Windows

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.

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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.

28 comments
xp-client
xp-client

Arrange By is not new to Windows 7. Arrange By was called Stack by in Windows Vista and was introduced in Vista itself. In fact, in Vista, you can stack by ANY criteria, not just the 3-4 ones that Libraries limit to in Windows 7. And Arrange By does a Group By for some criteria, it's not even a true stack by like Vista for all criteria.

user support
user support

We are still on Windows XP but many of the features in the transcript are available in Windows Explorer back to Windows 3.1 if my memory serves me. That would be at least name, size, type and date. I would have to check the command line because with DOS it used to be DIR. Because of making changes to documentation in various locations before posting to a shared network location, I also use Winmerge software to help figure if two documents are the same before deleting one. Because of network admins concern for ever increasing retention of data by non-IT employees, I copy my excess files no longer currently needed to CD or DVD.

DonWagner
DonWagner

Greg, your explanation and helpful suggestions were excellent. Personally, I'm staying an XP-Pro fan until Microsoft delivers some 'real' quantum leap improvements. Without millions of dollars and a team of programmers, 'i' and another database-app programmer created a better (than MS) file and document management system for businesses and of course power users like you. I watched several MS-tutorials extol their 5% improvement that certainly can help single users, but it offers little substance for SMB's. If anything, it only further complicates the issues, because it depends heavily on MS-Office features and it does not address the need for an organized yet easy to use system integrated with CRM/ERP database information. In business, File and Doc management needs to begin up front, not after the fact. The person or department creating a file stands the best chance of success if they have a flexible system that helps them quickly store the file where the naming and searching are quickly accomplished up front. We call our homegrown integrated CRM feature o'SESAME~FileRoomCLERK and we would love for you Greg to remotely take a tour with you and me sharing the helm and see how we've done it. It is basically an open source structure. We didn't have a team and a bunch of $$$, but we had time and ignorance on our side and it works. We don't use gray scale scans, we just use the original files, viewers and other independent applications that work together to deliver a simple head-up system. With sincere regards for your work, DKWagner; Z0100~20110315TU@124244PM870001;

DataAid
DataAid

I can see how this might useful for people who aren't comfortable using the file attribute column headings in Windows Explorer's classic view. Personally, I prefer to simply sort the list of files (details view) by clicking on the column heading (e.g. filename, size, date modified, etc.) In fact, I have so far found no use for Libraries - perhaps because I use my own directory structure instead of Microsoft's default.

Rideastar
Rideastar

I hate it when MS has a bright idea - and then proceeds to stuff it down our throats without giving us the option to use it or not. This is not as big an issue as the menu farce they pulled with Office - but the mindset hasn't changed. Big Brother knows best! Yea right. Libraries. Did we REALLY need another metaphor for a Folder or Directory entry? Sure - they are controlled by the OS - but - so what? Nothing new there. I agree that limiting Arrange By to the Libraries is very lame. Almost all of this has been available since XP - just a few more options. Lets hope they also made it more permanent since XP kept loosing the sort order.

deICERAY
deICERAY

PUT it in the title - there are still a LOT of people who use other OS's - so if it's JUST a specific OS, please include it in the title; that way I can easily avoid LOSE7 articles like this one. Thanks.

rsmastersjr
rsmastersjr

Anyone know of a way to add date modified to the arrangement type of the music library?

macgvr
macgvr

I sometimes need to just search folder names and not search sub-folders. Example, I want to find a folder that has a certain client name. In XP I select to not search sub folders and enter the Client's name, or part of it, and very quickly I see the folder I want. I don't see how to do that in Win 7, maybe I am missing that too. It seems Win 7 is not as easy to use when searching as XP is. Lots of powerful features but not as user friendly in some aspects.

mike_flood
mike_flood

I find Win 7 searches far less user-friendly than what was available in Win XP. A search in Win 7 returns far more useless info than usefull.

macgvr
macgvr

I forgot that the search by date was available. It seems that there were some other options that I use in XP that I couldn't find in Win 7. Will have to look at this some more.

macgvr
macgvr

I wish some of the old Explorer options such as searching by date modified were still available.

balayage
balayage

After the comments from your last article ???Take Advantage of Search Filters in Windows Explorer,??? I turned Windows indexing OFF. I had many of the complaints expressed about Windows search. Google desktop search is so much faster and less annoying.

rflewis
rflewis

I've changed the stored path for the 'Libraries' categories, Documents, Music etc to point to a separate partitions when all my data is stored. I then deleted the default locations on 'C'. When trying to sort by any field other than Folder, I get 'This folder is empty'. This applies to Docs, music etc. I don't like my data being buried in the C drive in case of crashes/reloading. Also all data is shared between Win7 & WinXP, dual booting. Where is the suggested 'Arrange by' going wrong for me? Regards Roy Lewis.

guy_mullin
guy_mullin

Great feature that has become easier to find and use down the Windows. Essential for organizing files and folders. To see in dark holes, around corners and find things you didn't know you had!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

isn't this the 'sorting by columns' feature that's been in Explorer for the last several versions? Also, how do you assign Tags to files? Can it be done inside Explorer, from somewhere else in Windows, or is that ability found only in apps?

ian
ian

Good article. I use this in much the same way as you describe. You can further filter the files by selecting the dropdown menu in each column In the Type view, I have 488 CSS files but when I click on that group, it is empty. Also Type automatically arranges by name alphabetically but CSS File group is out of sequence between Cache File and CDR file. hmmm...

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you put the Arrange by feature to work on your system?

greeva
greeva

I completely agree! Your newsletter continues to publish tips and tricks for windows XP and inundates us with new ways to use Windows 7 but has never really paid much attention to Windows Vista. It seems as though you assume everyone went out and bought a new computer just because Windows came out with a new OS. This is not the case. I'm running Windows Vista and am really peeved that you treat it like Windows bastard child. I happen to like Vista and have no inclination nor the resources to upgrade to a new OS until I have to purchase a new computer. How about a few Windows Vista tips and tricks every once in awhile.

dogknees
dogknees

Just right-click the column headings and you should see a list of the columns it can show. Turn on Date Modified or whatever else you need.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Windows Vista has a very similar organizational system, but the UI and controls are set up a bit differently. Windows XP has a very limted version of the Show in Groups feature. Windows 7's Arrange by feature is the best of the breed, so to speak. As to tagging files... Some file types can be tagged from within Windows Explorer by accessing a file's properties. Other file types can only be tagged from within the application. Some file types cannot be tagged. I'll write an article on tagging files in the near future. Stay tuned...

pmansbach
pmansbach

CSS is CascadingStyleSheets, so I guess they sort on the expanded text.

blarman
blarman

So it only works in the libraries? Can you say L-A-M-E! I don't use the libraries, I use file shares!

TuneUp Utilities
TuneUp Utilities

Thanks for this tip on the Windows Explorer arrange feature ??? this looks like a great way to easily sort through files and it seems pretty straightforward. For me, it???s usually easiest to sort by the date modified so I can find what I was working on most recently. http://tek.io/eFmCpB

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

While Vista had decent penetration in the home market (I use it at home myself), it hardly made a blip in the workplace. Since TR is aimed at working IT pros, there isn't much audience for Vista articles. Some W7 tips will apply to Vista. This isn't one of them, but others are worth trying.

mikebk
mikebk

That would be of definite interest. Can you use tags to "flag" files in Windows Explorer lists? I remember a feature in Macs (about 10 years ago) where, in a list view, you could have files with specific values of one attribute show up in different colors. That was a handy feature. Sometimes I will compress an NTFS file so it shows up in blue and is easier to spot. Mike

grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051

You should try out libraries. This is one of the better user interface concepts for dealing with files. You can create your own library categories and add folders from networked drives as well as various locations on your computer. Networked drives do require the search service process to be running on the remote server/computer, but this is helpful anyway for users.