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Folder Options

Control the way folders appear in Explorer and configure file type associations.

To Open

Control Panel [Appearance and Themes] Folder Options

Windows Explorer Tools Folder Options

Command Prompt control folders


The Folder Options window has four tabs:


Of the three settings on this page, the one that may not be entirely self-explanatory is the Tasks section (see Figure 4-34). Microsoft has removed the highly criticized Web View found in earlier versions of Windows and added an optional feature called Common Tasks. When enabled, a common tasks pane appears along the left side of folder listings in Explorer and single-folder windows, which contains information and links related to the currently selected folder. Those new to Windows might appreciate the extra information, although advanced users will probably prefer to turn off Common Tasks to reduce screen clutter.

Figure 4-34. Among other things, the General tab lets you turn off the common tasks pane shown in many single folder windows

Of note in the Common Tasks pane is the feature to turn on or off the category view in Control Panel (covered earlier in this chapter), an otherwise unavailable setting.


After you’ve selected all your preferences in the General and View tabs, as well as Explorer’s View menu, click Apply to All Folders to make your settings the default. Otherwise, all your settings will be lost as soon as you switch to a different folder (see Figure 4-35).

Figure 4-35. Many settings that affect the display of folders and files are located in the Folder Options’ View tab

The Advanced settings here are actually quite important, as many of their default values can actually end up making Windows more difficult to use. Many of these settings are self-explanatory; some of the more interesting ones are as follows:

Display the simple folder view in Explorer’s Folders list

This rather oddly named option simply shows or hides the dotted lines shown in the collapsible folder tree (see “Trees” in Chapter 3) in Windows Explorer. The default is on, but if turned off, the tree appears more like it did in earlier versions of Windows. In my opinion, the lines make the tree a little clearer and easier to use, so I recommend turning this option off.

Display the contents of system folders

Turn this option on to eliminate the warning that appears when you attempt to view the contents of certain folders, such as C:\ and \Windows. The default is off.

Display the full path in the address bar/title bar

By default, both of these settings are disabled, which, to me, is utterly baffling. For example, when viewing the folder, c:\Documents and Settings\Bubba\Documents\Stuff in Windows Explorer, only “Stuff” will appear in the titlebar and Address Bar. This can be extremely confusing, especially when you also have a d:\Additional Files\Latest\Stuff folder. I strongly recommend enabling both “full path” options.

Hidden files and folders

Windows does not show hidden files by default in Explorer. Change this option if you need to access hidden files; see “Attrib”, earlier in this chapter, for details on hidden files.

Hide extensions for known file types

In one of Microsoft’s biggest blunders, this option has been turned on, by default, since Windows 95. See the discussion of the File Types tab, below, for why it should be turned off.

Launch folder windows in a separate process

Turn on this option to start a new instance of the Windows Explorer application every time you open a new folder window. Although this takes slightly more memory, it means that if one Explorer window crashes, they won’t all crash.

Remember each folder’s view settings

If this option is enabled and you use Explorer’s View menu to alter the display of a particular folder, those settings will be saved with that folder for the next time it’s opened. If you’re looking for a way to save your View settings as the default for all folders, this option won’t do it—instead, use the Apply to All Folders button (see Figure 4-35).

Use Simple File Sharing

Despite the “Recommended” note here, it is strongly recommended that this option be disabled for security purposes. See Chapter 7 for more information on sharing resources over a network.

File Types

The term file types describes the collection of associations between documents and the applications that use them (see Figure 4-36). For example, Windows knows to run Notepad when you double-click on a file with the .txt extension.

Launching the correct program for a particular file begins with file extensions, the letters (usually three) that follow the period in most filenames. For example, the extension of the file Readme.txt is .txt, signifying a plain text file; the extension of Resume.wpd is .wpd, signifying a document created in WordPerfect. By default, Windows hides the extensions of registered file types in Explorer and on the Desktop, but it’s best to have them displayed (turn off the “Hide extensions for known file types” option under the View tab).

File extensions allow you to easily determine what kind of file you’re dealing with (because icons are almost never descriptive enough). They also allow you to change Windows’ perception of the type of a file by simply renaming the extension. Note that changing a file’s extension doesn’t actually change the contents or the format of the file, only how Windows interacts with it.

By hiding file extensions, Microsoft hoped to make Windows easier to use—a plan that backfired for several reasons. Because only the extensions of registered files are hidden, the extensions of files that aren’t yet in the File Types database are still shown. What’s even more confusing is that, when an application finally claims a certain file type, it can appear to the inexperienced user as though all of the old files of that type have been renamed. It also creates a “knowledge gap” between those who understand file types and those who don’t. (Try telling someone whose computer still has hidden extensions to find Readme.txt in a directory full of files.) Other problems have arisen, such as trying to differentiate Excel.exe and Excel.xls in Explorer when the extensions are hidden; one file is an application and the other is a document, but they may have the same icon.

Figure 4-36. The File Types tab lets you change the associations between documents and the programs that open them

In the File Types window, all registered file extensions and their descriptions are shown in the list.

Here’s how to customize a file type:

  1. Select the desired file type from the list and click Advanced. (The Change button only displays the limited Open With dialog box.) You can sort the entries by filename extension or file type description to make any given file type easier to find.

  2. Keep in mind that some file types may be claiming more than one extension. For example, the .htm and .html extensions are most likely associated with the same file type. If you are editing such a file type, it won’t matter which extension you select.

  3. The Actions list box contains a list of the customizable context menu items. Each one has a name and a command line (the application filename followed by command-line parameters, if applicable).

    A typical command line (the one for the .txt file type) might look like this: notepad /p "%1“. This line tells Windows to launch Notepad with the /p parameter (see “Notepad”, later in this chapter) when you double-click on a .txt file.

    The %1 is where you want Windows to insert the name of the clicked file, and is actually optional. However, the quotation marks, which ensure compatibilty with any spaces in the filenames, are not used by default in Windows; if you want to be able to double-click on any file with a space in its filename, add "%1" to the end of the command line here. If you double-clicked on a file called stuff.txt, located in the folder, e:\things, this file type action would result in the following command being executed: notepad /p "e:\things\stuff.txt“.

  4. Some actions have dynamic data exchange (DDE) commands, which are used only by certain applications—you probably won’t have to bother with this setting. You can also change the icon for all the files of a particular type by clicking Change icon. See “Icons” in Chapter 3 for more information.

  5. The bold item is the default action, also shown in bold at the top of the context menu. If there’s no bold item, and therefore no default, double-clicking a file of that type will do nothing. To make “no action” the default, you’ll have to delete the current default (bold) action. If you don’t want to remove any actions, just add a new, temporary action, make it the default, and then delete it.

  6. Click OK when you’re done. The changes should take effect immediately; your Desktop and any open Explorer or single-folder windows will automatically refresh within a few seconds.

Offline Files

See “Synchronization Manager”, later in this chapter, for more information on Offline Files.


All of the settings in this dialog are also covered in Chapter 5.

See Also

“Control Panel”, “Windows Explorer”

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