Friday, April 3, 2009

Windows Explorer is broken

I like to sort my files according to name, with directories grouped before the files. This seems the default behavior of most file managers these days, and certainly this what I was accustomed to in my years using Linux at work.

In Windows Explorer, the built-in file manager, I have my "View" set to "Icons" and "Arrange Icons by - Name" (I also use "Auto-Arrange", which the Help suggests will sort my icons automatically.) So you'd think that whenever I open up Windows Explorer, I'd have all my files displayed alphabetically.

Not the case.

I regularly have the problem where I cannot find a file in a particular directory, because all the files are listed out of order. If I save several documents from Word in a folder, Windows Explorer seems to display the files in the rough order that the documents were first saved. So a file named Strategy.doc appears in the list before Process.doc.

If I go into the "View" menu and select "Arrange Icons by - Name" the folder displays my files according to name.

Why doesn't Windows keep this setting for me automatically? Windows Explorer seems very broken to me, if I always have to re-select my view. This is lame.

Under Linux, you also can set the file manager to sort your files in different ways. I did this all the time. Except in Linux, my preferences actually worked, and the file manager would remember to display my files that same way the next time I used the file manager.


  1. I find it amazing I put up with it so long, when I was using Windows. It seemed every time I went into my pictures folders, I'd have to change the view from slideshow to thumbnail. The desktop never stays ordered any sane way - I could rearrange it manually, and the icons would seem to randomly switch places whenever I restart, or I could auto-arrange, and they'd be in different places again when I restart. I hope someone from Redmond is reading your blog.

  2. I think Tools->Folder Options allows you to use all current folder settings as default. I have no idea why, but Windows thinks a user would want each folder to look differently. I suppose this could be the case for viewing pictures vs documents vs music files or something. *shrug*

    Set up the view settings the way you want, then do above and you'll get that as the default view from now on.

  3. I think what cchu suggests sets a global default, for every folder. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to view your music collection as a slide show, I don't think. Windows (as far as I know) doesn't offer previews of the content of a document either, so they are probably best viewed in a list. At least Gnome remembers how I set each folder I go to :) I wish that "Year of the Linux Desktop" would hurry up and get here. Mint and Mepis have passed the Mum-test in this house, and she spent years learning how to use her digital set-top box as ineffectively as she does now.

  4. "Windows Explorer seems to display the files in the rough order that the documents were first saved."
    I think that's exactly what it's doing - the Dumbest Possible Listing. It opens up the directory (oh, excuse me - "folder") and just shows them in the order they appear on the hard drive. The reason it isn't EXACTLY in the order they were created is deleted files - whenever a file is deleted, it becomes the next place a new file gets stuck before continuing to add to the end of the directory listing.

    I think it may be that ext3 does the same thing, but as I'm normally viewing the files through programs using QT or GTK+, I'm used to having them come up by default in SOME kind of coherent order, so I've not really noticed other than the occasional "ls" from the command line.

  5. @cchu: I already have this set as the default for all folders. For example, IIRC the default view wasn't "icons" but a sort of list.

    What's really confusing here is that "Arrange Icons by - Name" doesn't keep things ordered by name as I add files to a folder.

  6. @NoobixCube: Interesting what you say about desktop icons automagically reordering themselves. I see the same thing on my system. Specifically, it seems that choosing an order for my desktop icons when I'm docked (and have a larger monitor) doesn't apply to the icons when I'm undocked (and have the smaller laptop display.)

    Hmm... I think I might have to mention that in a future post. Thanks.

  7. This is very annoying and it is even worse than you describe here. For instance, the way my explorer window opens, I can't even see the date column and I have to resize the window differently each time.

    I think one thing you can try is to arrange everything the way you want it, then close the window (using the x) while holding down the control key. Or the alt key. Or something.

    Some of your setting might come back then.

  8. We should just all run a standard image of windoze 98...

  9. Part of the confusion may stem from the Tools>Folder Options>View>Advanced Settings>Remember each folder's view settings option. It does exactly what it says.

    One can add, remove, resize and rearrange the columns of a folder and save those settings, either for the folder only or apply them to all folders. I often set the name and date as the first and second columns so that I can quickly sort files with just a click in the column heading.

    In a previous posting, one wondered why one would want a different view for each folder? I have found this a useful feature. For example, I have tags on photos so that I can quickly sort photos by adding that column to the view.

  10. One other thing that always bugs me about windows is that you can't resize some windows at all, or in the case of the command window, can only adjust the height. WTF?

    Case in point, go to Start->Run and type "msconfig". You cannot resize that window at all. I ran into that just today while doing tech support on my dad's computer.

  11. Oh, the list of complaints is just so long. Getting back to msconfig... I had to bring that up because there were a shit-tonne (pardon my french) of applications starting up on login. In Linux, there are normally applications that allow you to specify what goes into the system tray on startup. They are found in the standard menus. No need to type in a cryptic command that is not listed anywhere in any help file on the computer.

  12. A little tip: NEVER use Explorer.

    Just don't do it.

    There are MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH more powerful replacements: Total Commander ( and FAR Manager ( ).

    I actually can't even remember last time I started Explorer to browse files.

  13. @Cyberax: well, we all know that Windows Explorer is poor. I've written before about its confusing dialog boxes:

    But I can only comment on the tools that are provided with the operating system. It's the only way to make a fair comparison with an out-of-the-box Linux distro, like how I used to run my Linux laptop at work (running Fedora.)

  14. Lame is right, and Vista seems lamer than previous incarnations, to my tastes.

    I'd suggest this as a fix to your dilemma:

    1) In Tools > folder Options > View, uncheck "Remember each folders view settings", click OK.

    2) Open a folder and make sure View is set to Icons and Alphabetical (or whatever your preference).

    3)In Tools > Folder Options > View, click Apply to All Folders, click OK.

    Settings should stick. (I say, "should".)

    Now, you can go back and re-apply "Remember each folders view settings" if you want some particular folders to have a different view. Say, you change My Pictures directory to Thumbnails. The different settings should all stick.

    For gregladen: Auto resize columns in Details view with the key combination Ctrl and (Num pad +)


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