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November 11, 1996

You can switch Explorer's behavior to suit your desktop viewing preferences

Many aspects of Windows 95 are interrelated. One part of the system affects other parts -- often in ways you wouldn't expect. I recently learned about a new wrinkle that affects the My Computer icon on your desktop and Windows 95's ever-present Explorer shell.

The Explorer shell isn't all that configurable, unfortunately. You can sort file names by name, type, and so on, but not by file extension (as you can using Windows 3.1's File Manager). Explorer annoyingly defaults to hiding these extensions (you have to click View, Options to turn off the hiding of extensions -- a change I strongly recommend you make). And you can see the size of files in View, Details mode, but Explorer rounds the size to the nearest kilobyte instead of showing you the exact number of bytes, as File Manager did.

The irritation we're going to deal with in this column is the way Explorer displays the contents of folders you want to switch to. Let's say you double-click a file folder in the right pane of an Explorer window. Some people like to see the existing window switch to display the contents of the folder you double-clicked. This is Explorer's default behavior. Other people prefer to see the contents of the double-clicked folder displayed in a whole new window. This allows them to place the windows side by side, close one, leave the other open, and so on.

There hasn't been an easy way to switch the Explorer between these two modes of operation -- unless you know the secret.

The secret is an entry in the Windows 95 Registry:

Step 1. Run Regedit.exe.

Step 2. Click + beside HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT.

Step 3. Click + to the left of Folder, then select Shell.

Step 4. Double-click the Default icon in the right pane, change its value to OPEN, then click OK and exit RegEdit.

As soon as you do this (no rebooting necessary), double-clicking a folder in the right pane of Explorer will cause a new window to open and display the folder's contents. (You can still get the old behavior by right-clicking a folder, then clicking Explore.) If you don't like to see Explorer open a new window in cases like this, repeat the steps above and delete OPEN from the Default value of Shell, leaving a null value (nothing in between the two quotation marks that RegEdit displays). The original behavior of Explorer will be restored.

Fixing a fix

This switch relates to a behavior that I wrote about in my July 1 column. (See "How you can turn My Computer into `My Explorer'".) There I showed how you could change the default behavior of the My Computer icon on your desktop so that it acts like an Explorer window (with two panes) rather than a Folder window (with only a single pane). To do this:

Step 1. Open My Computer, click View, Options, then click File Types.

Step 2. Click the Folder file type (not File Folder), click Edit, then click Explore in the Actions window. Click the Set Default button, close all windows, and restart the My Computer window. My Computer now defaults to the Explorer view (as will Recycle Bin, etc.). You can still get the Folder view by right-clicking the My Computer icon and clicking Open.

Alert reader Diane Hucks pointed out that you couldn't completely reverse the My Computer change by switching the default action from Explore back to Open. After the reversal, Explorer will open a new window when you've double-clicked a folder in the right pane, rather than switch the contents of the current window.

The answer is to run the four-step process for modifying Explorer's default behavior that I described at the beginning of this column and delete the word OPEN from Default. Win95 doesn't automatically do this when you switch the behavior of My Computer. Got that? Whew.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four 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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