New Folder Windows
Microsoft has spent a lot of time rethinking document storage and has incorporated into Vista some substantial changes in the way we view, navigate, and use folders. I discuss many of these innovations in Chapter 4. For now, let’s take a tour of the new interface features that you’ll find in Vista’s folder windows. Figure 3.17 shows a typical example of the species, the Documents window (formerly My Documents).
Figure 3.17 Vista’s folder windows boast a radical new design.
One of the most fundamental and possibly far-reaching of Vista’s innovations is doing away with—or, technically, hiding—the old drive-and-folder-path method of navigating the contents of your computer. You could go your entire Vista career and never have to view or type a backslash. Instead, Vista implements drives and folders as hierarchies that you navigate up, down, and even across. As you can see in Figure 3.17, the Address bar doesn’t show any drive letters or blackslashes. Instead, you get a hierarchical path to the current folder. The path in Figure 3.17 has three items, separated by right-pointing arrows:
- Desktop icon—This icon represents the top of the hierarchy. You’ll see a bit later that you can use this icon to navigate to your computer drives, your network, the Control Panel, your user folder, and more.
- Paul—This represents the second level of the example hierarchy. In the example, this level represents all the folders and files associated with the account of a user named Paul.
- Documents—This represents the third level of the example hierarchy. In the example, this level represents all the folders and files that reside in the user Paul’s Documents folder.
This is a sensible and straightforward way to view the hierarchy, which is already a big improvement over previous versions of Windows. However, the real value here lies in the navigation features of the Address bar, and you can get a hint of these features from the nickname that many people have applied to the new Address bar: the breadcrumb bar.
Breadcrumbing refers to a navigation feature that displays a list of the places a person has visited or the route a person has taken. The term comes from the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, who threw down bits of bread to help find their way out of the forest. This feature is common on websites where the content is organized as a hierarchy or as a sequence of pages.
Vista introduces breadcrumb navigation to Windows not only by using the Address bar to show you the hierarchical path you’ve taken to get to the current folder, but also by adding interactivity to the breadcrumb path:
- You can navigate back to any part of the hierarchy by clicking the folder name in the Address bar. For example, in the path shown in Figure 3.17, you could jump immediately to the top-level hierarchy by clicking the Desktop icon on the far left of the path.
- You can navigate "sideways" to any part of any level by clicking the right-pointing arrow to the right of the level you want to work with. In Figure 3.18, for example, you see that clicking the Paul arrow displays a list of the other navigable items that are in the Paul folder, such as Downloads, Music, and Pictures. Clicking an item in this list opens that folder.
Figure 3.18 Breadcrumb navigation: In the Address bar, click a folder’s arrow to see a list of the navigable items in that folder.
The next major change to the folder window interface in Windows Vista is the Instant Search box, which appears to the right of the Address bar in all folder windows. Search is everywhere in Vista, and I go into it in much more detail in Chapter 4. For folder windows, however, the Instant Search box gives you a quick way to search for files within the current folder. Most of us nowadays have folders that contain hundreds or even thousands of documents. To knock such folders down to size in Vista, you need only type a word or phrase into the Instant Search box, and Vista instantly filters the folder contents to show just the files with names or content that match the search text, as shown in Figure 3.19. Vista also matches those files that have metadata—such as the author or tag—that match your text.
Figure 3.19 With as-you-type folder searching, Vista displays just those files with names or metadata that match your search text.
The Task Pane
The Task pane resides just below the Address bar and the Search bar. This pane contains task-related buttons, and its configuration depends on the type of folder you’re viewing. For example, in the Pictures folder (see Figure 3.20), there are buttons related to images, such as Preview and Slide Show.
Figure 3.20 The Preview pane shows information about the selected file or folder.
However, all folder windows have the following two buttons:
- Organize—This button drops down a menu that enables you to perform basic file tasks (such as renaming, moving, copying, and deleting). It also has a Layout command that displays a submenu of options for configuring the folder window’s layout by toggling the Preview pane, Reading pane, and Navigation pane (discussed in the next three sections), the Search pane (see Chapter 4), and the Classic menu bar (see the following Tip).
- Views—This button drops down a slider that enables you to change the folder view (such as Details, Tiles, or Large Icons).
The Preview Pane
The Preview pane resides at the bottom of the folder window, and it gives you information about either the current folder (if no files are selected), the currently selected file or folder, or the current multiobject selection. If a document is selected (see Figure 3.20), the Preview pane shows the following data:
A thumbnail of the document—Vista’s document thumbnails are much more informative than XP’s. Here are some examples:
- Image—The thumbnail shows a scaled-down version of the image.
- Video—The thumbnail shows the first frame.
- Word document—The thumbnail shows the first page.
- PowerPoint presentation—The thumbnail shows the first slide.
- Excel workbook—The thumbnail shows the first worksheet.
- The document’s metadata—This includes the title, rating, and tags, as well as metadata specific to the document type, such as Genre for a music file and Camera Model for a digital photo. Some of this data is editable, and you can modify that data by clicking the Edit link.
The size of the Preview pane is also configurable. You can use two methods:
- Click and drag the top edge of the Preview pane up or down.
- Right-click an empty part of the Preview pane, click Size, and then click Small, Medium, or Large.
The Reading Pane
The Reading pane offers yet another thumbnail view of the selected object. (It should be apparent to you by now that Vista is big on thumbnails.) As with the thumbnail in the Preview pane, the Reading pane shows you the actual content from file types that support this feature, including images, videos, text files, and Office documents. Figure 3.21 shows the opening text from a text document previewed in the Reading pane.
Figure 3.21 The Reading pane shows a thumbnail version of the selected file.
The Navigation Pane
The Navigation pane appears on the left side of each folder window and offers access to a few common folders. The top three icons—Documents, Pictures, and Music—are shortcuts to those folders. The other two items in the Navigation pane are special folders called search folders, which I discuss in detail in Chapter 4. For now, here’s a summary of what these three search folders represent:
- Recently Changed—Items from your Documents folder that you have created or modified in the past 30 days.
- Searches—A collection of search folders, including Recently Changed, Unread Email, and Favorite Music. Any searches that you save also appear in this folder.
Live Folder Icons
Do you ever wonder what’s inside a folder? In previous versions of Windows, the only way to find out was to open the folder and take a look at the files. With Vista, however, that extra step might not be necessary. That’s because Vista introduces a remarkable new feature called Live Icons; each folder icon is an open folder filled not with generic "documents," but with actual folder content. For example, if you have a folder that you use to store PowerPoint presentations, that folder’s icon will show the first slides from several of those presentation files. Figure 3.22 shows an example.