Microsoft

Examine the filtering, grouping, and stacking features in Windows Vista's Windows Explorer

The filtering, grouping, and stacking features in Windows Vista's Windows Explorer can be a real boon to your everyday searching and navigation operations. Greg Shultz explains how easy it is to use these features.

Beyond Windows Vista's flashy animated graphics and transparency effects are a whole set of new and improved file management features that are destined to make everyday computing much easier. Microsoft has loosely grouped this set of features as Windows Vista's new information visualization, organization, and search features. Of course, the focus here is on Windows Explorer.

The Windows Vista Product guide points out that the key elements of Windows Vista's Windows Explorer are:

  • Instant Search, which is always available and finds files instantly.
  • Navigation Pane, which contains both the new Search folders and traditional folders.
  • Command Bar, which displays tasks appropriate for the files being displayed.
  • Live Icons, which displays a thumbnail of the actual contents of each file.
  • Preview Pane, which provides rich information (metadata) about files.
  • Reading Pane, which allows users to browse a preview of a file’s contents in applications that have enabled this feature.
  • Enhanced Address Bar, which contains title bars and borders.
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I must admit that the Instant Search and Navigation Pane features in Windows Vista's Windows Explorer are tremendous. In addition to these features, I've found that the filtering, grouping, and stacking features in Windows Vista's Windows Explorer can be a real boon to your everyday searching and navigation operations. They're also very easy to use once you learn how to take advantage of them. Let's take a closer look at these features.

Using the filtering, grouping and stacking features


When you launch Windows Vista's Windows Explorer, you'll discover that no matter what View setting you use to view your file and folder icons (Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small, Details, or Tiles) the File List always contains column headings. (In Windows XP's Windows Explorer, column headings only appear in the File List when you use the Details View setting.) For example, Figure A shows that the column headings appear in the Tiles view.

Figure A

Column headings appear in the File List no matter what View setting you use.

When you hover your mouse pointer over any one of the column headings, you'll notice that a drop-down arrow will appear in the heading that when clicked reveals a menu offering filtering, grouping, and stacking options appropriate to the heading type. For example, the menu on the Type heading displays filtering, grouping, and stacking options that are appropriate to the file type, as shown in Figure B. Likewise, if you were to click the Date Modified heading, you'd find filtering, grouping, and stacking options, related to the date stamps on the files.

Figure B

The column heading menu contains filtering, grouping, and stacking options that are appropriate for the heading type.

The Sort option, which is the default, is in the upper left corner of the menu. If you click the adjacent Group option, the File List will be grouped alphabetically by file types, as shown in Figure C. It's a useful search technique to group by file type in a folder containing a wide variety of files where you want to be able to see all the files in the folder.

Figure C

Clicking the Group option on the menu will instantly group the File List alphabetically by file types.

In Figure B, the Filter options are the items in middle of the menu and are adjacent to check boxes. In this case, the Filter options make up the bulk of the menu due to the wide variety of files in this particular folder. To use the Filter options, simply select the check box next to the appropriate file type. When you do, all of the other file types will be filtered out of the File List, leaving only the ones that you want. For example, Figure D shows the File List when filtered by Microsoft Word Documents. Notice the check mark in the column header indicates that this File List is currently being filtered.

Figure D

The Filter option allows you to filter out all but the documents that you're interested in seeing.

Also in Figure B, you'll see the Stack option at the bottom of the menu (in this case it reads Stack by Type). When you enable the Stack option, all of the files in the File List are arranged in piles or stacks. For example, Figure E shows the same folder with the Stack option enabled. Notice that the stack feature is actually a Search operation as indicated in the Navigation Pane. The size of the stack icons emulates the number of items in the stack. For instance, there are more items in the Tif Images stack than in the Text Document stack.

Figure E

The Stack option arranges all the items in the folder in piles or stacks.

When you double-click on a stack, you only see the files in that particular stack, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

When you double-click on a stack, you see only the files in that particular stack.

Conclusion

The filtering, grouping, and stacking options in Windows Vista's Windows Explorer allow you to make quick work of searching for files as well as ease navigation. As I continue to experiment with Windows Vista Beta 2, I'll report on all of the new and improved features in this edition of the operating system.

If you have comments or information to share about the filtering, grouping, and stacking options in Windows Vista's Windows Explorer, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

About Greg Shultz

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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