3.2 Working with Files and Folders
Isn't it amazing how today's powerful computers have turned people into . . . their own personal file clerks. Computers were supposed to eliminate this drudgery. Fortunately, Windows Explorer comes with a few built-in tools that give you better ways to manage your files and folders. This section reviews a handful of particularly useful tricks.
3.2.1 Instantly Jumping to a File or Folder
Using Windows Explorer to navigate to a particular file or folder can be tedious . Here's a better way to get exactly where you want to go. If you're in the left pane of Windows Explorer (also called the Folder pane), type the first letter or letters of the name of the folder you want to access. Windows transports you immediately to the correct place. If you're inside a folder, type the first few letters of the name of the file you need.
You can also jump quickly to the top or bottom of a list of folders or files. To go to the beginning of a list, press Home; to go to the end, press End.
3.2.2 Copying and Moving Files Faster
Hardly anyone knows about one of the most useful features in Windows Explorer: the Send To command, which is like an expressway for moving files. Here's how it works. When you right-click a file in Windows Explorer, one of the shortcut menu options that pops up is Send To. Selecting this option lets you copy or move the file to a list of destinations like your floppy drive or CD burner (Figure 3-5). This method is immeasurably faster than dragging a file across your desktop or mousing through menu commands.
Note: If you use the Send To menu to send a file to a folder or program on the same drive, the file moves to the new location. If you're sending it to a different drive, Windows makes a copy , so you'll still have a version in the original location. But there's a way to override these conventions: If you hold down the Ctrl key while sending to another location on the same drive, Windows creates a new copy instead of simply moving it. If you hold down the Shift key while sending a file to a different drive, Windows moves the file instead of copying it.
You can really amp up the power of Send To by adding programs or locations to the menu or deleting ones you don't need. To make these changes, go to Documents and Settings [Your Account Name] SendTo. (If you're having trouble finding this folder it may be among the folders that Windows keeps hidden; see Section 3.2.7, Section 3.2.7, for instructions on how to make these folders visible). The SendTo folder is filled with shortcuts (links to other folders and locations), all of which appear on the Send To menu. In other words, if you put a shortcut to a folder called "Great American Novel" in the SendTo folder, you have a quick way to send a document to that foldersimply right-click the document and choose Send To Work Backups.
To add a shortcut to SendTo, head to the SendTo folder in Windows Explorer and then choose File New Shortcut. Simply follow the instructions to create a shortcut. Add as many new shortcuts as you like. To keep the Send To menu from getting out of control, delete from this folder the shortcuts you don't need. As soon as you close the SendTo folder, the new menu settings go into effect.
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Figure 3-5. The Send To feature saves time when you're copying or moving files in Windows Explorer. Although there are a limited number of destinations listed on the Send To menu, it's easy to add destinations and make it a much more useful tool.
3.2.3 Customizing the File Details Displayed in Explorer
Windows Explorer can tell you a lot about each file on your system without your even opening the file. Typically, you can see the file's name, its size , and the last time it was modified, but you can also tell Explorer to show the date it was created, when it was last viewed , who the author is, and other details depending on the file type (the artist or album title for audio files, for instance).
In any open Explorer window, choose View Choose Details, and then select the details you want to display from the Choose Details dialog box (Figure 3-6). When you're done, click OK.
Tip: If you can't remember the name of a document, showing a file's size and the date it was last modified can help jog your memory about what's inside it.
3.2.4 Adding Images to Your Folders
In Windows Explorer's standard configuration, each and every folder looks exactly the same. If you want to make an individual folder stand out, you can apply images to the folder icons that appear in Explorer's thumbnail view, making it easier to distinguish your tax documents folder (with a graphic of Uncle Sam, perhaps?) from your collection of downloaded audio files (with a digital photo of your favorite Red Hot Chili Pepper).
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Figure 3-6. You can choose from nearly a dozen types of details to display about your files, but the details show up in Windows Explorer only if you choose View Details. Otherwise Windows shows you icons (or the file name) for each file, but not the details youve selected.
To add an image to a folder, open Windows Explorer and right-click the folder you want to decorate. From the menu displayed, choose Properties Customize Choose Picture. Navigate to any image you want to use and then click Open to see a preview of the picture inside the folder icon, as shown in Figure 3-7. If you're satisfied, click OK; if not, pick another image.
3.2.5 Showing File Name Extensions
Every file in Windows has a file name extension , typically a period followed by three letters, that identifies what type of file it is. For example, in the file name UnreportedIncome.doc, the extension is .doc, which indicates it's a Microsoft Word document.
It's important to know a file's extension before you open it so you know what kind of file you're dealing with (see the next tip). But Windows doesn't normally show file name extensions, so if you want to view this information you have to tell your computer to display it.
Tip: Displaying file names is more than a matter of convenienceit can also help you avoid getting infected with a computer virus. Viruses are sometimes transmitted by files with the extension .exe, which indicates the file is actually a program that runs when you double-click it. Sneaky virus writers can create a file that appears to be named readme.txt but is actually an .exe file with its file extension hidden. You won't know the true file name is readme.txt.exe unless you've chosen to display file name extensions. So check the actual extension, and if the file name ends in .exe, don't open it.
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Figure 3-7. Adding pictures to your folders can make it easier to spot the folder you want in Windows Explorer. If you store digital photos on your PC, for example, you can put all the pictures from your Caribbean vacation in one folder, and then identify the folder by adorning it with your favorite beach shot.
To make this change, open Windows Explorer and choose Tools Folder Options View. In the Folder Options dialog box that appears, turn off "Hide file extensions for known file types," and then click OK. Now you can view file extensions when using Windows Explorer and all your other programs, too. (You can also see the extensions in programs like Word when you open or save files.)
3.2.6 Renaming Groups of Files in One Fell Swoop
There are times when you have a group of related files you'd like to rename, but doing so one at a time can be a pain. For example, when you have pictures you want to transfer from a digital camera to your PC, they often have names with random numbersnot much help when you're trying to find the shots you took at the Harley convention. You can replace the random numbers with descriptive names, like Harley Pics.
To rename a group of files at once, select the ones you want to rename by Ctrl-clicking to highlight each file. Then right-click the first file and choose Rename. Type in the new file namefor example, Harley Pics.jpg and then press Enter. Windows names the first file Holiday Pics.jpg, the next Holiday Pics(1).jpg, the one after that Holiday Pics(2).jpg, and so on. (If you want to get more specific, distinguishing the 1974 hog from the 1984 model, you have to resort to the old-fashioned method of changing one file name at a time.)
Tip: Here's a quick way to select groups of files. If the files you're highlighting are next to one another, click the first file in the group, then hold down the Shift key and click the last file in the group. Windows automatically highlights the entire group of files.
If you want a more powerful way to rename files, download Better File Rename from http://www.publicspace.net/windows/BetterFileRename. This program offers a mind-boggling number of options for renaming groups of files. For example, you can add time and date stamps to the beginning and end of names, or automatically replace or remove characters , as shown in Figure 3-8. (The time and date stamp feature are helpful if, for example, you're creating a time-lapse photo project.)
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Figure 3-8. Better File Rename is a shareware program that gives you a lot of control over renaming files. It can be a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can rename files in just about any way you want. You can even do things like find-and-replace phrases that recur in a bunch of different file names. Activate the program by selecting the photos you want to rename and then right-click on any photo in this group.
Better File Rename is shareware and free to try, but if you continue to use it, the developers ask you to pay $14.95.
3.2.7 Displaying Hidden and System Files and Folders
Windows Explorer is designed to help you view and manage all the files and folders on your computer, so you might expect that when you use it, you'd be able to see everything on your hard drive. No such luck.
Windows Explorer doesn't show you certain system folders and other special files Windows needs in order to function properly. Microsoft's engineers set up things this way to protect you from yourself, worrying that if you saw these so-called hidden files, you might accidentally delete or change something important.
But you may need to see these files and folders from time to timelike when you want to reorganize your Internet Explorer Favorites or try many of the other hints in this book.
Here's how to gain access to all the files on your computer:
In a Windows Explorer window, choose Tools Folder Options View .
The Folder Options dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 3-9.
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Figure 3-9. Use the circled section of this dialog box to make Windows Explorer show you system and other hidden files and folders. Note that when you make these changes, they affect only your Windows XP account. If other people use your PC and have their own accounts, they have to follow the same steps to display hidden files.
Under Advanced Settings, scroll to the Files and Folders section, and then select "Display the contents of system folders. "
You've just forced Windows Explorer to show you the contents of all system folders. But there are still more hidden files and folders you can't see yet, so go on to the next step.
Under Advanced Settings, in the "Hidden files and folders" section, turn on "Show hidden files and folders. "
Now you're forcing Windows Explorer to show you all your hidden files and folders.
Under Advanced Settings, turn off "Hide protected operating system files."
A warning from Microsoft asks if you're sure you really want to make them visible. You do, so click Yes, and then click OK. All changes take place immediately, so now you can see all the files and folders that were previously out of sight.
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Viewing Hidden Folders on a Case-by-Case Basis
If you'd prefer to keep most hidden files and folders out of view but display others on a case-by-case basis, you can. For example, you might like to keep Windows Explorer uncluttered as a general rule, but view files in hidden folders when you want to accomplish a particular task (like performing many of the tricks in this chapter).
Start by leaving everything hidden, as described in Figure 3-9.
Then, when you're using Windows Explorer and you come across the warning shown below, simply click "Show the contents of this folder" to see what's inside; other files and folders meanwhile remain hidden.
Of course, don't modify files in any hidden folder without knowing exactly what you're doingyou could unknowingly damage the operating system.
3.2.8 Changing Where Windows Stores Documents
Windows and most programs automatically store files in the My Documents folder, which is actually a shortcut to My Computer Documents and Settings [Your Account Name] My Documents. But what if you want to store files in another folder, like a folder you keep right on your desktop? You can change this option, but you have to use a Registry trick.
First, run the Registry Editor (Section 15.1.2). Navigate to My Computer HKEY_CURRENT_USER Software Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Explorer User Shell Folders. Change the Personal string value to the folder where you want your files automatically stored, for example, C:\Files . When you exit the Registry, the change goes into effect immediately.
3.2.9 Making it Easier to Open Files
When you're using one of the utilities that comes with Windows, like Notepad, and you open a file with its File Open menu, you see a very useful pane on the left side of the window that contains a list of icons, including My Computer, My Documents, or Desktop. Clicking one of those icons changes the list of files and folders that appears in the main area of the window. For example, selecting My Documents reveals that folder's contents, making it easier to select the file you want to open. The same folders appear when you choose the Save As command.
But you might regularly need a different set of folders than the ones that Windows comes preset to display in these cases.
Rather than live with the choices Windows has made, you can change the icons displayed on the left side of the File Open and Save As dialog boxes, as shown in Figure 3-10. Choose folders you use frequently, making opening and saving files easier.
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Figure 3-10. The folders in the left pane are all custom additions. The original folders (now deleted) were My Recent Documents, My Documents, Desktop, My Computer, and My Network Places. You can delete and add whichever folders you'd like.
Note: This Registry hack only affects Windows XP applications that use Windows XP's Open and Save dialog boxes, such as Notepad and Paint. However, it doesn't affect Microsoft Office programs and other various and sundry applications that don't use Windows XP's common dialog boxes. Given that both Windows and Office are from Microsoft, you would think they'd use the same dialog boxes...but they don't. This mystery remains unsolved.If you want to change the frequently used folders in dialog boxes for Microsoft Word, try Woody Leonhard's Place Bar Customizer, one of many useful utilities from http://www.wopr.com. It costs $29.95. For more limited options to customize these folders, try the free Tweak UI utility, described in Section 2.1.1.
Here's how to make the change:
Run the Registry Editor (Section 15.1.2) and go to My Computer HKEY_CURRENT_USER Software Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Policies comdlg32. If the key comdlg32 does not exist in the Policies folder, create it by right-clicking the Policies folder and choosing Edit New Key. Name this new key comdlg32 .
The comdlg32 key controls common dialog boxes such as File Open or Save As. You can create a subkey underneath it that will let you put any folder you want in the dialog box, as discussed on Section 184.108.40.206.
Underneath the comdlg32 key, create a new key called Placesbar .
Right-click the comdlg32 key and choose New Key. Name this new key Placesbar.
String Value. Set the new String Value to Place0.
Create another string value for Placesbar called Place1 .
Give it a value of the second folder you want to appear in the list of icons in the Open dialog boxfor example, C:\Budget . You can put up to five icons inside the Open dialog box, so create new string values up to Place4, and give them values as outlined in the previous steps.
When you're done, exit the Registry .
You don't have to reboot for the changes to take effect.
3.2.10 Setting the Program Used to Open a File Type
When you double-click a file, Windows launches the program it needs to open that file. But how does Windows know which program to launch? Simple: All files have an extensionlike .docthat Windows associates with a particular program. For example, Windows associates the .doc extension with Microsoft Word, and therefore uses Word to open any file ending in .doc.
But sometimes, programs can hijack your file associations. For instance, you may install a music program, and from then on whenever you double-click an .mp3 or .wma file, that new program launches, rather than Windows Media Player or whatever you prefer to use to listen to audio files.
What to do? You can control file associations yourself, overruling the settings various programs have made, and even the file associations Windows has set up. To make changes to file associations:
Launch Windows Explorer and choose Tools Folder Options File Types .
After a second or two, the Folder Options dialog box fills with a list of all the file extensions on your computer.
Select the file type whose file association you want to change .
For example, if you want to change the association for MP3 files, highlight the MP3 entry.
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Figure 3-11. When changing file associations, be careful that the program you select can actually open up the file type you're associating it with. For example, don't associate music files with a word processor like Microsoft Wordthat's like asking a Brazilian to help you with your Japanese translation project. Before you make any changes, it's a good idea to first run the program to make sure it can handle that file type.
Click Change .
The Open With dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 3-11.
In the Open With dialog box, click the program you want to use to open the file type, click OK, and then OK again .
If the program you want isn't on the list, click the Browse button, and then navigate through your files to find the program you want to use. Highlight it and click OK, and then OK again.
To test your handiwork, double-click a file that ends in the extension you just editedfor example, an MP3 file. It now opens with the new program.
3.2.11 Displaying Cascading Folders on the Start Menu
If you frequently use a particular folder, it can be frustrating to have to open Windows Explorer and navigate to that folder each time you want to open a file inside.
There's a quicker way. You can display a folder as a cascading menu on the Start menu, one of a series of menus that opens to the right of the Start menu as you make a selection, as shown in Figure 3-12. (A cascading menu is a menu that leads to another menu, which in turn leads to another menu, in a cascading fashion.)
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Figure 3-12. Placing a folder on the All Programs portion of the Start menu gives you instant access to its contents. To delete a folder from the menu, right-click it and choose Delete. Don't worryyou're not deleting the actual folder from your hard drive, just the shortcut from the Start menu.
Suppose you keep most of your documents in a folder called Personal. The trick is to put Personal (or any folder you want to display on the Start menu) in the All Programs folder. Then when you want to open any of the files in it, simply choose Start All Programs Personal. Another cascading menu appears with the contents of that folder, giving you faster access to your files.
To display a folder as a cascading menu on the Start menu:
Open Windows Explorer, find the icon for the folder you want, drag it to the Start menu, and hold it there while the Start menu opens .
The Start menu pops up as if you had clicked it.
After the Start menu fully opens, drag the icon for the folder to All Programs .
Keep holding down your mouse button as the All Program menu opens.
Drag the folder icon to the place on the All Programs menu where you want the folder to appear, and then release the mouse button .
The icon for the folder is now on the All Programs menu, so you can open it quickly from the Start menu.