Folder templates fix Windows Explorer headaches

Woody leonhard I’ve spent most of this year — I’m tempted to say “wasted most of this year” — writing about Windows security holes, patches, patches of patches, threats, and vulnerabilities, both real and imagined.

For my last column of the year, I want to make amends for my errant ways and write about something positive — a secret (or at least a well-hidden feature) that may come in handy over the festive Yule of Tide, er, Tide of Yule.

Exploring your files with Windows

By now, you’re accustomed to the Windows Explorer task pane — the blue strip on the left of the screen that appears when you click Start, My Documents, or Start, My Computer, or some such. The task pane contains a bunch of useful shortcuts that make it as easy as 1 or 2 clicks to copy files, jump to a different folder, or perform other chores that are appropriate for the kinds of files that are included in the current folder.

Therein lies the rub.

Windows Explorer makes a sporting guess at the types of files in the folder you’ve opened, and displays tasks in the task pane that pertain to that kind of file. For example, if you click Start, My Documents, then click on a file, the task pane gives you a wide variety of options that are appropriate for working with documents — copying, moving, sending as an e-mail attachment, and so on.

If you click Start, My Music, then click on a file, the list of tasks on offer make sense for music files — playing the song or copying to an audio CD, for example. (Microsoft also gives you the option of shopping online at a Microsoft-owned Web site for more CDs. Gawrsh, how thoughtful.)

When you click Start, My Pictures, you see an option to view all the pictures as a slide show, or to order prints online (through yet another overpriced Microsoft affiliate — gawrsh, another thoughtful touch).

Using folder templates to fix things

You might think Windows Explorer would look at the contents of a folder when it’s opened and decide on-the-fly what kind of folder it’s opening. It would then present you with task pane options that apply to the files in the folder.

For many reasons (including some very good ones), Explorer doesn’t work that way. Instead, Explorer makes a determination when you first create the folder about what kinds of files exist within the folder. That decision is permanent — unless you change it manually.

Most of the time, Explorer guesses very well. But sometimes things get screwed up.

Around this time of year, when I’m copying a lot of pictures to my PC, the mistake that bugs me the most arises when Explorer doesn’t identify a folder full of pictures as being, well, a folder full of pictures. Instead, Explorer sometimes marks the folder as containing documents. So when I open the folder, I don’t get the option to view my pictures as a slide show, or order pricey prints online. Instead, I only see the dull document tasks — copying, moving and the like.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2005-12-15:

Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.