Windows XP's top five hidden file management features

Windows XP has many file management features that remain largely undiscovered by users. While these features aren't buried deep within the operating system, they're often overlooked because or the hype surrounding other improvements to XP.

Like most IT professionals, you probably spend a lot of time managing files. But if you’re using Windows XP and haven’t yet discovered some of the new and enhanced file management features, you’re wasting too much of your time. Windows XP is packed with a host of features designed to make your life easier by making quick work of tasks like copying, moving, and renaming files. However, these features can’t help you if you don’t know about them. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll introduce you to Windows XP’s top five hidden file management features and explain how they’ll make your life easier.

1) Take advantage of the Copy To and Move To commands
You probably spend a lot of time copying and moving files and folders around as you refine your data file organizational system. You may be transferring files from one folder to another, from one hard disk to another, or even from one computer to another across the network.

The most common way to copy or move files in the Windows operating system is to open Windows Explorer or My Computer, locate and select the files that you want to transfer, right-click one of the files, and then select either Cut to move the file or Copy to copy it. You then use the navigational features in Windows Explorer, My Computer, or My Network Places to traverse the computer or network until you locate the destination folder; right-click inside the destination folder; and select Paste from the shortcut menu to paste the file into the new destination. If you decide to place the file in a new folder on the destination location, you’ll have to perform some additional steps to create a new folder. As you can see, this procedure involves a lot of time-consuming intermediary steps.

Fortunately, with Windows XP’s new task-oriented user interface, you can eliminate all of these intermediary steps by taking advantage of the Move This File and Copy This File commands on the File And Folder Tasks explorer bar, as shown in Figure A. If you select a file, the command will be titled Copy/Move This File, but if you select a folder, the command will be titled Copy/Move This Folder.

Figure A
The Move This File and Copy This File commands found in the File And Folder Tasks explorer bar can be real timesavers when it comes to managing your files.

Once you’ve selected the items that you want to transfer and clicked either the Move This File or Copy This File command, the items you’ve selected are copied to the clipboard, and you’ll see a browse dialog box, as shown in Figure B. You can then simply browse the folder tree to locate the destination.

Figure B
This browse dialog box makes it easy to locate the destination and even create new folders.

You can create a new folder for the destination by clicking the Make New Folder button. And, if you find that the dialog box is too small for your navigational needs, don’t worry—simply position your pointer over the bottom right corner and, when you see a double-headed arrow, just drag the resize pad to expand the dialog box.

You can also add both the Move This File and Copy This File commands to the toolbar. Simply right-click the toolbar and select Customize from the context menu. You can then use the controls in the Customize Toolbar dialog box to add the Move To and Copy To buttons to the toolbar.

2) Rename multiple files instantly
If you’ve ever shelled out to a command prompt to use the DOS-based Rename command to rename multiple files, you’re going to love the new feature in Windows Explorer that makes it a snap to rename a group of files at once.

First, select the group of files that you want to rename. Next, right-click the first file in the group and choose the Rename command from the shortcut menu. Then simply type in a new name. As you do, you’ll need to append the number 1 in parenthesis to the end of the filename. When you press [Enter], each of the selected files will be renamed with the new name, and the number in the parenthesis will be sequentially incremented, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
Being able to easily rename groups of files without shelling out to a command prompt saves time and frustration.

3) Using the Make A New Folder task
As I explained earlier, the browse dialog box associated with the Move This File and Copy This File commands sports a handy Make A New Folder button. If you’re like most computer users, you’ve probably wished for such a button in Windows Explorer. Well, here is! However, most folks don’t know it’s there because it disappears as soon as you select any file or folder.

To uncover the Make A New Folder task, all you need to do is click anywhere in the folder to unselect the currently selected item. As soon as you do, you’ll see the Make A New Folder task appear on the File And Folder Tasks explorer bar, as shown in Figure D. Then you’ll be able to easily create a new folder with just one click.

Figure D
The Make A New Folder task appears in the File And Folder Tasks explorer bar only when nothing is selected in the window.

4) The Show In Groups feature
If you really like to keep your data files neatly organized so you can quickly and easily find what you’re looking for, chances are that you’ve been using Windows Explorer’s Details view for some time now. As you may know, this view makes it extremely easy to sort your files simply by clicking any one of the four column headers: Name, Size, Type, or Date Modified. However, if you always sort your files by clicking the column headers, you’re sure to miss the new Show In Groups feature.

To access this feature, pull down the View menu, open the Arrange Icons By submenu, and click the Show In Groups command. This will divide the Windows Explorer display into sections with headers that correspond to the sort option you’ve selected. For example, Figure E demonstrates the Show In Groups feature used in combination with the Date Modified sort option. You can easily change the group sort order by clicking a different column header.

Figure E
The Show In Groups feature adds a whole new dimension to file organization.

5) Using the custom folder icon feature
Having the My Documents folder as a centralized file storage location is a great idea. However, if you were to place all your data files directly into the My Documents folder, you’d surely have a mess to dig through each time you wanted to locate a specific file, no matter what sorting option you used. As such, you’ve probably created a set of subfolders inside the My Documents folder to keep your data files organized by topic, and you probably name each subfolder with an appropriate name that makes it easy to identify the files in the subfolder. Even so, if you have a lot of subfolders, the folder you’re looking for can easily get lost in a sea of yellow folder icons.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could change the icons that Windows Explorer uses to display folders? The goal would be to differentiate those folders you use most often, thus making it that much easier to pick them out. Fortunately, Microsoft recognized the benefits of customized folder icons in Windows Explorer and made it a reality in Windows XP.

It’s easy to create customized folder icons. All you have to do is right-click the folder you want to customize and choose Properties from the shortcut menu. When the folder’s Properties dialog box appears, click the Customize tab. Then, click the Change Icon button at the bottom of the tab. You’ll then see a familiar Change Icon dialog box, as shown in Figure F, that you can use to select any icon you wish to assign to the folder.

Figure F
Assigning custom icons to your folders makes it easier to organize and keep track of your data files.

More tricks
These new features in Windows XP are sure to make your file management tasks easier. However, there are other useful file management features in Windows XP that you may not be familiar with. To learn more, just open the Help And Support Center and search for the key phrase “File Management.”


Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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