File Management +June 15, 2008 at 12:13 am | Posted in Computers, Software | 5 Comments
Oooo- exciting subject. Like watching paint dry. But file we must. Files on a computer are just like paper files. Your filing cabinet won’t be much use for long if you just open the drawer and toss everything in. I talked about this a little last year on Getting Organized.
Creative Lee has an interesting newsletter for creative types. He talked about different styles people have for organizing things. He called them: “Everything Out” – the people who use their desktops to keep everything, for example. “Everything Away” – the more left brained types who like to organize stuff and DO file things. And “Everything Everywhere” – the people who most depend on search tools to find things.
And that is one of the key advantages to computers over paper. If the file is on your computer, it can be found no matter how misfiled or apparently lost. Now, if you didn’t give it a sensible file name or one you can remember, then you have to search for key words inside the document. Windows Search calls this “text inside”. There are far better desktop search tools available, but thats another subject.
Surely there’s a little easier way for day to day work?
When you are new to Windows computers, saving files is pretty easy. By default, everything goes to My Documents. This is fine if you write the occasional report, letter, or resume. And hopefully give it a sensible name so you’ll know what it is in a year without having to open it. And the other one and the other one… (you can use 256 characters, after all)
But what happens when you start using your computer more seriously? When you have 300 digital pictures from that trip. Or you rip all your CD’s for your MP3 player.
At some point, you need to begin to start managing those files a bit. Making folders to store some emails or documents or photos in. And using sensible folder names – right? Like “Michaels Party Feb 06” rather than “photos”, containing a bunch of files named something like R124-546.jpg. Name the folder sensibly and you don’t need to rename all those files. Except maybe the favorites. Simple. But wait – how do you create a new folder?
One of the curious aspects of the history of computers is that as they have become more complex and full featured, they have dumbed them down so new users can get a handle on them more easily. Only trouble is, they have hidden stuff and made it harder to take the next step. And they have dumbed down the file management tools. Once you get a little past newbie and want to browse files, figuring out how can be a mystery.
Windows 3.1, released back in the early ’90’s – 10 years before Windows 95 – included a File Manager. Multiple panes were possible for moving files around in one window. With the much updated Windows 95 (trying to catch up to the Mac), File Manager was downgraded to “Windows Explorer”, with a handy name much like “Internet Explorer” to help confuse. With Windows XP, they moved Explorer from the Programs menu into Accessories, further reducing its visibility and its importance.
Now, I can understand having a default simple view. But why no “advanced” view option? Why be insecure and hide file extensions so people don’t know what kind of file they are about to open? And why no shortcut or button for creating a new folder? Thats like keeping your empty paper file folders somewhere down the hall. New Folder should be easier than the 3 clicks it is now.
And thus comes the alternate file managers. I’ve used a fair few over the years. One’s much like 3.1’s File Manager and such. And some pretty geeky things. More recently, several companies have extended the tabbed browsing concept to file management, introducing some great tools like ExplorerXP (free) and the more geeky 2xExplorer which is now officially ‘dead’. Last fall, I read a review of xplorer2 lite and shifted to that. Its free but has a Pro upgrade if you become a power user or want it for commercial use. My setup at home has 10 tabs where I keep different kinds of files. Much better than 10 Explorer windows, eh? I also tried XYplorer which has some extras for things like managing music files. I notice its now “portable”, without installation but also no longer has a free version. Worth looking at for the power user though.
I still prefer Explorer itself for certain tasks, like browsing photos. I’ve tried a few Add-ins for it over time but none had the same benefits as the tools above. Until more recently. For one, Babex has some great free tools*. The treat was bxNewFolder. It lets you add a new folder to Explorer with the click of a button or F12 shortcut. With a text box so you don’t get the stupid “New Folder” hiccups when something else happens while you’re typing a file name. Duh, Microsoft.
Another is Filebox Extender. You like the Mac trick that lets you “roll” a window up into just the title bar? How about adding Favorites or Recent views to where you browse files? This is it, for free. And not just in Explorer. I found it useful to set the buttons a little further left than the usual Windows ones. You can customize settings like this or exclude specific applications if they give you trouble with it.
And finally, add tabbed browsing and so much more to Windows Explorer, courtesy of the free QTTabbar. (it requires the free .Net 2) Now – this one does require a little configuring. After installation, you turn it on in View, Toolbars. (you probably won’t need the button bar but that does have an application chooser) New tabs are “cloned” with a right click on a tab or double click or Ctrl-N. The documentation rather sucks but it is a free tool. And watch what happens when your mouse rolls over a folder (see the arrow?). Try rolling over a photo. Cool or what? I used to have to use right click extensions for that (like XNview’s). Now, instead of clicking the main part of the tab, try clicking its icon. Instant contents browse. Try right click too, to go up. Try the Ctrl-Tab button combo.
If you lock a tab (right click on it and choose lock), what you click on will open in a new tab, keeping your main ones in place. Make tab groups to manage locations for sets associated with specific work.
To get fancy, right click the blank space beside the tabs and chose Options. You can add grid lines or alternate coloured lines to the file list. Change Tab colours (see the web site). Configure applications to use for selected files. And much, much more.
You can even turn it on in Internet Explorer the same way, giving you tabs within tabs. But that won’t get me using IE much.
Even more Explorer add-ons, like folder size, breadcrumbs, another Babex tool and more are reviewed by Scott Dunn at Windows Secrets.
With features like this, it almost makes file management cool…
* like Babex OpenExpert for managing your right-click file extensions. When you want to choose which program opens which file when. (Open with)