Windows

Weed through your files Part Two: Windows 7 Group By and Filter features

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz explains how the Group By and Filter features of Windows 7's Windows Explorer work and shows you how to effectively use them.

In last week's blog, "Weed through Your Files with the Windows Explorer Arrange By Feature," I showed you how to use the Arrange By feature in Windows 7's Windows Explorer to gain a different perspective on the data files that you have stored on your hard disk. However, the Arrange By feature isn't the only method that you can use to gain an interesting perspective on your data files. There are two other features that you can use to weed through your files: Group By and Filter.

All three of these features -- Arrange By, Group By, and Filter -- are so tightly integrated into Windows Explorer that I had originally planned on covering them all in the same article. However, because they are almost mutually exclusive, I decided that it would be best to cover them separately. By almost mutually exclusive I mean that there are configuration restrictions such that for the majority of the Arrange By options, the Group By and Filter features are unavailable.

Now, don't get me wrong; each of these Windows 7 features is powerful in its own right. It's just that the Arrange By feature wasn't designed to complement the Group By and Filter features in the way that you might think. And, with a clear understanding of how and where they differ, you'll be able to use all these features in Windows Explorer to get different views of your data files.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll explain how the Group By and Filter features work and show you how to use them. As I do, I'll explain the configuration restrictions I mentioned above in detail so that you'll understand them and be able to take full advantage of all three of these features when it comes to weeding through your data files.

If you haven't yet read the blog on the Arrange By feature, I encourage you to do so before reading this one.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Understanding the configuration restrictions

By covering the Arrange By feature first, my goal was to give you a clear perspective on how that feature works alone before things get convoluted by the configuration restrictions imposed by the Views feature when you attempt to combine the Arrange By, Group By, and Filter feature.

In a nutshell, the configuration restrictions are as follows: The Filter feature is available for all Arrange By options but accessible only in Details View, and the Group By feature is available only in the Arrange By Folder option but accessible in all Views.

If you want more specifics, read on. (However, bear in mind that it may be a little confusing, but I promise that I will tie it all up in the end.)

As I alluded to in my recent article, each of the Arrange By options has a default View configuration, but you can change to any View that you want: Extra Large Icons, Large Icons, Medium Icons, Small Icons, List, Details, Tiles, or Content.

For example, in the Documents Library the default configuration for the Folder Arrangement is Details View. In this configuration, both the Group By feature and the Filter feature are available. However, if you switch to the List View, only the Group By feature is available -- the Filter feature is not.

On another hand, the default configuration for the Author Arrangement is Large Icons View. In this configuration, neither the Group By feature nor the Filter feature is available. However, if you switch to the Details View, the Filter feature becomes available, but the Group By feature does not.

To make it easy to see all these configuration restrictions, I've put them in Table A.

Table A

Arrange By Feature Default View Group By Available? Filter Available?
Folder Details Yes, in all Views Only in Details View
Author Large Icons No, not in any View Only in Details View
Date Modified Details No, not in any View Only in Details View
Tag Large Icons No, not in any View Only in Details View
Type Large Icons No, not in any View Only in Details View
Name Details No, not in any View Only in Details View

Now that you have an idea of how and where the Arrange By, Group By, and Filter features go their separate ways, let's move on. Things will become clearer as we do.

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Using the Filter feature

As I mentioned, the Filter feature is available to all Arrange By options but accessible only in Details view. The reason for this is that the Filter feature actually lives in the column headers that display at the top of the File List pane when you are using the Details View. For example, the Documents Library displays the Name, Date Modified, Type, and Size column headers by default, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

There are four column headers in the Documents Library by default.
When you hover your mouse pointer over any one of the column headings, you'll notice that a drop-down arrow will appear on the right side of the heading. When you click it, a menu will display the Filter options that are appropriate to the heading type. For example, the menu on the Type heading displays the Filter options shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The column heading menu contains the Filter that are appropriate for the heading type.
To use the Filter feature, simply select the check box next to the file type that you're interesting in. When you do, all the other file types will be filtered out of the File List, leaving only the ones that you requested. For example, Figure C shows the File List when filtered by Adobe Acrobat Documents. Notice the check mark in the column header indicates that this File List is currently being filtered.

Figure C

The Filter option allows you to filter out all but the documents that you're interested in seeing.
You can use multiple Filters at the same time. For example, in Figure D I've added a Name filter for documents that limits the display to only documents whose name begins with any letters in the range of Q to Z.

Figure D

You can use multiple Filters at the same time.
When you apply a Filter, it looks only in the folder that you currently have open. However, if there are other folders below it, you'll notice a button at the bottom of the pane titled Search Again in Subfolders. When you click that button, Windows Explorer actually switches to Search mode and conducts a search in the subfolders based on the filters you have in place, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

When you click Search Again in Subfolders, Windows Explorer conducts a search in the subfolders based on the filters you have in place.

To clear a Search Again in Subfolders operation, just click the Back button. When you do, you'll be returned to your original Filter display. If you decide that you want to immediately conduct the search operation again, just click the Forward button.

You can also remove a filter by clicking the Back button. Keep in mind that if you have applied multiple Filters, you will have to click the Back button once to remove each Filter. If you decide that you want to immediately apply the Filter again, just click the Forward button.

Of course, you can remove a filter simply by clearing the check box on the Filter menu. You can also remove a Filter by choosing the Clear Changes command that appears on the bottom of the Arrange By menu. Keep in mind that you must select the Clear Changes command once to remove each Filter.

Using the Group By feature

The Group By feature is available only in the Arrange By Folder option, but it works with all Views. The reason for this is that the Group By feature is designed to display all your files in groups and the Arrange By Folder is the only Arrange By option that doesn't already display your files in some sort of grouping. The Group By feature can be found on the View menu, as shown in Figure F. As you can see in the Documents Library, the Group By menu allows you to select Name, Date Modified, Type, and Size -- the default column headers -- for your groups.

Figure F

The Group By feature can be found on the View menu.
For example, you could choose to Group By Size, in Descending order, and then select the List View to see your files, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G

The Group By feature allows you to display your files in groups.

By looking over the other options on the Group By menu, you can easily imagine how the other groupings will work, so I'll move on.

You'll notice that at the bottom of the Group By menu there is a command titled More. If you select this command, you'll see the Choose Details dialog box, shown in Figure H, and will be able to add other column headers to the display and to the Group By menu, as shown in Figure I.

Figure H

The Choose Details dialog box will allow you to select other column headers...

Figure I

...and add them to the Group By menu.

Other libraries

As you know, each of the different libraries contains different types of content. As such, the Filter and Group By features will have different options based on the type of content in that particular library, thus providing you with a unique perspective on the files in that library. While I have shown you how only the Filter and Group By features work in the Documents Library, you can apply these techniques to the other libraries.

What's your take?

Will you use the Filter and Group By features to weed through all the data files that you have on your hard disk? Have you already put these features to work on your system? If so, have you found them to be useful? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

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.

4 comments
Cannabis Seed
Cannabis Seed

I like being able to weed through my files and sort things. This is something that W7 is brillaint at achieving

GreyTech
GreyTech

Useful series Greg. You missed the obvious. In detail view you can quickly sort by name, date, type or any other visible column just by clicking on the column head. Click again to reverse the order.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you taking advantage of these Windows Explorer features?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...that you found these articles useful! Thanks for pointing out the Sort feature. In this article, I wanted to stay focused on the Group By and Filter features, but I should have mentioned sorting by clickin column headers.

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