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Windows Explorer Thumbnails

by Wren McMains
(Updated 5/15/2009)

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If you look at a folder using Windows Explorer (shortcut: Windows Key + E) you might see something like this:

Screen Shot

This is the Details View of a folder (the file Name, Size, Date modified, Type, etc. are shown in columns which we'll look at in detail later). If you click on the little down arrow next to Views (arrow above) you get these choices:

Screen Shot

For images, the most useful view is probably Large Icons which looks like this:

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Screen Shot

Tip:  You can also change the view inside an Open dialog box, Large Icons is also very useful there.

Like with FastStone, if you single click on an image it is selected (notice below how the light blue surrounding the image indicates it is selected) and various information appears in the Details Pane at the bottom of the Window:

Screen Shot

If your Explorer Window doesn't have a detailed pane, you can turn it on under Organize / Layout:

Screen Shot

By left-clicking on the boarder between the Thumbnail and Details panes and dragging so that you expand the Details Pane more details are revealed:

Screen Shot

If you have a high-resolution monitor and enough real estate on your screen you may find the Extra Large Icon View useful, it looks like this:

Screen Shot

Another view that people find useful is Medium Icon View which looks like this:

Screen Shot

In this case no image has been selected, so only a count of the images in the folder appears in the Detail Pane, however, if you hover over an image with your mouse details about the image appear in a pop-up (or tool-tip) window (see above). By editing the registry I've even been able to change what details appear depending on the file type. I assume I can also change what appears in the details pane, but haven't had a need to do that as yet.

There are three more Views which I don't normally use when viewing a folder with images, they are the Small Icons View:

Screen Shot

The List View:

Screen Shot

And the Tiles View:

Screen Shot

You may find some of these other Views useful when viewing folders with other types of content. For example, the Tiles View is very useful when looking at a folder listing Contacts.

Now let's go back and explore the Detail View. Windows associates each folder with one of about six templates:

Screen Shot

By default all Pictures folders have Detail columns defined by the Pictures and Videos template. Personally I don't like this template, its columns shown below:

Screen Shot

I don't use ratings, so that column is useless. If you don't keyword tag your images that column is useless. And I'm often interested in the date an image was modified as well as the date it was taken.

However, the good news is that Vista makes it easy to apply any template to any folder and customize the templates to fit your needs. (My only complaint is you can't add more templates ... I want different columns for Pictures than I do for Videos.)

To associate a different template with a folder, right-click on the folder name (in either the Thumbnail Pane as shown here, or in the Folders Pane on the left) and choose Properties:

Screen Shot

Next Click on the Customize tab:

Screen Shot

And from the pull-down choose the template you want to apply. As you see, at the same time you can also apply the template you choose to all the folders under this folder. Once you've made your choice, click on the Apply button.

My recommendation is to try the various templates and see what each does on your machine. All Items is sort of a generic template that is often a good starting point for customization. My Pictures and Videos template produces a list of columns that in a wide window on a high resolution screen might look like this:

Screen Shot

Of course on a high resolution screen the text would be the same size as in the screen below and you could read it. Or in a more normal sized window, it might look like this:

Screen Shot

And by using the horizontal scroll bar, I can scroll to the right if I want to see the other columns:

Screen Shot

So how do you create a template that meets your needs? You must pick the template you want to modify as your starting point, then right-click on one of the column headings, which will give you a menu like this showing your current columns and maybe a few others:

Screen Shot

Choose the More... option and you'll get a list of almost a hundred different columns you can choose to display. Check the boxes of the ones you want, uncheck the boxes with the ones you don't want and say OK. You can change the order by moving entries up or down in this dialog box, or I do it just by dragging the column headers around. Note that you can use the Size All Columns to Fit option show above, or you grab the boundary between column headers with your mouse and drag it around to resize the columns. Remember you're trying to create a template for EVERY Pictures and Videos folder, so you may want certain columns (like Name) to be a little wider than required for the particular folder.

Once you have what you think will be the most useful set of detailed columns for both Pictures and Videos and have set their order and widths. Click on Organize and choose Folder and Search Options:

Screen Shot

That will give you this dialog box, choose the View tab:

Screen Shot

Click on the Apply to Folders and you'll get this confirmation box:

Screen Shot

Tip:  After setting up all your Detail columns, change the view back to Large Icons, you'll probably like that better; but now when you later switch to the Details View you'll have the columns you want.

What did I pick some of the columns I did? Length is important for Videos. I like to see the Dimensions without having to click on each image. Type is important for sorting as are Date Modified, Date Taken, Date Created. You might also want to sort by Rating or Tags if you use either. Obviously you can view these in the Details Pane, but if you want to sort on any of these you need a column for them.

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