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

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.

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

Figure F

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


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.