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Changing the Appearance of a Folder's Contents

Display options enable you to control how icons appear in an Explorer window. You can choose the size, arrangement, and order of icons, and you also can specify whether Explorer should show or hide system files.

Icons, List, Details, or Thumbnails: Choosing a View

Windows lets you choose from several icon arrangements when displaying the contents of a folder. Windows Me makes a number of subtle changes in your view choices, including easier access to a Thumbnails view. Each view has advantages and disadvantages under given circumstances. To apply a new view to the folder currently displayed, choose the View menu or click the View and then select one of the following choices:

  • Large Icons view–Displays full-size icons (32 pixels on each side), which help you easily distinguish between various types of icons. A label appears along the bottom of each icon. You can position icons anywhere within the folder. This view is most practical for folders that contain few icons, such as My Computer; it's an impractical choice when you want to find a small number of files in a folder that contains hundreds of icons.

  • Small Icons view–Displays icons that are _ the size of those in the Large Icons view (making them 16 pixels on each side). A label appears to the right of each icon. Initially, Small Icons view arranges icons in rows from left to right, but you can move the icons anywhere within the folder. This view is useful when you want to select a large number of icons in one motion.

  • List view–Uses the same size icons and labels that Small Icons view does. In List view, however, Windows arranges icons in columns, starting at the top left of the contents window; when the column reaches the bottom of the window, Windows starts a new column to the right. You cannot rearrange the position of icons in this view.

  • Details view–Enables you to see the maximum information about objects in any window. From left to right, each row in this view includes the file's icon, name, size, type, and date last modified. Note that these details change slightly for different types of windows; the My Computer window, for example, shows the total size and amount of free space in the last two columns. You cannot move or reposition icons in Details view.

  • Thumbnails view–Displays compatible file types (including GIF, JPEG, and Bitmap images, as well as some Office 2000 files) as miniature image files. For file types that do not have a thumbnail available, Windows displays a large version of the file icon. This view is most appropriate for folders that contain graphics files and shortcuts to Web pages.

Expert Techniques for Details View

Details view is generally the choice of power users because it provides the most information about files in an easy-to-navigate grid format. By default, four fields are visible: the self-explanatory Name and Size fields; Type, which specifies the file type for the object; and Modified, which is the date when the file was last changed and saved.

Unlike previous versions, Windows Me enables you to customize Details view with a lengthy list of additional columns. To add extra columns to Details view, right-click any column heading and choose items from the shortcut menu. Click the More option at the bottom of the shortcut menu to see a dialog box with additional columns you can add to Details view (see Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4 These additional columns, available in Details view, are all new for Windows Me.

Some of the extra columns you can choose in Details view are specific to a particular type of data and are not much use in most folders. One group of columns, for example, displays information about digital photos–Camera Model and Picture Taken On. Other blocks of columns are used with digital media files–Audio Format, Sample Rate, and the like–and are most useful in folders that contain collections of multimedia files, such as My Music.


To automatically set column widths so that all information is visible, click anywhere in the contents pane, hold down the Ctrl key, and press the plus (+) key on the numeric keypad.

Sorting Files and Folders

Regardless of the view you choose, you can sort the contents of any folder window by name, type, size, or date. To sort files within a folder, choose View, Arrange Icons; then select By Name, By Type, By Size, or By Date.

In Large Icons, Small Icons, List, and Thumbnails views, sorting by anything other than name is guaranteed to give you a headache, because the information used for sorting is hidden. If you plan to sort files and folders by any other column, switch to Details view first. In this view, click the column headings to sort by that column. Click again to sort in reverse order–something you can't do in any other view.

Customizing Folder Display Options

Normally, Windows Me remembers view settings on a folder-by-folder basis. You can choose Large Icons view for the My Computer folder, Details view for My Documents, and Thumbnails for a folder full of Web graphics, and your settings will remain in effect until you choose a different option.

Many power users prefer to use Details view for all folders. If you prefer to set all folder windows to the same view, follow these steps:

  1. Open any folder window and choose the view you want to use for all folders.

  2. Choose Tools, Folder Options and click the View tab.

  3. In the Folder Views area, click the Like Current Folder button (see Figure 3.5).

  4. Figure 3.5 Use the two buttons at the top to customize your view of all folders at one time.

  5. When you see the confirmation dialog box, click Yes.

  6. Click OK to save your changes.

Note that using this option does not save the sort order for windows, nor does it save toolbar settings.

To prevent Windows from disturbing the settings you've defined for all folders, open the Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab, and clear the Remember Each Folder's View Settings option.

To restore folder windows to their default view settings, click the button labeled Reset All Folders. This step restores the My Computer, Control Panel, Fonts, and other system folders to their default–Large Icons view.

Displaying or Hiding Certain File Types

Normally, Explorer does not display hidden files. In Windows Me, system files are reserved for special treatment as well.

To make hidden files visible, open the Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab, and choose the Show Hidden Files and Folders option. When you do so, hidden files appear in Explorer windows with a lighter, shaded appearance.

To make system files visible as well, clear the Hide Protected Operating System Files option.


In general, I recommend that even expert Windows users keep System files hidden, to prevent accidentally changing or deleting one of these crucial files. If you must work with a system file, reset this option for only as long as you need to work with the file; then change it back.


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