Windows 7 : Visualization and Organization - How to Make the Windows Shell Work for You

1/16/2014 12:30:54 AM

In each Windows version, you can utilize a number of shell view styles, each of which presents the files and folders (and now, Libraries) you're looking at in a slightly different way. These view styles—and the ways in which you access and configure them—have changed again in Windows 7.

For purposes of this discussion, we treat Libraries just like any other folders. It's just simpler that way, and the view styles work identically across folders and Libraries with one crucial exception, which we'll call out when appropriate.

Windows XP offered six Explorer view styles: Thumbnails, Tiles, Icons, List, Details, and, for folders containing digital pictures, Filmstrip; and you could arrange the files in folders in various ways, such as by name, type, or total size, or in groups, where icons representing similar objects would be visually grouped together. All of these options could be configured in a number of ways, including via buttons in the Explorer window toolbar, by right-clicking inside of an Explorer window, or from the View menu.

Windows Vista bumped the number of Explorer view styles to seven but, confusingly, it dropped some of the options that were previously available in Windows XP. In Vista, you could choose between Extra Large Icons, Large Icons, Medium Icons, Small Icons, List, Details, and Tiles views.

One thing that both Windows XP and Vista shared, sadly, was that they would often forget or override folder view styles, either on a per-window or system-wide basis. This is one of the weird areas in which Windows XP and Vista were inferior to previous Windows versions. Thankfully, this situation has been rectified in Windows 7: the system no longer forgets view styles.

Table 1 describes the eight view styles that are available in Windows 7. And in Figure 1, you can see the latest member of the view style family, Content view.

Table 1. Explorer View Styles
View StyleDescription
Extra Large IconsThis absolutely gigantic view style takes full advantage of Windows 7's near photographic quality icons, which are rendered at 256 × 256 pixels.
Large IconsSimilar to the Windows XP Large Icons view, this view style provides 128 × 128 icons laid out in a conventional grid.
Medium IconsA new style that was added to Windows Vista, Medium Icons are similar in style to Large Icons, but smaller, at 64 × 64 pixels.
Small IconsSmall icons appeared in Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, and Windows 2000, but were exorcised from Windows XP for some reason, much to the chagrin of many users. They returned in Windows Vista and still remain today in Windows 7, sizing in at 32 × 32 pixels.
ListA columnar version of Small Icons view, with the same size icons but a more linear look
DetailsA columnar view style that uses the same icon size as Small Icons but presents them in a more regulated fashion.
TilesA view that presents information about each folder and file to the right of the icon, as with Small Icons and Details, but utilizes a much larger icon (it's the same icon used by Medium Icons view). Because of the extra space available, Tiles view can present more than just the icon's name. What you see varies according to file type. Microsoft Word documents, for example, include both the name of the file and the notation "Microsoft Word Document." Digital photos include the name and the date the picture was taken.
ContentA view that combines the medium-icon behavior of the Tiles view (although these icons are strangely a tad smaller) with the behavior of the informative Details view. The columnar information you would normally see in Details view piles up to the right of each icon, space permitting.

Figure 1. The Content view style is new to Windows 7.

You can access these styles in manners that are similar to those in Windows XP and Vista—via the Views button in an Explorer window toolbar, via the View submenu on the menu that appears when you right-click a blank area of the current Explorer window, or, if you have the Classic Menus option enabled, via the View menu.

As with Windows Vista, Windows 7 enables you to choose different icon view styles for the desktop as well as for normal Explorer shell windows. To access these view modes, right-click a blank area of your desktop and choose View. You'll see three view styles here: Large Icons, Medium Icons, and Small Icons, which was called Classic Icons in Windows Vista. (Details, Extra Large Icons, Small Icons, Tiles, and Content are not available on the desktop.)


For some reason, clicking the Views button toggles between all but one of the available view styles. If you want to use Extra Large Icon view, you have to do a bit more work: click the More Options button to the right of the Views button to display the Views drop-down menu and then select Extra Large Icons.

What's interesting is that these shell view styles are not your only view style options. You can also access intermediary view styles between each of those stock settings using a new slider control that pops down when you click the More Option button next to the Views toolbar button (it resembles a small arrow), as shown in Figure 2. This control enables you to fine-tune the look and feel of individual Explorer windows, so you can arrive at a view style that matches your preferences and system capabilities. For example, on a large wide-screen display, you might prefer larger icons, whereas a smaller notebook display might look better to your eyes in Details view. It's up to you.


You can also move the slider with the scroll wheel on your mouse if it's so equipped. Simply open the slide control by clicking the arrow as noted previously and then use the scroll wheel to find the view style you like.


Alternately, skip the More Options button entirely: while viewing any Explorer window, simply hold down the Ctrl button on your keyboard and scroll with your mouse's scroll wheel. The icon sizes in the current window will change in real time.

Figure 2. You needn't be constrained by the stock view styles; Windows 7 enables you to select styles that fall somewhere between the presets.
  •  Windows 7 : Understanding Libraries (part 2) - Special Shell Folders...Now Just User Folders
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