In information technology and operating system terms, Microsoft Windows XP has been around a very long time. Over the years, TechRepublic has literally written thousands of tips, tweaks, tricks, and hacks in our article, download, and blog pages. One of my favorites is a quick and easy tweak that will change the behavior of Windows Explorer.

The directory/folder metaphor employed by Windows XP to organize files on a hard drive fits well with my natural tendency of hierarchical organization. My thinking pattern follows the general > less general > specific > most specific framework. So there are times when I want to see a particular folder hierarchy laid out before me in Windows Explorer.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download. This blog post was originally published on December 3, 2008, but several members have been asking for the information so I am reprising it.

Tweak the displayed folder

The default display for Windows XP Explorer is to show the My Documents folder with all of its subfolders expanded and ready to be selected (Figure A).

Figure A

The default Windows XP Explorer view

There is nothing wrong with this view, but I don’t always want to open Windows Explorer in the My Documents folder. I have access to, and the need to use, several different network folders during the course of a day. With a small tweak of the Windows Explorer Properties settings you can change which folder gets displayed and how that display is revealed.

To get to the Windows Explorer Properties dialog box, right-click the Windows Explorer shortcut. You can copy the shortcut in the Start Menu to your Desktop to make it easier to work with. I like to have several Windows Explorer shortcuts in my toolbar for easy access — each going to a different place.

When you right-click and go to Properties and click the Shortcut tab, you should see a screen similar to Figure B.

Figure B

The Windows Explorer Properties dialog box

The key box is the Target box. To change the Windows Explorer shortcut to open a specific folder of your choosing, change the Target box to read:

c:\windows\EXPLORER.EXE /n, /e, X:\Folder of my choosing

For example, the blog posts I write or edit are saved on a network drive (U) in a folder I have dubbed “Working Folder.” The Target box for this shortcut looks like this and the corresponding screenshot is shown in Figure C.

c:\windows\EXPLORER.EXE /n, /e, u:\working folder

Figure C

A new target folder

Now, when I click this Windows Explorer shortcut, I get the screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D

My working folder

Additional tweak

The tweak above shows my Working Folder and all the subfolders under it. But with a small additional tweak, I can get a Windows Explorer view that shows the Working Folder subfolders collapsed (Figure E).

Figure E

Working Folder with subfolders collapsed

This is a cleaner more concise look. To get this behavior, add the /select command to the Target box like this:

c:\windows\EXPLORER.EXE /n, /e, /select, u:\working folder

Your choice

You can apply this tweak to as many folders as you want. You can give them different icons and place them on your desktop or on your toolbar. This small tweak gives you great flexibility in how you interact with Windows XP.

Someone asked

In the attached discussion thread, there was a request for an explanation of the Windows Explorer in-line commands. I found a reference on Microsoft’s Help and Support pages:

  • /n: Opens a new window in single-paned (My Computer) view for each item selected, even if the new window duplicates a window that is already open.
  • /e: Uses Windows Explorer view. Windows Explorer view is most similar to File Manager in Windows version 3.x. Note that the default view is Open view.
  • /root: Specifies the root level of the specified view. The default is to use the normal namespace root (the desktop). Whatever is specified is the root for the display.
  • /select: Specifies the folder to receive the initial focus. If /select is used, the parent folder is opened and the specified object is selected.

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