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Configuring File and Folder Views

Leaving DOS behind (hopefully forever!), let's return to Windows XP's other file management tools. All these tools are basically the same, and all can be customized in the same ways. You can change a lot about My Computer, My Documents, and the other system folders, to create a truly personalized file management environment.

Activating Web View

If you can see the activity center pane in My Computer or My Documents, your version of Windows XP has Web View turned on. Web View enables each folder to be displayed with custom HTML content, like you might see on the World Wide Web. (The activity center pane is generated by HTML code, actually.) To take full advantage of Windows XP, you definitely want to have Web View activated.

To turn Web View on or off, follow these steps:

  1. From within any folder, select Tools, Options.

  2. When the Folder Options dialog box appears, select the General tab (shown in Figure 3.7).

    Figure 3.7 To use XP's activity centers, turn on Web View.

  3. In the Web View section, check the Enable Web Content in Folders option.

  4. Click OK.

In addition, activating Web View enables you to treat all file and folder icons as you would objects on a Web page. Instead of double-clicking to launch an object, you can now single-click. Just select the Single-Click to Open an Object option.

Changing the Way Files Are Displayed

You can choose to view the contents of a folder in a variety of ways. Just click the Views button and choose from the following options:

  • Thumbnails—Best for image files, as shown in Figure 3.8

  • Tiles—Big icons with selected file details, shown in Figure 3.9

  • Icons—Small icons with no file details, shown in Figure 3.10

  • List—Filenames only with no details, shown in Figure 3.11

  • Details—Filenames only with selected details, shown in Figure 3.12

  • Figure 3.8 Displaying files as thumbnails.

    Figure 3.9 Displaying files as tiles.

    Figure 3.10 Displaying files as icons.

    Figure 3.11 Displaying files in a list.

    Figure 3.12 Displaying files in a list with details.


If you have moved, copied, or deleted some files and folders but don't see the changes, you need to update your display. Select View, Refresh, or press the F5 key.

If you choose Details view, you can select which details are displayed. Select View, Choose Details to display the Detail Settings dialog box. Check those settings you want to display, and use the Move Up and Move Down keys to place the settings in the order you want. Click OK to lock in your new configuration.

Sorting Files and Folders

When viewing files in My Computer or My Documents, you can sort your files and folders in a number of ways. To do this, select View, Arrange Icons By, and then choose from the following options:

  • Name—Sorts files by filename, alphabetically

  • Size—Sorts files by size, smallest to largest

  • Type—Sorts files by file type: applications, configuration files, and so on

  • Modified—Sorts files by date and time last modified


You can also sort your icons by right-clicking in an open area of the folder and selecting Arrange Icons By.

If you're viewing your files in Details view, you can manually sort your files by any setting you've chosen to display. Just click the top of a column to sort by that column. (Click the column a second time to reverse the order of the sort.)

Grouping Files and Folders

I'm not done with displaying files and folders just yet. Windows XP includes another option that I really like—the ability to display files and folders in similar groups.

You've already seen what grouping looks like. My Computer groups items by device type, with a title and thin line above each group. If you like this type of organization, you can apply similar grouping to any and all your folders.

To turn on grouping, select View, Arrange Icons By, and then check the Show In Groups option. Windows now groups your files and folders by the criteria you used to sort those items. For example, if you sorted your files by date, they'll now be grouped by date, as shown in Figure 3.13. (Actually, by Today, Last Week, Last Month, and so on.) If you sorted your files by type, they'll be grouped by file type. And so on, for all the different ways of sorting your files.

Figure 3.13 Configure Windows XP to group your files by date, type, name, or size.

Individual or Universal Views

The neat thing about selecting various views, sorts, and groups is that you can combine all these options in a lot of different ways. For example you can display details sorted and grouped by date, or tiles sorted and grouped by file type. However you want to view your files, you can.

You need to know one more thing about all these different folder views. You can select different views for different folders, or you can choose to apply a custom view to all your folders.

By default, when you customize a folder, that view is specific to that folder. To apply a folder view to all the folders on your system, follow these steps:

  1. Open the folder that looks the way you want it to look, and then select Tools, Options.

  2. When the Folder Options dialog box appears, select the View tab (shown in Figure 3.14).

    Figure 3.14 Make all your folders look like the current folder.

  3. Click the Like Current Folder button.

  4. Click OK.

To return your folders to their default state, click the Reset All Folders button.


While you're in the Folder Options dialog box, take a look at the Advanced Settings list on the View tab. As you can see, this list contains a number of more obscure configuration settings, like hiding file extensions and displaying the full path in the title bar. Remember this list if you need to change one of these settings.

Changing Folder Icons

You're not through customizing folders just yet. Windows XP also lets you change the icon used to represent a folder. Just follow these steps:

  1. From within the folder, select View, Customize This Folder.

  2. When the Properties dialog box appears, select the Customize tab, shown in Figure 3.15.

  3. To select a new icon for the folder, click the Change Icon button and select a new icon from the New Icon dialog box.

  4. To select a picture to use when this folder is displayed in thumbnail view, click the Choose Picture button and browse to the desired image file. (If you don't choose a picture, up to four thumbnails from this folder's documents are displayed.)

  5. Click OK.

    Figure 3.15 Change the properties of the current folder, including the folder's icon.

Personalizing the Send To Menu

With the advent of Windows XP's activity center pane, you'll probably find that you're doing less right-clicking. (In older versions of Windows, you had to right-click to access many of the common tasks. These same tasks are now on the activity center Tasks list.

That doesn't mean that you should give up right-clicking entirely. The pop-up menu that appears when you right-click a file or folder still contains the Send To menu, which is one of the fastest ways to send a file from one place to another. You can use the Send To menu to send a file to another disk, to another folder, to another user via e-mail, or to a printer for printing.

Because using the Send To menu is a quick way to work with files, you might want to add other actions to the menu. For example, you might want to create a Send To item for a Zip drive or commonly used folder. This way you can right-click a file and use the Send To command to copy the file automatically.

This is how you add options to the Send To menu:

  1. Use My Computer to navigate to the \Documents and Settings\username\SendTo folder.

  2. Select File, New, Shortcut.

  3. When the Create New Shortcut wizard appears, enter the name of the file, folder, or drive you want to add to the Send To menu. (Click the Browse button to search your system for the item.) Click Next to proceed.

  4. Enter the name you want to appear on the Send To menu, and then click Finish.

The next time you right-click a file and select Send To, your new item appears in the list of Send To options.

Because I use the Send To menu a lot, this is one of my favorite tips. I hope you can use it!

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