Windows Tips: Six Quick Tips Help Tame Oversize Files and Folders

Illustration: Richard Downs

Your files aren't getting any smaller or less plentiful. Whether they're Word documents, JPEGs, MP3s, or AVI movies, the files on your hard drive keep getting bigger and bigger, and the folders holding them more numerous than loopholes in political fund-raising laws. To prevent Windows from choking, you need techniques and tools to streamline file management and folder navigation.

Every time you want to make a new folder, you either select a folder in an Explorer window and choose File, New, Folder, or right-click in a folder window and select New, Folder. John Swan of Bakersfield, California, wants to know if there is a faster way. I know of at least three.

Get keyboard creative: With an Explorer window open, press <Alt>-F, and then N and F (in Windows 98); or <Alt>-F, and then W and F (in later versions). This shortcut works whether the active selection is in Explorer's tree pane on the left or in the folder pane on the right. My favorite approach is to press <Alt>-F <Enter><Enter>, although this strategy works only if nothing is selected in the folder window's right pane. If a single item is selected in the right pane, deselect it by pressing <Ctrl>-<Space>, and then press <Alt>-F <Enter><Enter> to create the new folder.

Do the dialog dance: Explorer's toolbar still lacks a New Folder button (a feature I first asked for in this column about seven years ago), but many Open and Save dialog boxes in Windows applications have just what the columnist ordered. If you're working in a program, choose File, Save As or File, Open, and click Create New Folder (a folder icon with a starburst in the top right) just above the file list.

Make a menu: Another approach is to add a Make New Folder command to your right-click, or context, menu. This saves you the trouble of navigating to the File menu's often slow New submenu. To create a new context menu item, open an Explorer window (pressing <Windows>-E is one way) and choose Tools, Folder Options. Click the File Types tab, and in the 'Registered file types' list, select File Folder and click Edit (in Windows 98) or Advanced (in later versions) to open the Edit File Type dialog box. Now click the New button. For 'Action', type the words that you want to appear on your context menu (such as New Folder). For 'Application used to perform action', type /c md "%1\New Folder" (in Windows 98 and Me) or cmd.exe /c md "%1\New Folder" (in Windows 2000 and XP), as shown in Figure 1

Figure 1: Create your own "New Folder" command for your context menus by editing the File Folder file type.

Click OK and then close the remaining dialog boxes. Now when you right-click a folder icon, your New Folder command will be available without your having to navigate through the New submenu (see Figure 2

Figure 2: Open a new subfolder one click sooner by adding a New Folder command to your right-click menu.
). Windows won't permit you to create two folders named "New Folder" in the same place, so you have to rename any folder you create before you can choose the command again.

If you make a mistake in Windows 98, return to the Edit File Type dialog box, select your new command, and click Edit to change it or Remove to delete it. However, if you make a mistake in Windows 2000, Me, or XP, you'll have to alter the command via the Registry Editor, or delete it and start over. For details on removing such commands from your context menus, see the section "Resort to Regedit" in last December's Windows Tips column.

Spectacular Folder Views

I have ripped 15,015 karaoke song files (37.7 gigabytes' worth) into one folder. But Windows XP won't let me add any more than that even though my 160GB hard drive (formatted with FAT32) has plenty of free space. How can I add more files to my karaoke folder? I don't want to create more folders; that's too easy.

Ron Denka, Syracuse, New York

As much as I hate to tell someone how to organize their files, it just might be time for you to rethink your strategy. It's true that any single folder on a FAT32 hard disk can, theoretically, hold 65,534 files or subfolders, but this is true only if the file names use the shorter DOS-style 8.3-character format. The total number of files per folder drops dramatically when the files use longer names (which nearly all now do). Windows won't find all of your song files until you divide them into a few different folders, or rename them all with short DOS-format names.

Okay, I admit it: If you insist on cramming as many files as possible into a single megafolder, Windows XP does have some features to help impose order. First, launch Explorer, select the folder you want to organize, and click View, Choose Details. Scroll through the attributes list and check the boxes that you think you might want to use as a basis for organizing your files. For example, if you have a folder full of music files, you may want to check Album Title to be able to sort and arrange files by the album they belong to. Check as many attributes as you would like to see in Explorer's Details view, and when you're done, click OK.

Bonus tip: With Explorer's folder view set to Details (choose View, Details), you can quickly add or remove the attributes displayed: Right-click the column headings above the file list and select an item to display or hide. Note that this menu shows only a partial list of available attributes; selecting More at the bottom of the list opens the Choose Details dialog box, which shows the complete list.

With your attribute choices in place, click any column heading to sort the folder's items by that attribute. To sort by attributes hidden from view, choose View, Arrange Icons by and select an attribute from the submenu. To continue the previous example, you would click View, Arrange Icons by, Album Title to sort files by the album they appear in.

Now the fun part: To break up this huge list of files into smaller chunks based on your desired attribute, simply choose View, Arrange Icons by, Show in Groups. This divides the folder into sections with headings that represent the category you selected earlier. So, continuing our previous example, the folder would now show groups of albums with album titles as their headings (see Figure 3

Figure 3: Instantly organize your files by the attribute of your choice when you use Windows XP's "Show in Groups" feature.

Some attributes group their own special way. For example, if you sort by Name, the groups will represent letters of the alphabet. Sort by Size to create groups such as Tiny, Small, Medium, and Large.

Organizing by groups lets you change a grouping instantly just by choosing a different attribute from the 'View, Arrange Icons by' submenu. If your folder is already showing file details, for example, you can change the groupings by clicking the desired attribute heading that appears at the top of the file list. Reorganizing hierarchical folders that haven't been grouped could require hours of tedious reshuffling of files into levels of folders.

Grouping is available for most folder views, including Thumbnails, Tiles, Icons, and Details (the exception being Explorer's List view).

Easier Folder ID

You may find it easier to spot the folder you need by giving its icon a distinctive appearance. Windows XP lets you assign a custom icon or (if you view your files as thumbnails) even a custom picture to a folder. Right-click the folder and choose Properties, Customize. (Note that this option isn't available for all folders in Windows XP.) To add a custom icon, click the Change Icon button under 'Folder icons'. Select one of the icons that appear, or click the Browse button to locate an icon (.ico) file in an application (.exe), library (.dll), or any other file that may contain icons. Once you've found the icon you want to use for the file, select it, click Open (if necessary), and then click OK as required to close all the dialog boxes.

If one or more folders use the Thumbnails view (choose View, Thumbnails), they may already have a custom appearance, providing the folders' files are in common Web formats such as .htm for text, or .jpg, .gif, .bmp, and .tif for pictures (this prefab icon customization also applies to shortcuts to files in these formats). Windows automatically creates tiny images of the first four items in the folder to appear on the folder thumbnail. Naturally, it creates fewer than four images if the folder contains fewer than four Web-compatible files or shortcuts. If the folder contains shortcuts to a Web site, Windows can create images for them only when your connection to the Internet is active.

Identifying four little pictures on one folder thumbnail requires an eagle eye. To make your folders stand out, select a single picture for the thumbnail: Right-click the folder, choose Properties, Customize, and click Choose Picture in the 'Folder pictures' section. Locate and select an image file as described above, click Open, and then click OK.

Of course, following these steps for every folder you want to customize can take a little time. To speed things up, locate the image you want to use for your folder thumbnail, rename it folder (or folder.jpg, folder.gif, or whatever's appropriate, if file extensions are visible), and drag it into the desired folder. Windows will automatically use a file with this name as the thumbnail for that folder.

Bonus tip: If you can't find a picture to describe the contents of your folder, visit Google Images and type in a keyword. When you find a copyright-free picture you like, right-click it, choose Save Picture As (in Internet Explorer) or Save Image As (in Firefox), navigate to your folder, and name it folder.jpg. Click Save. Now the folder's thumbnail will show the image you selected.

Finally, if you find the images in Thumbnails view too big and clunky, download and install Tweak UI, the free customizing tool from Microsoft. After you install it, open Tweak UI, double-click Explorer, select Thumbnails in the left pane, and change the Size number in the Thumbnail box to something smaller, like 64. Then click OK. You may need to close and reopen the folder to see its thumbnails regenerated in the new size.

Windows Toolbox: Put More of Your Favorite Folders a Single Click Away

Why yet another toolbar for Windows Explorer? Because Folder View gives you buttons representing the subfolders (or shortcuts to folders) in its Main Folder (which you choose). Right-click a button to see an 'Open in New Window' option. If the folders have subfolders, each button has a companion that shows those folders in a menu. Even though Folder View recommends that you make My Documents your Main Folder, I find it's more flexible to set the program's Main Folder to one that I create and fill with my favorite shortcuts. Folder View provides a pop-up menu of recently used folders, and you can add a menu version to the taskbar, as well as to the Open and Save dialog boxes in most programs. Last but not least, Folder View is free. Click here for your copy.

Send Windows-related questions and tips to We pay $50 for published items. Scott Dunn is a contributing editor for PC World.
recommended for you

Top 20 Windows 7 Tips

Read more »

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter