Microsoft

Weed through your files with the Windows Explorer Arrange By feature

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to take advantage of Windows Explorer's Arrange By feature to weed through the data files stored on your hard disk.

No matter how organized you are with your data files, chances are good that you don't know where every document is located. Nor do you even remember every document that you have on your hard disk. While Microsoft Windows 7's Search feature can help you out when you have an idea of what you are looking for, as I told you in last week's blog, "Take Advantage of Search Filters in Windows Explorer," it really can't help you when you are not sure what to look for.

Fortunately, you can use Windows Explorer's Arrange By feature to gain a different perspective on the data files that you have stored on your hard disk. For example, using the Arrange By feature you may find data files that you never knew you had or that you had forgotten about. It can also help you to locate and get rid of junk files that you never meant to keep and that are hogging valuable disk space.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to take advantage of the Windows Explorer's Arrange By feature as a way to weed through all the data files that you have stored on your hard disk

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

What is the Arrange By feature?

As you can interpret from its name, the Arrange By feature allows you to arrange your data files in different ways according to the type of arrangement option that you select. The Arrange By feature appears in the Library bar of each one of the main libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos.

(Keep in mind that in order for the Library bar to appear in Windows Explorer, you have to directly enter one of the libraries. If you drill into a library from C:\Users folder, the Library bar won't appear.)

As you can imagine, the Arrange By feature has different arrangement types in each of the different libraries based on the content of a particular library. And, within each library, there are different ways that the content is organized based on the arrangement option that you select.

Another thing to keep in mind is that different arrangement types will change the View to best display the arrangement. For example, some arrangement types will switch the view to Large Icons while another might switch the view to Details. However, you can manually switch the view to any other that you wish.

Once you select an arrangement type and make any other changes to the view, a Clear Changes command will allow you to undo all the changes you have made and go back to the default arrangement.

Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday.

Documents Library

Let's begin by taking a look at how the Arrange By feature works in the Documents Library. When you click the Arrange By drop-down arrow, you'll see the contents of the Documents Library's Arrange By menu, as shown in Figure A. Each one of these Arrange By options provides you with a unique way of looking at all of, and only, the files in the library. Any folders in the library no longer appear, and all the files are arranged by the option that you choose.

Figure A

Arrange By appears in the Library bar of each one of the main libraries.

As you can see, Folders is the default arrangement, and it is the standard that we are all used to seeing. But once you select one of the other Arrange By options, you will definitely see things differently. Let's take a closer look.

Author

When you select the Author option, you'll see that all the files are organized in stacks according to the author who created them, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, the Greg Shultz stack contains 2,305 documents where I am the author. If I double-click on that stack, I'll then see all the documents that I have created that maintain the Author tag. In my case, this is all my Microsoft Office documents: Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, Access databases, and PowerPoint presentations.

Figure B

The Author option creates stacks of files based on the Author tag attached to documents.

What makes this arrangement feature interesting is that I can locate documents that were created by friends, associates, and even people I don't know and sent to me via email attachments or that were downloaded from the Internet. This can be extremely beneficial in a number of ways.

For example, I located a Word template from Information Mapping, Inc., that I downloaded in 2003 and had completely forgotten about. Now, I remember how useful it was and have begun using it again.

I also found 80MB of documents from BED Web Team, Valued Acer Customer, Gainsville College that I must have downloaded at one time and now no longer needed. Those files were not only unnecessarily taking up disk space on my hard disk, but they were also being backed up, thus wasting time and space on my backup drive as well. I deleted them.

I even discovered a host of pictures that my father had taken and sent me via Windows Messenger. They were tagged with his name and were in My Received Files folder. I had long ago meant to move them to the Pictures folder and had thought that they were lost. I moved them to the Pictures folder and can now enjoy them as he had intended.

Date Modified

When you select the Date Modified option, you'll see that all the files are organized in groups according to date categories, such as Today, Yesterday, Last Week, and A Long Time Ago. Of course, there were so many files that in order to see all the groups, I selected the Details view, pulled down the View menu, and selected the Collapse All Groups command, which made the display much more manageable, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

With the Date Modified option, all the files are organized in groups according to date categories.

As you can see, the A Long Time Ago list contains a vast number of files, so I decided to take a look to see if I could eliminate wasted space. Once I opened that group, I then clicked the Date Modified column header to sort the files in that list in ascending order. I found that I had a ton of files from 1995 that I began looking through.

Tags

When you select the Tags option, you'll see that all the files are organized in stacks according to their assigned tags. In order to make a good assessment, I selected the List view, as shown in Figure D. This arrangement provided me with an interesting perspective because I didn't realize how many files I had that were tagged. It also gave me a better appreciation of tags as a way of identifying files.

Figure D

When you select the Tags option, you'll see that all the files are organized in stacks.

Type

When you select the Type option, you'll see that all the files are organized in stacks according to their type. Since file types have unique icons, in order to make a good assessment, I selected the Medium Icons view, as shown in Figure E. I opened the Bitmap image stack and was surprised to find that I had so many BMP files, which as you know can be quite large. Once you open a stack, its contents will display in the Detail view, so I clicked on the Size column header to sort the list in descending order. At the top I found one BMP that was a little over 5MB. In fact, I found close to 500MB of BMP files.

Figure E

Selecting the Type arrangement and using the Medium Icons view provides a nice display.

As I looked through all the BMP files, I deleted a bunch of them and converted others to JPG format.

Name

When you select the Name option, you'll see that all the files are listed alphabetically in one huge list, which just isn't very helpful at all. For example, the Documents Library on my system contained 25,000 files. While I could sort them and filter them, I really don't find the Name arrangement of any real use.

Other libraries

As I mentioned, the Arrange By feature has different arrangement types in each of the different libraries based on the content of a particular library, and each one can provide you with a unique perspective on the files in that library. The Arrange By menus for the Music, Pictures, and Videos libraries are shown in Figure F.

Figure F

The Arrange By menus in the other libraries contain options that are appropriate for the content of each library.

While I have shown you the Arrange By menu only in the Documents Library, you can apply these principles to the other libraries.

What's your take?

Will you use the Arrange By feature to weed through all the data files that you have on your hard disk? Have you already put the Arrange By feature to work on your system? If so, have you found it 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.

Editor's Picks