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April 15, 1996

Dragging your way around, the new Windows 95 way

Last week, we examined some of the new ways that the Shift key has been redefined in the Windows 95 Explorer. (See "Three new uses for your keyboard's lowly Shift key," April 8.) The Explorer has definitely introduced a few wrinkles to the good old File Manager that was in Windows 3.1.

Under the old File Manager, dragging a set of files from one directory to another was pretty predictable. The set of files moved to the new location if it was on the same drive as the old location. By contrast, the files were copied to the new location if they were on a different drive than the old location (such as a diskette or a network drive).

If you wanted to override this behavior, it was fairly simple. To force the File Manager to move files (regardless of location), you held down the Shift key. To force it to copy, you held down the Ctrl key. (One way to remember this is that Ctrl and Copy both start with the letter C.)

Just about the only exception that the File Manager allowed to these rules involved the Program Manager. Dragging a file into the Program Manager window didn't move or copy it -- it created a working icon. Fine.

Windows 95 complicates this situation quite a bit.

In a typical Windows 95 setup, the File Manager is gone -- replaced by the Explorer. The Program Manager is also gone, replaced by the Start Menu plus the Desktop.

In Windows 95, it is now possible to drag files from the Explorer to the Start Menu or onto the Desktop. These two destinations, of course, are actually directories (folders) under the main C:\Windows folder.

To keep users from inadvertently moving executable files from their original location to these two folders, Microsoft made a rule that such files, when dragged, would only create shortcuts.

So far, so good. But this behavior extends not just to the Start Menu and the Desktop, but to almost all locations. For example, try dragging an executable file (.EXE or .COM file) from folder A to folder B on any drive (other than a removable drive like a diskette). The Explorer should move the file, right?

Wrong. The file is neither moved nor copied. Instead, what you get is merely a shortcut to the original file, which remains in its original location. This is probably not what you wanted at all.

It's impossible, in fact, to move or copy executable files by dragging them with your left mouse button to any location on a non-removable drive -- unless you know the secret Shift keys. Here they are:

  • Holding down the Shift key while you drag always moves the file.

  • Holding down the Ctrl key while you drag always copies the file. You see a little plus sign on your mouse pointer, indicating that dropping the file will result in a copy.

  • Holding down both the Ctrl key and the Shift key while you drag always brings up a "context menu" that enables you to create a shortcut (among other options). You see a little shortcut arrow on your mouse pointer.

    Microsoft doesn't emphasize these keys because they want you to do things with your right mouse button now. Dragging a selection with your right mouse button always brings up a context menu that asks whether you want to move, copy, or create a shortcut -- even if the files are all .EXE files.

    Even better, you can select a group of files by dragging a dotted line around them with your right mouse button held down. A context menu pops up in this case, too. But this time, you can click Cut (to move the files) or Copy (to copy them). Then right-click an empty spot in the destination folder and click Paste to finish the process. Cut and Paste is usually faster than dragging with either mouse button.

    It would be preferable, however, if the Explorer didn't have this schizoid behavior with executable files in the first place.

    Brian Livingston is the coauthor of the new Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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    Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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