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Windows 7 tips and tweaks

Make the most of Explorer's features

Explorer has some new features that aren't in previous versions of Windows and while some are fairly obvious and you will notice them straight away, others are less obvious and you might have mised them. There are new types of content, such as libraries, and there are new views of the content. There are extra menu commands and extra features when you right click for context menus. Get to know Explorer's new features and you will work better and more efficiently. And it's more fun. Let's take a look at some of the new features that you might have missed.

Click the Explorer icon in the taskbar to open an Explorer window. On the left is a pane that shows your Favorites, Libraries, Homegroup, Computer and Network. Now right click in an empty part of the left pane and select Show all Folders. You get a different list of items and it is more like Vista's Folders panel in Explorer windows. It's not quite the same though because you have 7's libraries. Right click and deselect Show all Folders to go back to the default view.

Windows 7 introduced libraries, which are virtual folders. The contents of a library can come from two or more real folders and it's a great way to browse documents and media files that may be scattered across the disk. If you select a library, such as Pictures, and then right click a file, there's a new entry on the context menu called Open File Location. Select it and the real folder is displayed in the Explorer window instead of the library. You will see the breadcrumb trail change at the top of the window to reflect this.

Is the search box in the top right corner too big or too small? In Vista its size was fixed, but in Windows 7 you can position the mouse between the address/breadcrumb box and the search box and click and drag to resize them.

Right click in an Explorer window and select View, Content, or alternatively, click the view icon at the top right and select Content. This is a new Explorer view and it's interesting and possibly useful in some circumstances. It's easier to see than to describe, so try it and see. It shows each file in horizintal rows separateed by a line. On the left is the icon and filename, and on the right is information that varies depending on the file type. It could be the date last modified, the date a photo was taken, the length of an audio file and the size.

Windows Explorer

In Vista, you could right click in an Explorer window and select View, Auto Arrange. When this was ticked, the icons were always neatly ordered with no gaps between them. Untick the option and you could position the icons wherever you wanted. This option has gone from Windows 7.

Some things look different, but are really the same. The Favorites panel on the left is different in Vista and 7, but are really the same and it is just the content and look that has changed. You can drag folders from Explorer windows or the desktop and drop them into the Favorites list and it's useful to add your most used folders here to make them easier to access. You can click and drag items up or down the list to change their order.

The Details pane at the bottom can be turned off by clicking the Organize button and selecting Layout, Details pane. You can then enable the status bar as an alternative if you want. Click Organize, Layout, Menu and then select View, Status bar.

The box at the top is the breadcrumb trail that shows exactly where you are in the filing system. Open an Explorer window and select Libraries on the left. Click the arrow to the right of Libraries in the breadcrumb trail and you have a choice of libraries to view. Select Documents and then click the arrow to the right of Documents in the breadcrumb trail. You can now choose between the folders that make up the Documents library. The default is My Documents and Public Documents, but it will show others if you have added them.

Windows ExplorerFinally, although there are probably more tweaks and new features to be discovered, you can point and click to search.

For example, open an Explorer window and select the Documents library. Click in the search box in the top right corner and a list of search filters is displayed. Click Authors and a drop-down list of authors is displayed (they'll all be you if you're the only person that created documents on your PC, but it's useful if you have a several different people), and you can click one to search on that item.

Click in the search box again and you can add another filter, such as type and when it's clicked you get a drop-down list of file extensions. You can select the one you want. Size is another filter that's useful if you know the size of the file you are looking for.