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Advanced File Management with Windows Explorer

Advanced File Management with Windows Explorer

In This Chapter

  • Customizing Explorer's Appearance

  • Changing the Appearance of a Folder's Contents

  • Managing Files and Folders

  • Customizing the Send To Menu

  • Using the Recycle Bin

  • Searching for Files

  • Associating Files with Programs

  • Working with Compressed Files

  • Working with Long Filenames

  • Troubleshooting

  • Secrets of the Windows Masters: Inside Information About Your Files

Customizing Explorer's Appearance

If you've been using Windows for years, you might be tempted to skip over this chapter. After all, how many changes could Microsoft have made to Windows Explorer? Surprisingly, the basic file management tools that come with Windows Me contain dozens of small changes, most of them designed to make everyday tasks more usable. A few features have been completely redesigned as well, with the following dramatic improvements:

  • The old Find Files and Folders dialog box has been replaced by the more powerful Search Assistant, which is tightly integrated into the Explorer window.

  • Techniques for controlling the association between file extensions, file types, and applications are completely different. Although changing file associations still requires some jumping through hoops, the process is now much easier to control.

  • The ability to view thumbnail images of files in an Explorer window is an easily accessible option; in previous Windows versions, this feature was well hidden.

  • A toolbar button shows or hides the Folders bar with a single click. In some older Windows versions, the only way to show the Folders bar was by restarting Explorer.

  • Explorer toolbars are completely customizable; in previous Windows versions, toolbar buttons were fixed and unchangeable.

  • The annoying Active Desktop features introduced in Internet Explorer 4.0 and Windows 98 are streamlined or even eliminated.

Even if you consider yourself a Windows expert, I urge you to read this chapter and learn what's new. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that tricks and workarounds you learned in previous Windows versions are no longer necessary.

Understanding the Explorer Hierarchy

When the Folders bar is visible in the left pane of an Explorer window, it's easy to see the organization of drives, folders, and system resources available. How that list is constructed isn't quite so clear, however. The Windows namespace is a complex structure, stitched together from two different sources.

Folders and subfolders on local or network drives are organized in a hierarchy that should be familiar to any longtime DOS or Windows user, starting with the root folder (C:\, for example). This structure is a direct descendant of the directories and subdirectories found in MS-DOS. However, Windows also uses folders to display objects that do not correspond to directories on a hard disk–and which, in fact, don't exist anywhere except in the Registry. Within the Folders bar (or the matching drop-down list in the Address bar), Explorer always organizes these resources within a consistent hierarchy, as shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1 The Desktop folder is always at the top of the Windows namespace. Other folder icons represent either system objects or data stored on local and network drives.

  • Desktop–Is always at the top of the Windows namespace. All other system objects are (at least logically) contained within this folder. When you add files or folders to the desktop, they appear at the bottom of the Folders bar and are stored in the Desktop folder as part of your user profile.

  • My Documents icon–A pointer to the default storage location for all user files. On a single-user system, this folder is initially located at C:\My Documents; if you've enabled user profiles, each user gets a private My Documents folder in his or her profile folder. In Windows Me, the My Documents folder contains two subfolders, My Music and My Pictures, which are the default storage locations for downloaded music files and scanned images, respectively. I strongly recommend that you use the My Documents shortcut as your primary storage location for data files. If your files are stored in another location, right-click the My Documents icon to point to that folder.

  • My Computer–Displays icons for all local drives, any shared network drives that have been mapped to a drive letter, and Control Panel. This folder is noticeably leaner than its Windows 95/98 predecessor–the Printers, Dial-Up Networking, and Scheduled Tasks folders, formerly in the My Computer window, are now in Control Panel.

  • My Network Places–Shows icons for all servers and workstations in your network. In this respect, it closely resembles the Windows 95/98 network Neighborhood. New in Windows Me is the Home Networking Wizard shortcut. Also, each time you access a shared folder in My Network Places, Windows automatically creates a shortcut to that location and adds it to My Network Places.

  • TIP

    If the Windows Me naming scheme makes you cringe, feel free to rename any of these system folders. Right-click any folder whose name begins with My to reveal a Rename option. Windows manages the contents of these folders properly regardless of the name you assign to each one.

  • Recycle Bin–Contains files you've deleted recently.


If you've set up custom profiles for individual users on a computer running Windows Me, you can create folders, files, and shortcuts that appear on the desktop or Start menu for everyone who logs on to that machine. You'll find the All Users folder within the Windows folder; any objects you create in the Desktop or Start Menu folders here are visible to anyone who uses the computer.

Single-Click or Double-Click?

With Internet Explorer 4.0 and Windows 98, Microsoft tried to push Windows users into a Web-style Explorer interface, in which you point to select icons and click to open a folder or launch a program. The experiment was a colossal failure, as the overwhelming majority of Windows users chose to stick with the "classic" style–click to select, double-click to open–used in every previous Windows version.

In Windows 98 (and Windows 95 with IE4's Windows Desktop Update), the Folder Options dialog box included a tab that let you choose between Web style, classic style, or a custom interface. In Windows Me, those choices are gone; to tweak the basics of the Explorer interface, choose Tools, Folder Options, and adjust any of the four settings in the Folder Options dialog box (see Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2 These default settings for the Explorer interface apply the "classic" Windows interface–click to select, double-click to open.

Is the Folder Options choice unavailable in an Explorer window? See "Finding Folder Options in Explorer" in the "Troubleshooting" section at the end of this chapter.

For most users, I suggest leaving these defaults alone. Windows will prompt you if you need to enable Active Desktop features, so you have no reason to change that setting until it's needed. The Web View templates provide valuable information about a folder's contents and disappear when they start to take up too much room. If you want to open each folder in its own window, you can easily do so by holding down the Shift key as you double-click a folder icon; the corresponding folder option will clutter your screen with far too many windows.

And I definitely do not recommend switching from the default double-click mode to the single-click setting. Using the mouse to select files by pointing is a challenge; using the keyboard to choose multiple files and folders is nearly impossible. Even after more than a decade of wrestling with Windows, I find the Web style difficult to manage when choosing multiple files or folders to move or copy. Using Web style, you'll find yourself inadvertently selecting files or folders that happen to be near the ones you really want to move. You could deliberately arrange your files and folders to minimize the possibility of this occurrence, but that takes more time and effort than it's usually worth.

Using Explorer Bars

At any time, you can show or hide one of the four Explorer bars, regardless of whether you're currently viewing files or a Web page. The options available here are slightly different from those found in previous Windows versions:

  • Search–The capabilities of the Search pane change, depending on what is displayed in the Contents pane when you click the Search button. The Search for Files or Folders option appears if a drive or folder's contents are visible; the Web Search pane appears if a Web page is displayed.

  • Folders–Shows all drives and folders available on the local PC and the network.


When viewing a Web page, the Folders button is not normally visible; likewise, when viewing a drive or folder window, the Favorites button is usually hidden. The Explorer Bar choice on the View menu always includes all four options. You also can customize the Explorer toolbar to show any combination of the four buttons. Right-click the blank space to the right of any toolbar or the menu bar and choose Customize to begin this process.

  • Favorites–Shows the contents of the Favorites folder.

  • History–Shows files and Web pages you've previously opened. Note that the History list does not include shortcuts to local or network drives or folders.

Opening Explorer at Specific Folders or Files

On a well-used Windows system, the Folders bar–with icons for every drive and hundreds of folders and subfolders–can be overwhelming to work with. It's especially awkward when you just want to reorganize files among a handful of subfolders in a single location. The solution is to create a rooted Explorer shortcut that opens an Explorer window at the location where you want to work, with the top (or root) of the Explorer pane set to show only the drive or folder with which you want to work.

To create a rooted Explorer shortcut, use the command explorer.exe with the proper command-line switches:

  • /n–Opens a new single-paned window (no Folders bar), even if the new window duplicates a window that is already open.

  • /e–Opens a new window with the Folders pane visible.

  • /root,<object>–Specifies the top (root) level of the window. Without this parameter, Explorer uses the Desktop as the root. Note that <object> can be a drive, the path to a folder, or the UNC name of a share on another computer.

  • /select,<sub object>–Specifies the folder that is initially selected when the window is opened. The <sub object> parameter must be a subfolder within the object defined as the root.

If you open an Explorer window without specifying any of these parameters, the Desktop normally appears at the top of the Folders pane, with the contents of the C: drive visible in the right pane. To create a rooted Explorer window that lets you move, rename, and delete files exclusively in the My Documents folder, create a custom shortcut using the following steps:

  1. Right-click any empty desktop space and choose New, Shortcut. The Create Shortcut Wizard starts.

  2. In the Command Line text box, enter the following command (spacing and punctuation are crucial):

  3. explorer /e,/root,C:\My Documents

  4. Click Next and name the shortcut Explore My Documents.

  5. Click Finish. The shortcut appears on the desktop.

  6. Open the shortcut to verify that it works. You can move or copy the shortcut to another location if you want.

Figure 3.3 shows the resulting Explorer window. Note that the My Documents folder appears at the top of the Folders pane, and only its subfolders are visible.

Figure 3.3 Using a rooted Explorer shortcut enables you to create an uncluttered Explorer view for fast file management.


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