Basic File and Folder Chores: The Techniques Used by the Pros
Now that you’re familiar with Windows 8.1’s folders, it’s time to put them through a workout. The next few sections take you through a few basic file and folder chores, including selecting, moving and copying, and renaming.
Selecting Files with Check Boxes
In this chapter, you learn about quite a few substantive elements in the Windows file system: metadata, searching, grouping, filtering, and more. All of these are fairly sophisticated and useful technologies. However, sometimes it’s the small, mundane elements that make your life with an operating system easier and more efficient. In this section, you learn about one of our favorites of Windows 8.1’s many small but quite useful tweaks: a technique that affects the way you select files.
When you need to select multiple, noncontiguous objects, the easiest method is to hold down the Ctrl key and click each item you want to select. However, when we use this technique to select more than a few files, we always end up accidentally selecting one or more files that we don’t want. It’s not a big deal to deselect these extra files, but it’s one of those small drains on productivity that bugs us (and many other users).
Windows 8.1 offers a file-selection technique that promises to eliminate accidental selections. With this technique, you use a check box to select individual files and folders. To activate this feature, display File Explorer’s View tab and then activate the Item Check Boxes check box.
As you can see in Figure 6.7, when you turn on this feature, Explorer creates a column to the left of the folder contents in Details view. When you point at a file or folder, a check box appears in this column, and you select an item by activating its check box. You don’t need to hold down Ctrl or use the keyboard at all. Just activate the check boxes for the files and folders you want to select.
Figure 6.7 In Windows 8.1, you can select files and folders using check boxes.
Resolving File Transfer Conflicts
When you move or copy a file into the destination folder, it sometimes happens that a file with the same name already resides in that folder. In earlier versions of Windows, you’d see a dialog box asking whether you want to replace the existing file, and you’d click Yes or No, as appropriate. Unfortunately, Windows didn’t give you much information to go on to help you make the choice. Windows 8.1 takes a step in the right direction by displaying the Replace or Skip Files dialog box instead. Figure 6.8 shows an example.
Figure 6.8 This dialog box appears if a file with the same name already exists inside the destination folder.
This dialog box gives you the following choices:
- Replace the File in the Destination—Click this option if you want the file you are copying (or moving) to replace the existing file.
- Skip This File—Click this option if you want Windows 8.1 to not copy (or move) the file, so the original remains in the destination folder.
- Compare Info for Both Files—Click this option to see more information about both files, including a thumbnail, the last modified date, and the size. Activate the check box for the version you want to keep and then click Continue. Note, too, that you can keep both files by activating both check boxes and then clicking Continue. In this case, the existing file remains as is, and the file being copied or moved is placed in the folder with (2) appended to the filename.
Expert Drag-and-Drop Techniques
You’ll use the drag-and-drop technique throughout your Windows career. To make drag-and-drop even easier and more powerful, here are a few pointers to bear in mind:
- “Lassoing” multiple files—If the objects you want to select are displayed in a block within the folder list, you can select them by dragging a box around the objects. This is known as lassoing the objects.
- Drag-and-scroll—Most drag-and-drop operations involve dragging an object from the contents area and dropping it on a folder in the Folders list (be sure to display the Folders list first). If you can’t see the destination in the Navigation pane, drag the pointer to the bottom of the pane. Windows Explorer will scroll the pane up. To scroll the pane down, drag the object to the top of the pane.
- Drag-and-open—If the destination is a subfolder within an unopened folder branch, drag the object and hover the pointer over the unopened folder. After a second or two, File Explorer opens the folder branch.
- Inter-window dragging—You can drag an object outside of the window and then drop it on a different location, such as the desktop.
- Drag between Explorers—Windows 8.1 lets you open two or more copies of File Explorer (select File, Open New Window). If you have to use several drag-and-drop operations to get some objects to a particular destination, open a second copy of File Explorer and display the destination in this new window. You can then drag from the first window and drop into the second window.
- Canceling drag-and-drop—To cancel a drag-and-drop operation, either press Esc or click the right mouse button. If you’re right-dragging, click the left mouse button to cancel.
Taking Advantage of the Send To Command
For certain destinations, Windows 8.1 offers an easier method for copying or moving files or folders: the Send To command. To use this command, select the objects you want to work with, right-click the selection, and then click Send To in the shortcut menu. You see a submenu of potential destinations, as shown in Figure 6.9.
Figure 6.9 The Send To command offers a menu of possible destinations.
Note that the items in this menu (except the disk drives) are taken from the following folder that contains shortcut files for each item:
This means that you can customize the Send To menu by adding, renaming, and deleting the shortcut files in your SendTo folder.
Click the destination you want, and Windows 8.1 sends the object there. What do we mean by send? We suppose that drop would be a better word because the Send To command acts like the drop part of drag-and-drop. Therefore, Send To follows the same rules as drag-and-drop:
- If the Send To destination is on a different disk drive, the object is copied.
- If the Send To destination is on the same disk drive, the object is moved.
The Recycle Bin: Deleting and Recovering Files and Folders
In our conversations with Windows users, we’ve noticed an interesting trend that has become more prominent in recent years: people don’t delete files as often as they used to. We’re sure that the reason for this is the absolutely huge hard disks that are offered these days. Even entry-level systems come equipped with 250GB or 500GB disks, and terabyte-sized drives are no longer a big deal. Unless someone’s working with digital video files, even a power user isn’t going to put a dent in these massive disks any time soon. So, why bother deleting anything?
Although it’s always a good idea to remove files and folders you don’t need (it makes your system easier to navigate, it speeds up defragmenting, and so on), avoiding deletions does have one advantage: you can never delete something important by accident.
Just in case you do, however, Windows 8.1’s Recycle Bin can bail you out. The Recycle Bin icon on the Windows 8.1 desktop is actually a frontend for a collection of hidden folders named Recycled that exist on each hard disk volume. The idea is that when you delete a file or folder, Windows 8.1 doesn’t actually remove the object from your system. Instead, the object moves to the Recycled folder on the same drive. If you delete an object by accident, you can go to the Recycle Bin and return the object to its original spot. Note, however, that the Recycle Bin can hold only so much data. When it gets full, it permanently deletes its oldest objects to make room for newer ones.
It’s important to note that Windows 8.1 bypasses the Recycle Bin and permanently deletes an object under the following circumstances:
- You delete the object from a removable drive.
- You delete the object from the command line.
- You delete the object from a network drive.
Setting Some Recycle Bin Options
The Recycle Bin has a few properties you can set to control how it works. To view these properties, right-click the desktop’s Recycle Bin icon and then click Properties. Windows 8.1 displays the Properties dialog box sheet shown in Figure 6.10.
Figure 6.10 Use this property sheet to configure the Recycle Bin to your liking.
Here’s a rundown of the various controls:
- Recycle Bin Location—Choose the Recycle Bin you want to configure: you see an icon for each of the hard drive partitions on your computer.
Custom Size—Enter the size of the Recycle Bin. The larger the size, the more disk space the Recycle Bin takes up, but the more files it will save.
- Do Not Move Files to the Recycle Bin—If you activate this option, all deletions are permanent.
- Display Delete Confirmation Dialog—For the first time in Windows history, Windows 8.1 does not ask for confirmation when you delete an object. If you miss the prompt, or if you just want to be super careful about deletions, activate this check box.
Click OK to put the new settings into effect.
Recovering a File or Folder
If you accidentally delete the wrong file or folder, you can return it to its rightful place by using the following method:
- Open the desktop’s Recycle Bin icon, or open any Recycled folder in File Explorer.
- Select the object you want to restore.
- Click the Manage tab and then click Restore the Selected Items. (You can also right-click the file and then click Restore.)
File Maintenance Using the Open and Save As Dialog Boxes
One of the best-kept secrets of Windows 8.1 is the fact that you can perform many of these file maintenance operations within two of Windows 8.1’s standard dialog boxes:
- Open—In most applications, you display this dialog box by selecting the File, Open command, or by pressing Ctrl+O.
- Save As—You usually display this dialog box by selecting File, Save As. Or, if you’re working with a new, unsaved file, by selecting File, Save, or by pressing Ctrl+S.
Here are three techniques you can use within these dialog boxes:
To perform maintenance on a particular file or folder, right-click the object to display a shortcut menu like the one shown in Figure 6.11.
Figure 6.11 You can perform most basic file and folder maintenance right from the Open and Save As dialog boxes.
- To create a new object, right-click an empty section of the file list, and then click New to get the New menu.
- To create a new folder within the current folder, click the New Folder button.
Metadata and the File Explorer Property System
We mentioned earlier that Windows is gradually lessening the importance not only of drive letters, but also specific file locations. As an example of the latter, note that file libraries are really virtual folders that can consist of multiple locations.
If file location will become less important, what can you use to take its place as a basis for file organization? Content seems like a pretty good place to start. After all, it’s what’s inside the documents that really matters. For example, suppose you’re working on the Penske account. It’s a pretty good bet that all the Penske-related documents on your system actually have the word Penske inside them somewhere. If you want to find a Penske document, a file system that indexes document content sure helps because then you need only do a content search on the word Penske.
However, what if a memo or other document comes your way with an idea that would be perfect for the Penske account, but that document doesn’t use the word Penske anywhere? This is where purely content-based file management fails because you have no way of relating this new document with your Penske documents. Of course, you could edit the new document to add the word Penske somewhere, but that’s a bit kludgy and, in any case, you might not have write permission on the file. It would be far better if you could somehow identify all of your documents that have “Penske-ness”—that is, that are directly or indirectly related to the Penske account.
This sounds like a job for metadata, and that’s fine because metadata is nothing new in the Windows world:
- Digital photo files often come with their own metadata for things such as the camera model and image dimensions, and some imaging software enables you to apply tags to pictures.
- In Windows Media Player, you can download album and track information that gets stored as various metadata properties: Artist, Album Title, Track Title, and Genre, to name just a few.
- The last few versions of Microsoft Office have supported metadata via the File, Properties command.
- For all file types, Windows displays in each file’s property sheet a Summary tab that enables you to set metadata properties such as Author, Comments, and Tags.
In Windows 8.1, metadata is an integral part of the operating system. With the Windows Search engine, you can perform searches on some or all of these properties (see “Desktop Searching,” later in this chapter). You can also use them to group and filter files (see “Grouping and Filtering with Metadata,” later in this chapter).
To edit a document’s metadata, Windows 8.1 gives you two methods:
In File Explorer, select View, Details Pane. In the Details pane that now appears on the right side of the window, click the property you want to edit. Windows 8.1 displays a text box in which you can type or edit the property value. For example, Figure 6.12 shows a photo’s Title property being edited. Click Save when you’re done.
Figure 6.12 You can edit a document’s configurable metadata directly in the Details pane.
- Right-click the document and click Properties to display the property sheet, and then click the Details tab. This tab displays a list of properties and their values. To edit a property, click inside the Value column to the right of the property.