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Have It Your Way

Are you tired of Windows Explorer in Vista changing your folder views? Here's a registry tweak that solves the problem.


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love to say that I hate to whine, when referring to things about Windows Vista that drive me nuts, but clearly, I don't hate to whine. I apparently love to find excuses to whine about Vista. Every time I give a presentation, should something go wrong, I blame Vista. It becomes sort of a running joke during the presentation. Of course, Vista SP1 fixes all the issues I had with the original release (Oh, I wish it were so!), but I suppose SP1 is a lot better than the original release.

I can live with Vista's glacially slow network file copies. (No doubt you've seen the screenshot of a network file transfer that advertises that it will complete in 32,320,333,234 minutes? I made up the number, but I've certainly seen numbers like it when copying even a vaguely large file across the network.) I can live with the lack of SMTP and Telnet. I can even live with the user interface, which seems to have changed just for the sake of change.

What I cannot live with, however, is the idea that Vista knows more than I do about how I want my folders to appear in Windows Explorer. If you have used Vista, you know what I mean: Vista decides how a specific folder should appear when you open it. In Windows XP, you could bring up the Folder Options dialog box, go to the View tab, and tell Windows XP to display all folders like the current one. In that way, you could set up one folder the way you liked, and then all the rest would (by default) look like it when they opened up.

Read the text carefully in Vista: It says "You can apply the view (such as Details or Icons) that you are using for this folder to all folders of this type." (I added the italics there to indicate where Vista thinks it's smarter than I am.) Every folder has a type association—and you can apparently assign a specific folder type to every folder, but who on earth is going to do that, unless they work only with 10 or fewer folders (in other words, not someone who writes code for a living)?

The problem is that I neither know nor care what type has been associated with a folder—I just want every folder to show up in Details view, until I tell it otherwise. No exceptions, no arguing: Just give me a nice list of files, their sizes, their dates of creation, and so on. But no, Vista apparently cannot do this.

So, going against my normal mode of operation (there's irony here, just go with it), I have complained to everyone who will listen about how much I hate it that Vista thinks it's smarter than I am. And I've found articles that supposedly explain how to solve the problem. The unfortunate part is that nothing I tried, until recently, has worked. But thanks to the inquiring mind of my friend Brian Randell (who reads a lot more blogs and newsletters than I do), I found an answer. He forwarded this article, which includes an explanation of how to make this problem go away.

Buried in that article is a description of a few registry changes you can make to fix the problem. I'm brave; I tried it, and amazingly, it worked! To be honest, I think the original author's description could be trimmed some, and in my experience, it's actually simpler than he described. So, if I may, I'd like to paraphrase the original article, and let you in on this little secret that will, I hope, keep you from cursing at Windows Vista as much as I have, until recently.

First of all, be aware that the steps described here require making changes to the Windows Registry (don't get me started on the fact that we're still, after umpteen years, making changes to the Windows Registry), so you must back up your registry before continuing. If you attempt these changes, and then find that your computer doesn't work right, I will respond to your angry email with the response "Did you back up your registry before making the changes?" So just do it, now: With RegEdit running, in the left pane, click the top Computer node. Select File → Export, and supply a name for the backup file. Save this somewhere safe, and should something go wrong during the editing process, you can simply select the Computer node again, and select File → Import, importing the backup file you created.

With a current backup saved, fixing the Vista view problem is relatively simple—you just need to convince Vista that for all folders, you want to use the Document view (at least, that's the view I use). Within RegEdit, navigate to the following key:

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\ Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\ Windows\Shell

Expand the Shell node, and notice at least three child nodes: Bags, BagMRU, and MuiCache. You need to leave the MuiCache node alone (that is, don't delete it), but select the Bags and BagsMRU keys in turn, and for each, press the Delete key to delete the node. Don't be scared—you don't need these nodes! They keep track of the layouts you "choose" for each type of folder, but if you want the same layout for each, you must recreate them.

Next, copy this text to a file named Bags.reg (actually, the name is inconsequential; it just needs to have the .reg extension). Make sure that the key names appear all on a single line—that is, in each key, "Local Settings" shouldn't contain a line break, and in the final two, there shouldn't be a line break before "AllFolders." In other words, your text file should have very long lines of text, listing the registry key names:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell] [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags] [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags\ AllFolders] [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags\ AllFolders\Shell] "FolderType"="Documents"

The preceding .reg file recreates the Bags key, but this time with sub-keys that specify Windows Explorer should use the Documents view for all folders.

After creating and saving the .reg file, double-click it in Windows Explorer. Windows will run the file and load the registry changes. Click "Yes" when prompted, and then click OK. Switch back to RegEdit, press F5 to refresh the view, and verify that the Shell node now again contains a Bags child node (but not a BagMRU node). That's all it takes to convince Vista that you want all folders to display in Documents view.

Author's Note: Actually, you can select any of the following folder types, in Bags.reg, if you like: NotSpecified, Contacts, Documents, Music, or Pictures. So, instead of writing "Documents" in the last line, enter one of the other types, if you'd rather.

Close RegEdit, and you're done. (The original article also suggests that you set the display preferences for specific folder types, such as music, pictures, and so on, but because I want everything to appear the same, I didn't do that.)

Thanks to Koroush Ghazi and his "Vista Annoyances Resolved" article (and to Brian for pointing it out to me), I can finally complain a little less about Vista's user interface mess. Read Koroush's entire article—you may find out how to solve other Vista annoyances. This fix won't get me to stop complaining about file copy performance, but at least I'm one step closer to looking for something new to complain about!

Editor's Note: This article was first published in the November/December 2008 issue of CoDe Magazine, and is reprinted here by permission.



   
Ken Getz is a senior consultant with MCW Technologies and splits his time between programming, writing, and training. He specializes in tools and applications written in Visual Studio .NET and Visual Basic. Ken is the author of the highly rated .Finalize() column in CoDe Magazine. He is also the co-author of several best-selling books, including Access 2002 Developer's Handbooks with Paul Litwin and Mike Gunderloy, Visual Basic Language Developer's Handbook with Mike Gilbert, and VBA Developer's Handbook with Mike Gilbert (Sybex). He co-wrote several training courses for Application Developer's Training Company, including VB.NET, ASP.NET, Access 2000 and 97, Visual Basic 6, and Visual Basic 5 seminars. He has also recorded video training for AppDev covering VB.NET, ASP.NET, VB6, Access 2000, and Access 97. Ken is a frequent speaker at technical conferences and has spoken often at Microsoft's Tech-Ed conference. Ken's also a technical editor for Access-VB-SQL Advisor magazine and a columnist for Informant Publications' asp.netPRO magazine..
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