Using Microsoft Windows Explorer Folder Options

In Windows Explorer, first click “Tools” then choose “Folder Options…”

The dialog box that appears is titled “Folder Options”. It has four tabs, they are: general, view, file types, and offline files. I’ll describe each of the tabs in turn.

The General Tab

The first option we see on the general tab is “tasks.” The options are “Show common tasks in folders” or “Use windows classical folders.” The default is the first option.

The common tasks - if displayed - are on the left hand side as in the following picture.

In the picture we see tasks in the sections “System Tasks,” “Other Places,” and “Details.” The common tasks won’t be shown if you have an Explorer Bar shown, such as Folders or Search. They will never be shown if you choose to “Use windows classical folders.”

The next options on the General tab are titled “Browse folders.” The choices are “Open each folder in the same window” Or “Open each a folder in its own window.” Opening each of folder in its own window tends to create to a lot of clutter. Each time you click on a folder it will pop up in another window.

The last group of options on the General tab is titled “Click items as follows.” The major options are “Single click to open an item” or “Double click to open an item.” Most windows users are familiar with double clicking to open an item. Most Mac users are familiar with single click to open an item. If you use a Mac often then single click to open an item will seem more intuitive. One side effect of having single click turned on is that an item is selected every time you put your mouse over it. Selecting an item can cause Windows to try to display information about that item. This can be slow depending on the item and how fast the computer is. In general single click to an open an item is a nice a feature once you get used to it.

The View tab in the Folder Options dialog

The view tab has two sections: Folder Views and Advanced Settings. The Folder Views section is a convenient way to make all other folders look like the one you’re looking at. Simply click “Apply to all folders” when you have a folder that looks the way you want it to. Use “Reset all folders” if your folder options go look right to invade a quick way to fix them.

There are many options in the “Advanced settings” section. We’ll look at the options that you should be familiar with. You’ll find many of these options are helpful when trying to remove spyware or viruses by hand. They are also helpful in determining whether some file is the same kind of file that you think it is (sometimes an email attachment might look like a movie when it’s really a program).

Display the contents of system folders

If this box is checked then Windows will hide the contents of your program files and Windows system directories. This can cause a problem if you are trying to manually remove spyware, a virus or a program that doesn’t uninstall properly. When doing any of these it will be the easier if you come in here and unchecked the box. When looking in the system folders however, you should always be careful what files you change. They are required for Windows to operate correctly.

Display the full path in the address bar

The path in this option refers to the directory or folder that you are currently looking at to end its location on the hard drive. If the full path is shown in the address bar then you’re able to type it in the address bar just as you can in your web browser. This lets you have the convenience of copying the location of the folder you’re looking at to share with someone while chatting online for example. If someone tells you to look in “C:\Program Files” over your chat program then you can copy what they have typed and paste it into the Address Bar. This saves a lot of pointing and clicking on folders. Here’s a picture of the Address Bar with the full path shown:

Display the full path in the title bar

This option is similar to the previous one but the title bar is the text at the top of the window. You may find this option useful if you have several explorer windows open often. That text that shows up in the title bar also shows up in the taskbar icon when explorer is minimized. Here’s a picture of the Title Bar with the full path shown:

Hidden files and folders

Hidden files and folders has two options: “Do not show hidden files and folders” or “Show hidden files and folders.” At the first this option sounds a little bit strange. If a folder is shown how can it be hidden? This option refers to away in that files used to be hidden long before Windows was even created. Every file and folder on your hard drive has what’s called a “hidden attribute.” When a file is marked with the hidden attribute then that is a suggestion that the file should not be seen or tampered with. Sometimes we need to see these files however. To see these files all you need to do is set to the option to show a hidden files and folders.

Hide extensions for known file types

A file its tension is an ending for the file name, traditionally three letters long (though they can be longer, such as “.mpeg”). The file extension comes after a period when they are shown. Extensions you may have heard of are .MP3, .JPG, .AVI or maybe even .BAT. Somebody must have decided that file extensions are ugly because by default Windows hides the and instead all you can see is the file type in the type column. Is best to turn it off this option so that file extensions are shown. This gives you an extra little bit of information when you look at the file name. This is especially important when you have to files that have the same name but different extensions. Another case that it is important would be if someone tells you to click on “setup.exe” - all Windows would normally show is “setup.”

Hide protected operating system files

The only reason to uncheck this is if you’re adjusting settings in windows manually, for example repairing damage to windows files. Windows will ask you to confirm that you want to turn this option off, but go ahead if you really need to.

Launch folder windows in a separate process

This option should be checked on all computers. Is turned off by default to because it takes a little bit of extra memory. The benefit of this option is that when one folder window or Internet Explorer crashes, other windows can still stay open.

Restore previous folder windows at log on

This option controls whether Windows Explorer will open up to the last folders you’re looking at the next time you log on. If you’re often looking at files in the same folder then leave that window open when you shut your computer down and it will come back when you to the computer back on. If you share your computer and don’t want the next user to see what the files you were looking at, then uncheck this box.

The File Types tab in the Folder Options dialog

A file extension is the part to of the file name after the last period. Windows uses the file extension to decide what to program to use to open the file. You can easily change the program used to open any given file based on its extension. In order to find an extension in the long list in the File Types tab click, on extensions and the list will be sorted by extension. In the example below I have highlighted a .WMA file and the file type says this is a Winamp media file. The short way to say this is that WMA files are associated with Winamp on my computer. Winamp is a program for playing music and video. Suppose I wanted to use of the Windows Media Player to open these files instead. In the lower half of the dialog I click the “Change…” button. In the “Open With” dialog, I can choose from a list of applications. Simply click windows media player in the list and click OK.

In the Offline Files tab of the folder options dialog you can see that because I use fast user switching I cannot use offline files. I like fast user switching better. If you really think Offline Files are useful, then let me know and maybe I can add some more description of how they work.