A while back I decided to bite the bullet and go for Microsoft’s free Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrade offer.
I did cause myself a bit more pain than I needed to, because I decided it was also time to declutter my pc a bit, so I went for a full format-and-install (although the other PCs in my home I just put through the normal Windows Update upgrade routine).
As I started settling in, I soon realised that there we things about Windows 7 that I missed (like the Recent Places feature in Windows Explorer which has survived several Windows versions, but has been “upgraded” in Windows 10’s File Explorer. But there are also features in Windows 10 that are welcome additions (Virtual Desktops are very nice).
However, when I settled down to getting some serious work done, I quickly realised that there was a serious mistake in the regionalisation settings for Windows 10. Instead of the comma for the list separator (which it has always been in previous versions of Windows set to the South African region, and which, in fact, it was in Windows 7 before the update/upgrade), Windows 10 substituted the semicolon. And the decimal separator, which was always the period, was now the comma. This may seem like a small thing, but it led to all kinds of problems: Comma-separated files were not being imported properly into Excel or Access. Bank statement values were not being recognised, because the financial amounts used a period to indicate the decimal (as they should), Excel formulas now had to be typed with semicolons instead of commas to separate the arguments (it’s amazing how ingrained that habit of using commas was), etc. So I needed a solution.
A quick search on the Microsoft Community site revealed that I was not alone: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_10-other_settings/south-africas-region-settings-are-wrong-how-can-i/1ee9cdc0-4e8c-415f-912f-1bf0b4ab4a7d. But that, of course, didn’t help. The big issue was that when I wanted to change the items in question, the values I was looking for were not there. Specifically, in the Customise Format dialog (which I will show soon), the Decimal symbol and List separator boxes show only the comma and the semicolon, respectively, and clicking on the dropdown arrow for those boxes do not reveal the items I wanted (the period and the comma, respectively). I started preparing myself to edit the registry (and I will show this in a moment too), but just when I thought I was stuck, it occurred to me that these might not be list boxes, but combo boxes, and that even if what I wanted was not in the list, I could just type it in. And so, the (anticlimactically simple) solution is to just open the Customise Format dialog, and type in the correct values.
These are the steps: Right click on the Start button, and choose Control Panel (Figure 1).
Figure 1 Opening the Control Panel
In the Control Panel, choose Change date, time or number formats under the Clock, Language and Region group (Figure 2).
Figure 2 Control Panel
This opens the Region dialog. Here, click on the Additional settings… button (Figure 3).
Figure 3 Region dialog
This opens the Customise Format dialog (Figure 4), where you can type in the correct Decimal symbol and the correct List separator (the other settings are fine).
Figure 4 Customise Format dialog
Of course, it is so that you would have to do that for each user on the PC, and if it happens to be a PC with numerous users registered, and you are comfortable with editing the registry, then it may be quicker to correct these values for all users on the registry. To do this, right click on the Start button, and choose Run (Figure 5).
Figure 5 Opening the Run dialog
The type Regedit and click OK (Figure 6).
Figure 6 Run dialog
After asking your for the Administrator’s permission, this will open the Windows registry (Figure 7). Where you need to go is as follows: First, go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER>Control Panel>International.
Figure 7 Registry changes for Decimal symbol and List separator
There, double click on the sDecimal and sList keys, and type in the correct values (Figure 8).
Figure 8 Editing the sDecimal key
Next, go to HKEY_USERS, and then repeat the process for each listed user (e.g., .DEFAULT>Control Panel>International, etc.).
Simple as that.
However, remember these steps, as I would not put it past Microsoft to “correct” these settings during some or other update (although I do say that without any warrant).
Now I must add that one of the best productivity steps you can make is not to use Windows Explorer! I use Total Commander for most of my file management duties, and there are several (hundred) good reasons why I do. But having said that, if you work on Windows, you cannot really escape Windows Explorer completely, as it is the native file management tool, so most programs, when opening or saving files, simply make use of Windows Explorer for that file management portion. So even if you are working in Word or Excel or a multitude of other programs, when you open or save a file, you are actually using Windows Explorer for that action. And, I have found that some these basic principles described below, with a little creativity, can also be used when doing file management on a Mac (although I am not showing that in this post).
Thus, learning to use Windows Explorer effectively will prove to be a big boost to your productivity (just think how many times you browse to open or save a file each day, and the gains will be readily apparent).
To distinguish between these contexts I will speak, below, of working in Windows Explorer or of working in File Management (some of the shortcuts only work in one of those contexts, or work differently between the two).
I will also not cover “standard” keyboard techniques, like using Tab to move between parts of the window, pressing Enter as the default action, selecting items (files/folders, in this instance) using Ctrl or Shift in combination with the mouse, etc.
One last note. These are specifically for Windows Explorer, meaning they will work for Windows 7, most of them will work for Vista, and a smaller subset will also work for Windows XP. Having said that, apart from the ribbon addition with its own set of navigation tools, most of these functions will also work with File Explorer (i.e., Windows 8 or Windows 10), although I might miss something new from those over here.
Just to help with the explanations below, Figure 1 shows my names for the various parts of the interface, so that you know what I am referring to.
Figure 1 Windows Explorer Interface
Charity begins at home, they say. So keyboard shortcuts should start with actually accessing the tools. For many programs (including all the Office programs), these keyboard shortcuts will get you started:
Listing 1 Shortcuts for Opening or Accessing Windows Explorer
F12 File Save As dialog (from most applications)
Ctrl + O File Open dialog (from most applications)
ÿ + E Open Windows Explorer application
Like most Microsoft programs (I hate working in programs where the developers have not included a good stable of keyboard shortcuts), the Windows Explorer interface comes with a good set of keyboard shortcuts, only they are perhaps less easy to discover than the more traditional interfaces.
Listing 2 Shortcuts for Working with the Windows Explorer Interface
Alt + D or F4 Select Folder Address box (Alt + D selects the entry in the box, F4 selects the box and shows a history of previous entries)
Ctrl + F or F3 or Ctrl + E Select Search box
F5 Refresh the current window
F6 or Tab Moves among panes in Windows Explorer (Adding Shift reverses the direction)
Alt + P Toggle the preview pane (one of my favourite “hidden” shortcuts)
Ctrl + Scroll Switch between views (e.g., List, Details, Small/Medium/Large/Extra Large icons). (I wish there were a keyboard only version of this, so if you know of one, enlighten me. I find the scroll functionality on this particular tool a bit fiddly).
Cancel in Windows File Management
Ctrl + N Opens a new window in Windows Explorer
Ctrl + W Closes the current window in Windows Explorer
F11 Toggle full screen view—can also be done using standard Windows 7 navigation tools, ÿ+Up Arrow for full screen (maximize), or ÿ+Down Arrow for normal size (restore)
Listing 3 Shortcuts for File and Folder Management
Ctrl + Shift + N Create new folder
Del Delete selected files or folders (to recycle bin)
Shift + Del Delete selected files or folders (semi) permanently
Alt + Enter Open Properties dialog for selected item
Ctrl + Click Selects multiple individual items
Ctrl + Click and drag with mouse Copy the item (Windows appends ” – copy” to the file or folder name)
Ctrl + Shift + Click and drag with mouse Create a shortcut (*.lnk) for the selected item (Windows appends ” – shortcut” to the file or folder name)
Listing 4 Shortcuts for Windows Explorer Navigation
Alt + Right Arrow Follow breadcrumbs forward
Alt + Left Arrow Follow breadcrumbs backward
Alt + Up Arrow Moves up one folder level in Windows Explorer
Backspace Displays the previous folder in Windows Explorer (i.e., same as Alt + Up Arrow).
Moves up one folder level in Windows File Management
A short explanation of the breadcrumbs is in order. As you navigate through your various folders, Windows Explorer maintains a list of all the locations you visited. These locations are not always in linear succession (i.e., in a succession of child- or parent folders). For example, if you are in a certain sub-sub-sub-sub-folder of an external drive, and you click on one of the shortcuts in the Favorites section of the Windows Explorer folder pane (don’t forget these, they represent one place where the mouse can save you a lot of time, although they can be accessed in about the same amount of time with the keyboard shortcuts already shown). This move will have taken you to a different folder on a different drive. You can click on the Back button (rather press Alt + Left Arrow) to go back to that sub-sub-sub-sub-folder of your external drive). And having done that, you can click Forward (rather press Alt + Right Arrow) to go back once more to Documents. Pressing F4 (not Alt + D will show you the complete list of your previous locations, and you can move up and down that list with the Up Arrow and Down Arrow arrows, and press Enter to select the location of your choice.
These shortcuts work only in the folder pane on the left of the file browser window:
Listing 5 Windows Explorer Folder Pane Shortcuts
Right Arrow Expands the subfolders of the currently selected folder or goes to the first child if already expanded
Numeric Keypad + Expands the subfolders of the currently selected folder
Numeric Keypad * Expands everything under the currently selected folder (don’t do this on C:\)!
Left Arrow Collapses the subfolders of the currently selected folder or goes to the parent if already collapsed
Numeric Keypad – Collapses the subfolders of the currently selected folder
Ctrl + Shift + E Expands the Navigation pane to the folder in which the selected item is found.
More advanced bits
Remember that if you have clicked in the file list of Windows Explorer, you can easily jump to certain files by typing the first letters of a name (you have to type reasonably quickly). So, for example, in Figure 1 I can get to the WordPress folder (and bypass the Word folder) by typing “wordp.” Also, if I wanted to move through the various folders starting with a “c,” I could just press “c” repeatedly with a short break in between.
Figure 2 Selecting an item by typing its name
Then, of course, one of my personal favourites, is typing the destination I want to get it, instead of browsing by a series of mouse clicks. This relies on using the file syntax that derives pretty much all the way from MS-DOS. The first thing you need to know is that you can specify lower-level folders by typing their names. You specify (see below) higher level folders with “..\” and the root with only “\” (all sans the quotes, obviously). You can introduce a succession of lower-level folders by typing the folder names, separated by “\” (again sans quotes).
Listing 6 Text Entries Used for Specifying Higher-Level Folders
..\ Move one folder up (can be combined x number of times for x number of levels).
\ In Windows Explorer, takes you to the root of the main drive.
In Windows File Management, takes you to the root of the current drive.
aaa\bbb\ccc Specifies folder ccc which is a subfolder of bbb, which is itself a subfolder of aaa, which is itself a subfolder of the current folder.
The best way to demonstrate the power of this technique is with a short video. I am saving a page from the Daily Dose of Excel blog by printing it as a pdf from Chrome. This is relevant for a tool that I am developing, and so I want to keep this, and look at it when I work on this tool. I obviously have to indicate where the pdf must be saved. I last saved a pdf in another folder two levels down in the Documents folder, so I first have to move two levels up (which I do by typing “..\..\”), and then down to “Computer Training\Excel\Tips – Excel\Macros\.” This is a lot of scrolling and clicking with the mouse. However, note that as I type the address into the file name box, Windows Explorer gives me all folder and files that match what I have typed. I then use this to select the folders I want in a fraction of the time it would take to do with the mouse (on an unrepresentative sample of one trial, 13s with the keyboard vs 20s with the mouse, for a 35% increase in efficiency!). Also note that by typing the folder names, I “lose” the file name, but Windows Explorer “remembers” it, so that when I eventually reach the folder I am aiming for, the name is given back (I can, of course, then type a different name if I want).
Video 1 Using typing to select a folder or file
One last tip. Sometimes, I have to “load” a file to a certain program. As one example: When I using the Spreadsheet Compare tool to compare two workbooks. I already have Windows Explorer open at the location where the file is (actually, I can do this trick much quicker in Total Commander, but this blog post is about Windows Explorer). In my program (e.g., Spreadsheet Compare) I have to click on the browse button and this opens the Windows Explorer file browser at a predefined location—e.g., a default location like “Documents” or the last used location, neither of which is what I want. But I can copy the address of the location for my file (in Total Commander I can copy the file name with its location, which means I often do not even have to click on Browse). I do this either by clicking in the Windows Explorer Folder Address box and copying the full location there (see Figure 3), or I can, of course, eschew the mouse and do it all with Alt + D, Ctrl + C, Esc (and I’m done before you even had a chance to see what I’m doing!). [As a side note, F4 doesn’t work as well as Alt + D for this one.] Now I can paste the location into the Spreadsheet Compare file browser (of course, I jumped there from Windows Explorer with Alt + Tab), press Enter, and jump straight to the location where the file is. Better yet, I can type “\” and start typing the file name, and Windows Explorer will give me the names that match—even quicker!
Figure 3 Selecting a folder address from the Address box
One last trick. You can also apply filters in the file name box. So, for example, in Figure 4 I want to see only the Excel files, not all the other files, so I type *.xlsx and press Enter. This will filter the display and show me only Excel (and only xlsx Excel) files.
Microsoft thinks you’re an idiot. No wait. I could get into trouble for saying that. Microsoft doesn’t think you’re an idiot, they just treat you like one. Oh wait. That might get me into trouble too.
Ok. What should I say? Most Microsoft products seem to have this dual contrasting dynamic–often brilliant products dumbed-down to the lowest common denominator. A simple example is how Windows Explorer by default does not show you fie extensions. The simple fact of the matter is that file extensions are meaningful, and that not showing them is problematic and does nothing to help people learn about why they are important. Another classic example, of course, is the files that are stored on your PC that store all the program data, etc., that are needed for the PC to run and for programs to run on it. Microsoft seems to believe that most people don’t understand how these files work, and don’t seem to trust most people with these files, and so they purposefully hide them from the general public. Now that’s fine if you really are an idiot, but if you have a modicum of brain cells (and I will get into trouble if I say that you obviously do, if you’re reading this post!), and you need to copy system files (e.g., to add BibWord styles to your Word armoury), or change file extensions, for example, then that gets in the way. Windows Explorer, which is meant to give you access to your files, hides that kind of capability away.
Here’s some options for getting to that important information, despite Microsoft’s attempts to protect you from yourself.
First prize would be to ditch Windows Explorer completely, and to get a proper file manager, like Total Commander. I must add that I do not get paid for promoting Total Commander, but this must be one of my all-time favourite programs. I have owned a license for this program for close on two decades now, and it has never disappointed me.
And let me also add that in Total Commander, you also have to set a program option to get it to show you system files–here it’s considered a setting for experts only! Well, consider yourself about to become an expert…
But what if you need to change these kinds of settings, and you don’t have Total Commander on the PC in question?
Well, the simple answer is change your Windows Explorer options. Here’s how.
Step 1, of course, is open Windows Explorer (right click on the Start button and choose Explore, or press the Windows key and E on the keyboard). Notice that in newer version of Windows, the menu is hidden (this can also be activated in the options–second setting in the options window we will see below):
Press Alt to reveal the menu, and then select Tools, Folder options… (Alt, T, O):
Now select the View tab, and choose the Show hidden files, folders, and drives option:
That will give you access to all those system files Microsoft was trying so desperately to hide.
Now, for the file extensions, deselect the Hide extensions for known file types option:
Click on OK, and you’re good to go!
This is what a folder looks like without the file extensions shown:
And this is what it looks like when they are shown:
And this is what my C:\ drive looks like when the system files are hidden:
And this is what it looks like when they are displayed. Note that the system folders are fainter than the ‘normal’ folders:
One last trick. If you don’t have Total Commander with its dual file browsing windows, you can get a poor (i.e., better than none) simulation by manipulating your Windows Explorer display. Firstly, open two Windows Explorer windows, and then size one to the left half of your screen, and one to the right half of your screen. With Windows 7, this is easily done by pressing the Windows key and the Left and Right arrows respectively. The end result looks like this:
Now you can easily drag and drop from one window to the other.