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ISSUE 20.06.F • 2023-02-06 • Text Alerts!Gift Certificates

In this issue

PUBLIC DEFENDER: How to fix File Explorer folder views in Windows 10 and 11

Additional articles in the PLUS issue • Get Plus!Why?

MICROSOFT 365: Changes to Outlook and OneDrive have fallout

HARDWARE: Would you ever run an MS-DOS program in 64-bit Windows?

EDITORIAL: Lunch with Brian

PATCH WATCH: Getting Outlook to behave



How to fix File Explorer folder views in Windows 10 and 11

Brian Livingston

By Brian Livingston

There’s a common complaint about the file manager in Windows 10 and 11. You change File Explorer’s “folder view” to show filenames, dates, file sizes, and so forth. You’ve got them exactly the way you want. You select View, Options and use the View tab to click “Apply to Folders.” Then File Explorer immediately forgets what you said and shows folders any damn way it wants.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But the anguish from this problem arises so often that it’s a wonder Microsoft hasn’t fixed it by now.

Fortunately, there are two easy ways you can get exactly the behavior you need — once and for all.

There are some special bugs that affect only Win11, so be sure to read to the bottom if you’re afflicted with that version of Windows.

The free WinSetView app gives you the last word over File Explorer

WinSetView is a godsend for File Explorer sufferers (who can be forgiven for sometimes calling the utility File Exploder). The free app is by Les Ferch, a retired coder who formerly worked for JPMorgan Chase and other companies. He is currently an Airbnb superhost in New York.

The free WinSetView app controls File Explorer
Figure 1.WinSetView gives you control over dozens of file properties you can choose to make File Explorer display. The fields in blue show up in File Explorer only in search results, not all the time.Source: WinSetView version 2.62 quick start guide

After you read WinSetView’s quick start guide, you download and unzip a file that installs approximately 13MB to a drive you select. Unzip the package to a WinSetView subfolder in a folder you create, such as C:\Programs. That way, the win10.ini or win11.ini file the program creates in its AppData folder remains portable to other machines.

WinSetView isn’t exactly a “one click does it all” kind of app. For one thing, you need to know which file properties you want File Explorer to display out of dozens it can access. (See Figure 1.)

After you’ve decided that, you probably want to configure WinSetView’s “Global” folder category. You set every other kind of folder to “inherit” whatever properties you selected for the global view. Or you can give different properties to various folder types.

If you don’t like the order or width of the columns in File Explorer now, you can drag any column to a different position or slide the boundary between columns to make them wider or narrower.

Once your columns fit the way you want, right-click any column header, then select “More….” In the Choose Details pane that appears, each column’s width is shown in pixels. Windows and WinSetView, however, don’t store values in pixels but in ems. (One em is the width of a capital letter M.)

To convert pixels to ems, position File Explorer and WinSetView side by side. Hold down Alt while you click one of the column widths in WinSetView (such as the number 42 in Figure 1.) This opens a dialog box where you enter a column’s width in pixels. WinSetView computes the proper number of ems for you.

One of WinSetView’s best features is its ability to turn off “grouping.” Windows 10 and 11 impose breaks by date (“Today,” “Yesterday,” “Last Week,” etc.) in some folders, such as Downloads. WinSetView lets you sort those folders solely by filename or whatever column you like.

If the result of running WinSetView freaks you out, simply run the app again and select its “Restore” button. File Explorer immediately reverts to its old, unreliable way of misbehaving. WinSetView makes no changes to your executable files. It only tweaks a few obscure values in the Windows Registry, which are easily reversed.

To get the latest edition of WinSetView, which is version 2.62 at this writing, visit Ferch’s quick start guide at GitHub.

For a better understanding of what WinSetView is doing — and what File Explorer does badly — I really do recommend that you take the time to at least peruse the complete user manual.

In its infinite wisdom, Microsoft guesses what ‘type’ of files you have

Why is any of this even necessary? Why can’t File Explorer just display the columns you want, in the order and the size you want them?

To oversimplify a bit, Microsoft — in Windows 7, 8, 10, and 11, all of which WinSetView supports — makes File Explorer guess (auto-detect) whether the files in each of your folders match one of five “types” of folders:

  • General Items. File Explorer uses this view if it can’t settle on one of the views below. The file manager also falls back to this catch-all folder view if a folder contains 50% of one of the file types listed below and 50% of another.
  • Documents. These might be .docx files or anything else Windows considers “documents.”
  • Music. This includes .avi, .cda, .mp3, and an alphabet soup of other audio formats.
  • Pictures. Visuals in .jpg, jpeg, .png, or similar formats fit into this category.
  • Video. This folder type might be auto-selected if you have .mp4, .mpeg, .wmv, and other motion-picture files.

The problem is that File Explorer often guesses wrong. In other cases, the file manager just “forgets” what to do with folders that contain a mix of file types.

Things get confusing fast, because there are more than five folder “types.” There are actually dozens of types for File Explorer to figure out and keep track of. Some folders that count as their own “folder type” include Downloads, Contacts, Libraries, OneDrive, Search Results, and Quick Access. There are many others.

Ferch provides a handy cheat sheet to all this in his document titled Understanding and Setting Windows File Explorer Views at Microsoft Answers.

If you’re sick and tired of Windows’ new look, try the ‘older, better look’

Many of File Explorer’s problems — and other “new” Windows irritations — can be fixed simply by reverting from the latest version of the File Explorer, Start Menu, and other interface items to a Windows 7, 8, or 10 look-and-feel.

StartAllBack is an app with a small fee that does all this for you. It’s trivial for an app to replace the Windows “shell,” which controls all aspects of the operating system’s user interface.

StartAllBack user-interface configuration app
Figure 2. With StartAllBack, you can make Windows 10 or 11 revert to the good old user-interface conventions of the File Manager, Start Menu, and other components of Windows 7, 8, or 10.Source: StartAllBack

If you liked your old, familiar, reliable copies of File Manager, the Start menu, and other components, with this app you can, well, get them all back. (See Figure 2.)

StartAllBack was coded by Russian developer Stanislav Zinukhov, who doesn’t list his name on the app’s website. That degree of anonymity gives some people pause. But the site is rated safe and free from malware by DNSFilter, FlashStart, and ScamAdviser (see the latter’s security analysis page).

Registering the “personal edition” of the app costs $4.99 for one PC, $8.99 for two, or $11.99 for three. The “business edition” costs $50 for 10 PCs and goes up from there.

Important: The insider build of Windows 11 22H2 (released on December 7, 2022) breaks earlier versions of StartAllBack. Make sure you get version 3.5.7 or higher from the official StartAllBack home page.

If you don’t like the app for some reason, StartAllBack and its competitors, such as Open Shell, ExplorerPatcher, and Start11 — some of which are free — are reviewed at AlternativeTo, Android Authority, and Geekflare. Our own Lance Whitney compared StartAllBack and Start11 in his December 13, 2021, column (Plus membership required).

Windows 11 has serious bugs that will bite you in your rear end

No one really likes Windows 11 — most of us tolerate it as a sort of out-of-favor stepchild of Windows 10 — but you may be an exception. If that’s so, and Win11 is your OS of choice, you need to know that it currently has bugs that mess up File Explorer even more than Win10 managed to do:

  • On local drives, Win11 (unlike Win10) will not allow you to override the folder type it auto-detects for any folder. Automatically running File Explorer’s detection routine every time a new folder is accessed also noticeably slows your PC’s performance.
  • On network drives, Win11 treats all folders as “General Items,” no matter what files a folder contains.
  • On any removable drive, such as a USB stick, folders are also treated by Win11 as “General Items,” regardless of how many times you try to set your own preferences. (Win11 respects your preferences only for the root of a drive.)

These intractable problems with Win11 have been reported to Microsoft several times. For instance, user Tmanana has been struggling since March 2022 with Win11’s refusal to set folder types. But at this writing, he’s still received no official solution, according to his Microsoft Answers post.

A longer discussion of Win11’s problem — with several testers weighing in over the past three months — is in a four-page thread at ElevenForum.

The only meaningful responses have come from representatives in the Microsoft Answers forum. For example, user Patrick Bates found in December 2021 that he couldn’t make Win11 save file manager options as Win10 did. “We have tried isolating this concern here in our end, and found out that there is no option for us to set specific file type to show thumbnails,” Microsoft Community Advocate Mara May M responded. “Since Windows 11 is new this is something we are still trying to improve.”

If you’re using Win11, the only solution at the current time is to replace the default shell with some other one. The following ways will do the trick:

  • Use StartAllBack or any of its competitors. Select a Windows 10 version of the Windows shell. This avoids the bugs in the Windows 11 File Explorer.
  • Use RollbackExplorer.vbs, a script in the Tools folder of WinSetView. This switches Windows to the Windows 10 codebase, which is another way to avoid the Win11 bugs.
Watch out if you have more than 5,000 files or folders

An unrelated problem — but one that might unexpectedly hit you — is that all recent versions of Windows limit File Explorer to retaining no more than 5,000 folder views. If you save one more folder view than that, File Explorer erases its memory of an older one.

Also, no more than 5,000 files can be viewed in any folder or subfolder. This restriction is discussed in a Microsoft TechNet forum post.

In a telephone interview, Ferch advised me that Windows users shouldn’t fret about these limits. If you have more than 5,000 folders, he says, simply configure “Global” in WinSetView to whatever layout you want if File Explorer has exceeded the 5,000 folder views it can “remember.”

Millions of possible ways to improve Windows exist

It’s far beyond the scope of any one column to rate every alternative you could consider. There are better file managers, superior shells, and many other tweaks that can improve Win11 for you.

Let’s hope that someday — just maybe — a version of Windows will come out that won’t require us to replace its basic components.

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The PUBLIC DEFENDER column is Brian Livingston’s campaign to give you consumer protection from tech. If it’s irritating you, and it has an “on” switch, he’ll take the case! Brian is a successful dot-com entrepreneur, author or co-author of 11 Windows Secrets books, and author of the new fintech book Muscular Portfolios. Get his free monthly newsletter.

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Here are the other stories in this week’s Plus Newsletter


Peter Deegan

Changes to Outlook and OneDrive have fallout

By Peter Deegan

Last week there were two big — and related — changes to and OneDrive.

One is a way for Microsoft to gobble up more of your OneDrive quota. The other is a new Microsoft 365 plan, which might interest people with a perpetual license to Office 2021, 2019, and earlier.


Ben Myers

Would you ever run an MS-DOS program in 64-bit Windows?

By Ben Myers

Let’s see if we can find good reasons to continue to use a 30-year-old MS-DOS program.

Recently, a client asked me whether it was possible to run an MS-DOS program important for his business on a modern Windows 10 laptop, rather than his 15-year-old laptop with Windows XP. I asked him for his reasoning and quickly rejected out of hand the possibility of installing a 32-bit version of Windows 10 to run his DOS program, an extremely limited use for a laptop. And with a look to the future, there is no 32-bit Windows 11, either.


Will Fastie

Lunch with Brian

By Will Fastie

Brian Livingston was on the East Coast a few weeks ago and took the opportunity to make a side trip to Baltimore.

Brian called in advance to set up the meeting, saying he preferred to meet the people he was working with face to face. He graciously paid his own way, and we had a nice afternoon.


Susan Bradley

Getting Outlook to behave

By Susan Bradley

When dealing with Outlook, there are some tricks for dealing with its annoyances.

A friend of mine was setting up a new computer and loaded up her applications. One of the major ones she relies on is Outlook, for her email and calendar. When she opened Outlook to view her calendar, it had frozen and wouldn’t open. What to do?

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