Vista UI Rant: Windows Explorer Folder Views

June 15, 2007 by Jared Goralnick

Windows Vista’s Windows Explorer displays certain columns depending on the contents of a particular folder. It sounds great in theory–if you have pictures, it shows thumbnails and allows you to sort by when they were taken…if you have music, it lists the Artist, Album, and Track Number. Unfortunately, Vista, you fail me in three ways:

  1. You frequently guess wrong
  2. Until researching for this article I hadn’t realized a reliable way to correct the display when you guess wrong (and I’d been trying for months)
  3. You do really stupid things like changing the view when searching a folder

The purpose of this article is to both point out an issue and also to provide a thorough step by step for how to fix Windows Explorer Folder views for those who are running into a similar frustration.

As to be expected, there are times when Windows Explorer guesses wrong with folder views. For instance, in a folder with some images and many files it doesn’t know which view to select. Personally I think that if there are many different types of items in a folder that it would make sense to use the more general “All Items” view (the view we’ve become familiar with for the last twelve years in Windows), but so be it. Here’s what happens:

Guessing the wrong view

So I do what we’ve all been trained to do in Windows when we have the wrong view, I change it to “Details”:

Changing to Windows Explorer Details View

Unfortunately this still does not display the information I need such as “Date Modified” or “Type”.

Details view of Pictures and Videos option

Okay, fine. So it’s time to dig. But it’s not where you’d expect:

The Organize menu

The Folder Options menu View tab

Where it actually is under the Organize Properties (see above) or the Customize this Folder context menu option (right click in the window):

Right click and Customizee this Folder

Which leads you to what you actually want!!

Customize Options at last!

Was that worth all that effort? Heck no!!! But it gets worse… Let’s say you want to search the folder after changing it’s type to All Items. This is what drove me over the edge today to write a post about this. It changed the type to “Music Details” and removed the ability to customize the folder now:

When searching you can't customize the results!

As you can see, I can’t efficiently work with my search results now that I can’t sort them by the obvious relevant fields. No, this doesn’t usually happen. This is clearly a bug in Vista (yes, my updates are current).

I’ve run into other UI frustrations with Windows Explorer, such as how in the List view you can’t resize the column widths even though they look like you can and how it’s difficult to tell which sort order your results are displayed in that view.

Microsoft, you’ve succeeded in taking a small step forward in helping to organize our information with a few more flexibilities. But you’ve taken a giant step back in making the core organizational functionalities of Windows Explorer inaccessible and painful. I’m trying to master your new user interface, but it’d be great if you could come up with some better names than View and Layout and Organize when they all mean the same thing and don’t accomplish my needs. And, please, don’t hide parts of my interface when I need it most.

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12 Responses to “Vista UI Rant: Windows Explorer Folder Views”

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  1. Jamie

    Awesome! Thank you for posting this.

  2. Wesley

    You can set Vista to stop this behaviour and always default to the traditional files view by following the instructions here:

  3. Kev

    You dare to show file extensions!

    Microsoft have been trying to hide those from us for years now.

  4. AppStar

    Why wouldn’t you just go to “Customize This Folder…” in the first place? It’s been that way in XP for years.

  5. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks for the thoughts, AppStar. Unfortunately for Microsoft, just because something exists or has existed doesn’t make it intuitive, consistent, or well-designed.

  6. Will

    “Personally I think that if there are many different types of items in a folder that it would make sense to use the more general “All Items” view”

    You’re so right. This behavious infuriates me. I’m going to check that link from Wesley now and see if you can really turn it off.

    It pisses me off the Microsoft just make all these UI changes with seemingly no regard to what their customers want.

  7. Daniel Friedman

    As a busy writer publisher online, I too have been bummed by Vista – the bottom line is that the system is CONSTANTLY in my way, making WRONG second guesses, preventing me from moving files, saving data, seeing data, and basically, doing what I need to get my work done. It’s the obesity and impossible complexity that come from trying to make one program do everything for everyone (even though most users don’t want much of the “everything”, combined with the arrogance that comes from the power of monopoly.

  8. Søren Nielsen

    I agree to all of it!

    Why oh why did they mangle the most important functionality in windows (working with files) to show off that you can now tag and rate your pictures/movies?

    Who does that anyway? 1 in a hundred? for how many folders? 1 in a hundred?

    Wesley: Thank you that link worked perfectly for me. Now my folders are just the way I like them. Always.


  9. user

    In the Details view, right click the column headers and select “more”. All of the available columns are there, just as they’ve always been. I’m sure they’ll break that next. Of course, turn off “remember each folder’s view settings”, so it doesn’t annoyingly change things around every time you open a new folder, but that’s been around forever.

    Now, if I can only get rid of the stupid organize/views thing…

  10. ændrük

    Thanks for the helpful post, this would have driven me crazy. Interesting to see the developing thought process – I like that.

  11. JimBo


    I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this ever since I was cursed with Vista eight or nine months ago.

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