Getting proper access to all the files on your PC

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):

┬áPress 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.

Good. Now, go copy those files!