unfortunately, My Documents will continue to waste space in Windows Explorer and on your hard drive. You can temporarily remove it from Windows Explorer by highlighting the object and pressing Shift+Delete, but the action is temporary. My Documents will grow back even more determined to stay in place. Attempts to delete the folder from your hard drive will fail with an error message. I even tried logging in as another user with administrative privileges to delete the unwanted and unloved folder from my system. The attempt worked, but the folder grew back the next time I started the machine. In short, Microsoft has determined that you'll have a My Documents folder whether you need it or not. Removing it from your Desktop will have to be enough to satisfy you.

My Computer

The My Computer section of Windows Explorer is where you'll find all of the local machine resources. You share these resources with everyone else who uses this machine. Unlike My Documents, you don't personally own these resources and may not even be able to see them all, depending on your rights on the machine. The important thing to remember is that My Computer will show all of the local resources you can access.

My Computer will also contain any mapped network drives. As far as the system is concerned, a mapped network drive is the same as a local drive. The act of mapping a drive creates a pointer from your machine to the network drive. You'll use the Tools | Map Network Drive command to display the Map Network Drive dialog shown in Figure 3.5. Select a local drive from the Drive list box and point to a network drive using the Folder combo box. Notice the Browse button next to the Folder combo box; it allows you to search for a network drive. Check the Reconnect at Login option if you want Windows to reestablish the connection each time you start the machine.

You can perform a number of tasks by right-clicking the local drive and selecting options from the context menu. For example, you can expand and collapse the hierarchical display. You can also rename, share, or format local drives, and disconnect from mapped drives. The Properties command will display a dialog similar to the one shown in Figure 3.6.

Figure 3.5 Mapping a network drive is as easy as pointing a local drive to a location on the network.

Figure 3.6 The local drive's Properties dialog contains a number of tabs that allow you to monitor and manage disk drives.

The number and names of the tabs you'll see depend on the type of drive resource you're viewing. Figure 3.6 shows a typical set of tabs for an NT File System (NTFS) drive. The General and Hardware tabs are the points of interest for this section. We'll discuss the Tools tab on Day 21, the Sharing and Security tabs on Day 16, and the Quota tab on Day 8. Depending on your system setup, you may see other specialty tabs. For example, you'll see additional tabs if you install the NetWare client. These tabs include special client features, such as the capability to set network drive security without starting the Network Administrator application.

Let's begin by looking at the General tab. You'll always see the drive name at the top. Changing this entry also changes the name of the drive.

Below the drive name entry, you'll see three pieces of information: Type, File system, and Opens with. The Type entry tells you whether this drive is a local or network drive. The File system entry tells you the drive format. (This entry can vary significantly depending on the clients you have installed.) For example, the Microsoft client simply reports that the drive is NetWare compatible. The NetWare client will report the types of support loaded for the drive, including long filename support. The Opens with field is normally blank because you use Windows Explorer to open the drive. If you see an entry here, it means that another application configured the registry to use something other than Windows Explorer.

The next section of drive information tells you disk space usage. It shows both used and free space. As with everything else, the client you install will determine how many other entries you may see. Network vendors could include entries that show the amount of compressed versus uncompressed disk space. This entry is misleading in some cases. A client may not provide an accurate reading of compressed network drives, leading you to believe there's less space available than the drive can really provide.

The final section of this dialog contains two options. Setting the first option will compress your drive. You have the option of compressing the entire drive or just the root directory. Compressing the entire drive can take time, so make sure that you check this option when you have plenty of time to wait for the process to complete. The second option allows the Indexing Service to index the drive for fast searches. Be aware that checking this option doesn't start the Indexing Service. You need to start it using the Computer Management console found in the Administrator Tools folder. We'll discuss this tool on Day 8.

The Hardware tab appears in Figure 3.7. Notice that this tab displays a complete list of all drives on your system, but not the partitions on the drives. This tab provides a quick look at the physical hardware on your system, rather than the logic drives that you normally work with. Each entry provides a drive manufacturer name (when available), model number (when available), location, and status.

The Troubleshoot button displays the Help and Support Services window shown in Figure 3.8. This series of dialogs will help you diagnose and fix many common drive problems. However, the vast majority of the solutions are Windows specific. You can't depend on Help and Support Services to provide you with hardware-specific support. That information appears in your vendor manuals or at a vendor-specific site online.

Figure 3.7 The Hardware tab allows you to see the hardware behind the partitions on your drive.

Help and Support Services also ignores commonsense errors that Microsoft assumes users will catch by themselves. This is a little shortsighted because everyone needs help with those head-slapping errors from time to time. For example, I had one client whose CD-ROM drive suddenly quit working. A quick trip to the office showed that the CD-ROM was upside down in the drive. It was something that I should have considered while talking to the user on the telephone, but the problem didn't become obvious until I actually looked at the drive.

The Properties button displays a dialog similar to the one shown in Figure 3.9. This is actually a quick way to access the drive's entry in Device Manager (discussed on Day 10). The tabs you see will vary by the device and device drivers loaded on your system. Figure 3.9 shows a typical set of tabs.

Essentially, these tabs allow you to monitor and manage the physical device that holds your data. The options you see will vary by device. For example, you might see settings that control the write-ahead, the capability of Windows to use memory to improve the drive's performance.

Figure 3.8 Help and Support Services will assist you in finding many Windows-specific drive errors

Figure 3.9 The drive device Properties dialog contains detailed information about the selected hardware.

My Network Places

My Network Places contains a list of drives and folders similar to those found in My Computer. However, instead of looking at the local machine, you're now looking at the entire network. In most cases, unless you're the administrator, you won't see all of the resources the network has to offer due to limitations in access. My Network Places presents your view of the network.

There's a special icon within My Network Places called Entire Network. This is actually a placeholder icon; it doesn't represent a physical resource. If you attempt to open a Properties dialog for this particular icon, Windows XP will display an error message stating that the properties aren't available. Below this icon is a list of network resources as shown in Figure 3.10.

Figure 3.10 The Entire Network icon is the starting point for searching for network resources.

Notice that Figure 3.10 shows two different networks. The first is Microsoft based, while the second is NetWare based. LocalNet, the Microsoft network, contains three machines. If you expanded the machine displays, you'd see a list of drives that you could further expand into folders. The NetWare network consists of a single server.

The hierarchical display in the Explorer Bar doesn't always tell you the full story about network resources. Notice that the NetWare server display on the left shows three drives. The Details pane on the right shows that this server also supports two printers. As you can see, it's important to look at the Details pane when you're searching for a network resource.

After you go past the Entire Network icon and its contents, you'll notice a series of drive icons. These are actually drive shortcuts. Windows XP attempts to locate every drive you can access on the network and automatically provide a shortcut so you don't have to search for the resource. The drive names are the same as the names within the Entire Network hierarchy, making it easy to tell where a resource belongs.

Network shortcuts are an extremely handy feature. They allow you to create a connection with any network resource, local or remote. Creating a new network shortcut is easy. Click My Network Neighborhood in the Folders Explorer Bar. The Details pane will contain an Add Network Place icon. Double-click this icon to start the Add Network Place Wizard. Skip past the Welcome screen, and you'll see a Select Network Place Provider dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure 3.11. Note that you may have other service providers installed on your machine, so your list may not match mine.

Figure 3.11 Use the Add Network Place Wizard to add new network shortcuts to your system.


Windows XP has MSN provider support installed. The MSN provider will allow access to an online storage site. You can use online storage equally well from work or at home. MSN is a handy way to keep your data in one place and still make it accessible from any machine you use that has the proper support installed. The downside to this approach is that it's hard to create a backup of the data. Many enterprise installations will probably use this technique as a last-ditch effort, rather than a preferred method, because of the perceived danger to data.

I'll use the Other Network Location approach for this example, but the procedure for creating a network shortcut is essentially the same no matter which provider you use. After you select a provider, click Next and you'll see some type of source selection dialog. Figure 3.12 shows the selection dialog for Other Network Locations. The final step is to provide a name for your shortcut. I normally use something short but descriptive to ensure I'll remember where the shortcut points are later.

Figure 3.12 You need to select a source for the network shortcuts you create.

It's important to realize that a network shortcut can point to any network resource, including both Web and file transfer protocol (FTP) sites. For example, I created a network shortcut for the FTP site associated with my Web site. This allows me to create files locally and move them directly to the FTP site by using Explorer. Unlike local or even remote drive resources, you can only manipulate files on FTP and Web sites. This means you must create a local copy of the file in order to edit it.

Recycle Bin

The Recycle Bin is a temporary place to store files that you want to delete later. The files are still on the hard drive, but Windows could remove them if it needs more hard drive space. You can also manually empty the Recycle Bin. For example, you'd definitely want to delete the contents of the Recycle Bin before you optimized the hard drive. Figure 3.13 shows a typical view of the Recycle Bin within Windows Explorer. Notice that I used the Details view, in this case, because I want to be sure that the file I'm deleting is the one that I no longer want.

Figure 3.13 The Recycle Bin holds files you no longer want to keep

Using the Recycle Bin is easy. You can right-click the icon on your Desktop or within Explorer to empty the entire Recycle Bin, view its contents, or change its settings. When you open the Recycle Bin, you can delete files individually or as part of a group. This is also the only way to restore files to their original location. Just select the files you want to restore, right-click, and choose Restore from the context menu.

One limitation of the Recycle Bin is that you can't look at files within folders. A folder acts as a single entity within the Recycle bin. This means that you must restore the folder to its original location before you can view its contents.

You can make some changes to the way Recycle Bin operates. Right-click Recycle Bin and choose Properties to display the Recycle Bin Properties dialog shown in Figure 3.14. Notice that there's a Global tab and an individual drive tab for each drive on your system. Most people choose to set the Recycle Bin properties globally, but Windows XP does give you a choice.

Figure 3.14 Use the Recycle Bin Properties dialog to change the way Recycle Bin works.

The slider near the middle of the Recycle Bin Properties dialog allows you to set the amount of hard drive space that the Recycle Bin can use. This setting is important to performance because you want to keep enough hard drive space open for the swap file and user data. Of course, the larger your Recycle Bin is, the longer files stay intact so you can retrieve them. Still, the default 10% value used by Windows XP seems a tad extreme to me. That means on an 18GB hard drive, you'll use 1.8GB for the Recycle Bin. That's larger than the swap file Microsoft recommends in most cases. Using a value that's close to reality is a good idea. I normally set mine to allow 100MB of storage space for the Recycle Bin, just in case I have an extra large file to delete.

Most users should keep the Display deleted confirmation dialog option checked. This dialog warns you that the files in the Recycle Bin will become unavailable after you choose to empty it. This dialog has saved me from emptying the Recycle Bin by mistake several times.


Windows has had Briefcase support for quite some time. It used to be an optional element that you installed after you completed the Windows setup. However, Windows XP comes with Briefcase support built in.

Briefcase is a useful tool for laptop users. It allows you to create a synchronized copy of a file at work, carry it home in your briefcase on the laptop, do some work on the file, and then resynchronize the file at work the next day. You'll find that Briefcase provides an easy method for carrying data around, and it prevents many of the problems that laptop users have with missed edits. We'll discuss the features of Briefcase fully during Day 13.

The problem for at least some users is they'll never know Briefcase exists because the default Windows display lacks a Briefcase. You need to create a Briefcase before you can access one. Right-click the Desktop and choose New | Briefcase from the context menu. The Briefcase will then appear within Windows Explorer as well. Figure 3.15 shows a sample Briefcase with files loaded.

Figure 3.15 Briefcase is a conven-ient tool for carrying files between work and home.

Other Elements

You need to know about other elements of Windows Explorer in order to obtain maximum use from this utility. For example, we haven't yet discussed techniques for configuring Windows Explorer so that you can see things the way you'd like to see them. The following sections will describe some of the more common configuration issues. After you complete this section, you'll know enough about Windows Explorer to work quickly and efficiently.

Explorer Bars

Windows Explorer comes equipped with several Explorer Bars. An Explorer Bar is like a plug-in that changes the personality of Windows Explorer. We've been using the Folders Explorer Bar quite a bit so far, so you should have a good idea of what this Explorer Bar looks like and what it can do for you. However, these features are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Search Explorer Bar shown in Figure 3.16 helps you look for data on your system. This is the standard Search Explorer Bar. Windows XP also provides a Search Companion-style Explorer Bar that adds animated effects and a simpler interface. You can select this alternative search option by checking the Use Search Companion for Searching option on the View tab of the Folder Options dialog box.

Figure 3.16 The Search Explorer Bar helps you find files on your system, the network, or even the Internet.

Notice that you can provide a filename, text within a file, or both as search criteria. The Look In field contains the location you want to search. It includes an option for searching the entire computer system or My Network Neighborhood. You can also choose locations further down the hierarchy, such as a specific disk drive or folder. The Explorer Bar allows you to limit the scope of your search using criteria such as date and time ranges, file types, file size, and options that include a case-sensitive search (for systems that support it). The Search Explorer Bar also includes a link to the Index Server and current Index Server status information.


Because you can create a shortcut to FTP and Web sites, Search will also work for Internet locations. In most cases, you must create a network shortcut for this feature to work. In addition, I found that I often had to make the request twice with secured sites. The search would fail the first time but succeed the second.

There are other forms of Search besides the file or folder search we just discussed. You can search the Internet for a specific Web page, business, or e-mail address. The Search Explorer Bar also includes options for searching for people or computers on your local network. We'll discuss many other forms of searching as the book progresses.

The Favorites Explorer Bar appears in Figure 3.17. At this point, you should recognize the crossover between Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer. What Figure 3.16 shows you is essentially a two-pane view of the Internet. You can make Internet Explorer look precisely the same. In short, the demarcation between the two applications is largely one of initial interface. We'll discuss Internet Explorer and the Internet more during Day 4.

Figure 3.17 Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer begin to look the same when you display the Favorites Explorer Bar

The History Explorer Bar shown in Figure 3.18 is another crossover display. In this case, you'll see a list of links that you recently visited in the Explorer Bar and the content of the selected Web site in the Details pane. We'll discuss how you can set the longevity of Web site history during Day 4.

Figure 3.18 The History Explorer Bar allows you to revisit a Web site that you've checked recently.

The Media Explorer Bar combines the Windows Media Player with Windows Explorer. You can search both your local drive and the Internet for content to play. When you first start the Explorer Bar, you'll see a media player similar to the one shown in Figure 3.19 in the Explorer Bar pane.

Figure 3.19 The Media Explorer Bar allows you to search for and play media from both the Internet and your local drive

The VCR-style controls at the bottom are self-explanatory. They work just like the same controls on your system at home. The point of interest on this display is the Media Options drop-down menu.

Media Options offers four choices: More Media, Radio Guide, Settings, and Play. Selecting More Media will take you to the http://www.windowsmedia.com/mg/home.asp Web site. You can download a variety of media sources from the Web site, including both music samples and movie trailers. When you select a media source, Explorer loads it into the media player in the Explorer Bar (at least when the scripting works right one the Web page) and plays your selection.

The Radio Guide displays the same radio station site as shown in Figure 3.17. This site allows you to select a source of streamed media to listen to as you work.

You only have three Settings options from which to choose. The Play web media in the bar option is the one that transfers control to the Media Explorer Bar when you select a sound or video source. Clearing this option causes Explorer to start a separate copy of the media player for each selection you make. The Ask for preferred types option tells Explorer that you'd like to keep track of your selections and use them as criteria for making future selections. Finally, Reset preferred types removes your selection preferences. This is a good option if you start noticing your selections become fewer. Sometimes Explorer does more filtering than you'd like it to perform.

The Play menu allows you to play local media files. When you select the Media File option, Explorer displays an Open dialog box you can use to select a source. Windows Media Player accommodates an amazing list of audio and video file formats, so you should be able to play just about any file on your machine.

The Contact Explorer Bar is the least complex of all the Explorer Bars we've discussed so far. This Explorer Bar simply provides a list of the contacts in your Address Book. If you want to send a message to a particular contact, double-click the contact's name, and you'll see an empty e-mail message appear. You can also send e-mail to multiple recipients by Ctrl-clicking each recipient in turn, right-clicking one of the selected items, and choosing Send E-Mail from the context menu. You'll find that the context menu also contains options for dialing a telephone or making contact using Instant Messenger. Finally, you can change the properties for any contact in the list.


Windows Explorer includes three toolbars: Standard Buttons, Address Bar, and Links. You can add or subtract any of these toolbars using the options on the View | Toolbars menu. Figure 3.20 shows all three toolbars in place.

Figure 3.20 Windows Explorer provides three toolbars

As previously mentioned, whenever you see the dots on the left side of the toolbars, you can move them around to suit your needs. Here's a description of each toolbar:

  • Standard Buttons You'll use this toolbar to access general Explorer functions. I'll show you how to modify the buttons displayed on this toolbar later in this section. Optimizing this toolbar will help you use Explorer more efficiently while eliminating some of the clutter.

  • Address Bar Use this toolbar to access resources directly or perform tasks such as searches. One of the more interesting ways to use the search feature is to type the Microsoft Knowledge Base number for an article you need to read. For example, if you type Q123456, you'll see an article about a bug where MSCDEX may not detect a disk change under certain circumstances.

  • Links This is actually a special portion of your Favorites list. If you check Favorites, you'll see a Links folder. Anything you place in this folder will appear on the Links toolbar. This makes the Links toolbar especially useful because you can customize it for the places you visit most often. I normally place two folders in my Links folder. The first contains a list of search engines I like to use, and the second contains a list of reference information, such as an online dictionary.

You customize the Standard Buttons toolbar by using the View | Toolbars | Customize command. Figure 3.21 shows the Customize Toolbar dialog box that you'll use to change the appearance of the Standard Buttons toolbar.

Figure 3.21 Use the Customize Toolbar dialog box to change the appearance of the Standard Buttons toolbar

The Available toolbar buttons list box contains all of the commands that you can add to the Standard Buttons toolbar. The Current toolbar buttons list box contains the commands that you can currently issue with the Standard Buttons toolbar. You'll use the Add and Remove buttons to move buttons between the two lists.

The Move Up and Move Down buttons allow you to reorganize the Standard Buttons toolbar and make it easier to use. Of course, there are times when the order of the buttons isn't enough. In these cases, you can move a Separator from the Available toolbar buttons list to the Current toolbar buttons list. If you make a complete mess of the Standard Buttons toolbar, you can always click Reset to return the Standard Buttons toolbar to its default state.

Another important feature is the capability to change the text on the toolbar. The default state is to display text for selected buttons to the right of the button. You can also choose to display text below each button or to have no text at all.

The final optimization is large icons versus small icons. The large icons are easier to see, and many people prefer them for that reason. The small icons consume less space, so you can place more on the Standard Buttons toolbar without seeing the continued (>>) icon. Generally, I find that I prefer the large icons because I don't need to include any text with them. Leaving out the text saves some space, making the use of small icons unnecessary.

Task Pane

The Task pane of Windows Explorer can provide up to four types of data. However, the most common pane configuration contains the three areas of data shown in Figure 3.22: File Tasks, Other Places, and Details. You only see this pane if you use the single pane (folder) view of Windows Explorer. In addition, you must select the Show Common Tasks in Folders option on the General tab of the Folder Options dialog box.

Figure 3.22 The Task pane normally includes three areas of data.

The tasks area changes by type of object. In this case, we're looking at a file, so you see the File Tasks area. This is an alternative to using the context menu. A single click is all you need to perform the task.

Next is the Other Places area. The content of this area varies by context. When you're looking at a disk drive, you'll see options to return to the root directory (when required), My Documents, Shared Documents, My Computer, and My Network Places.

The final area is Details, which contains detailed information about the selected object. The content of this section varies by object type. Interestingly enough, you can't customize the content of this area, at least not with a menu or wizard.

Details Column Selection

The Details view is one of the most flexible and functional views that Explorer provides. Some power users never use any other view because of the wealth of information this view provides. Figure 3.23 shows the default content of the Details view.

Figure 3.23 The Details view is heavy with information but could prove overwhelming for novice users.

While the default view does contain a lot of information, the Details view has a lot more to offer. There are two easy ways to customize this view. First, you could simply right-click the column headers. You'll see a context menu containing the data the Details view can display. Check marks appear next to each choice that the Details view currently displays. Just select the new data you want to see, and Details view will display it automatically.

Another method for changing the content of the Details view is to use the View | Choose Details command. You'll see a Detail Settings dialog box like the one shown in Figure 3.24. Check the data options you want to see and then click OK. Notice that this dialog allows you to change the size of the fields and rearrange their order. You can do the same thing by directly manipulating the columns, but many people find this method easier and more precise.

Figure 3.24 The Detail Settings dialog allows you to configure the Details view.

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