Friday, September 18, 2009

Sorting files is confusing

I really am confused about how Windows Explorer sorts files and directories. Is it supposed to be this hard?

Let me show you a good example from my "Documents" folder:

I've blurred out the rest of the filenames. As you can see, the list is arranged: M, D, p, A, D, m, N, w. Note that 3 folders are mixed with 5 files, but are still not listed alphabetically!

And what's with the (unused) columns for "Date modified", "Type", "Size", "Tags"? These should have data in them!

Clicking the "Views" drop-down menu doesn't present me with any options to re-sort the view. And call me stupid, but I don't remember how I did this very basic task a few weeks ago. All I can remember is I managed to put Windows Explorer into a properly sorted view, and that it took me a while to figure out how to change the view.

Under Linux, it's very simple. Folders normally display their contents in "Icons" mode, so it looks like you'd expect to find on Windows or a Mac. If you want to see more, you can click the "View" menu, and select "List" mode to show extra details such as "Size", "Type", "Date Modified". Click on any of the list headers to sort the view according to a new criteria.


  1. In the Windows XP and Windows Vista (32 bit) computers I use, I have no problem sorting the entries in the Windows Explorer. I always set my View to Details so the columns appear. Just click on the column heading to sort the entries. Click on the heading again to reverse the order of the sort. I routinely sort by name, date, size, or type. My only nitpick is that I can't specify a numeric sort for the Name column so that entries beginning with 3, 40, and 200 appear in that order instead of the "alphabetic" (really ASCII) 200, 3, and 40.

    When entries share the same value for the column being sorted, they appear in the same order as before. This makes possible to sort on a column, and within matching enries, sort by another column. You just have to select the columns in reverse order. There seems to an exception with directories; they seem to be always grouped and sorted separately from files.

    I also like that Windows can be set to always remember the View setting on a per folder basis. The columns can be dragged to arrange them in the order you want them to appear.

    As for the columns with no data in them, I have never before seen this except for size of directories, for which there is a view option controlling when this is calculated. I speculate several possible causes:
    a. The window is displaying the contents of non-native file system,
    b. The option to make offline files available is set, and the window is showing the contents of a network or external drive that is currently offline. It's not a slow network connection; then you'd get no listing at all until all of the entries have been queried.

  2. This is totally off-topic but:
    I have been using Linux Mint 7 (switching from Windows, which I had been using for the last ~15 years) for a few months and now I'm experiencing what you're feeling: frustration and confusion about the needless complexity and slowness of Windows vs. the simplicity and speed of Mint.
    An example: I had a friend over (who had heard of but never seen Mint or Ubuntu) and needed to change the power settings temporarily so that he could check sports scores periodically without having to deal with my computer automatically going to sleep. All I had to do was open the MintMenu, hover over "Preferences", and click on the "Power Settings" option and drag a few sliders to make my computer not automatically go to sleep. In Windows, I must go through a lot of different menus to get to the Control Panel and then a lot of other submenus and tabs to get to the right thing, and THEN apply all changes to make them effective. It was him who was amazed at this greater simplicity; it was second nature to me.

  3. You choose the sort in Windows the same way you do in Linux -- click the column headers. As far as I remember, it's been like that since Win95 (which first introduced that view). Does that not work?

    I'm also with BillR... I'm not sure why the other columns don't have data. I've only seen that when I'm browsing the contents of a camera's flash card.

    (Size won't be there for directories, and Tags won't be there unless you start tagging stuff, but the type should all be there and the sizes should be there for files. It's very weird it isn't.)

  4. Trying what BillR said, I clicked on a column header in "Documents", and now I get a "^" or "v" to indicate sorting. And it does sort now. But I didn't have any of these markers before clicking on the "Name" column.

    But I still don't see anything in the other columns, just "Name".

    Yet, when I click into a subfolder ("private" .. that's the folder in the screenshot that starts "pr-") that folder is sorted by name ("^" marker in the "Name" column header.) And the other fields have data in them: Date modified, Type, Size.

    But not in my "Documents" folder. Only the "Name" column is populated there. So I'm still confused.

    This is not how it's supposed to work.

  5. Have you tried right-clicking in the window to choose the sort-by mode?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.