No matter how organized you are with your data files, chances are good that you don't know where every document is located — especially on network shares. There are probably data files out there that you don't even remember. While I've shown you that Windows 8.1's Search app and File Explorer's Search filters can help you out when you have an idea of what you are looking for, they really can't help you when you're not sure.
Fortunately, you can use File Explorer's Group by feature to gain a different perspective on the data files that you have stored on your hard disk and network shares. By using the Group by feature, you may find data files that you never knew you had or that you'd 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.
That's not all! The Group by feature also works in This PC/Computer and in Network, allowing you to create some interesting ways to look at the drives on your computer and the computers on your network.
Let's take a closer look at how to take advantage of the File Explorer's Group by feature as a way to organize and sort through data from a different perspective.
What is the Group by feature?
The Group by feature is available in both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. As you can interpret from its name, the Group by feature allows you to arrange your data files in groups, based on elements that are specific to the types of data that you're looking for. For example, the Group by feature will allow you to group documents by the authors, video files by the length of the video, and computers by the IP address, just to point out a few of the possibilities.
The Group by feature is very easy to access. It appears on File Explorer's View tab at the top of the Current view section (Figure A).
Group by appears on the View tab in File Explorer.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different arrangement types may 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 switch the view to any other that you wish. Once you select an arrangement type and make any other changes to the view, you can easily undo all the changes that you've made and go back to the default arrangement by selecting (None) from the Group by menu.
Let's begin by taking a look at how the Group by feature works in Documents. When you click the Group by drop-down arrow, you'll see that the menu contains a list of options that apply to the type of files that you regularly store in the Documents folder. In my example (Figure B), I've chosen to group the files in the Documents folder by Authors and in Ascending order. While the Authors Group by option may not be very useful on your local hard disk, it could be invaluable in a network share full of documents.
The Group by menu offers a host of options for looking at documents.
I could have also chosen to group the files by Name, Date modified, Type, Size, Date created, Categories, Tags, or Title. To return to the default view, just select the (None) option.
When you access the Group by menu options in the Pictures folder, you‘ll find a list of options that are relevant to picture files. I selected the Date taken option and Descending order (Figure C). The other Group by options that are specific to picture files include Date modified, Dimensions, and Rating.
In the Pictures folder, the Group by options include the Date taken option.
The Music folder offers a lot of Group by options. After compiling songs for a mix, I used the Genre Group by option to take a look at the list for a different perspective (Figure D). I also could have used the Album artist, Contributing artist, Year, or Title to look at the files.
The Group by options in the Music folder can provide you with a different perspective of you file selections.
Moving over to the Video folder, the Group by feature provides you with a set of options relevant to video files. For example, in Figure E, I chose to group my video files by length of the video. Other relevant Group by options that I could have chosen include Media created or Dimensions.
Grouping by the length of the video allows you to sort your video files in a meaningful way.
Using the Group by feature in This PC/Computer can be very useful in a number of situations. When you pull down the Group by menu, you'll discover a few options, including Total Size, Free Space, File System, Network Location, and Percent Full. For example, I had a number of external hard disks attached to my system, and using the Free Space Group by option allowed me to quickly analyze which hard disks needed to be weeded out (Figure F).
Using the Free Space Group by option allowed me to see which hard disks needed to be weeded out.
When you're looking at PCs in Network, you can use the Group by feature to see your network differently. For example, I run DHCP on my lab network, and using the IP Address Group by option gave me a quick analysis of what IP addresses were in use (Figure G). Other useful Group by options that you can use in Network include Workgroup, Network location, Discovery Method, or MAC Address.
The IP Address Group by can be a helpful way to look at a network.
What's your take?
Have you used the Group by feature to look at your files, hard disks, and network computers? 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.
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.