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Customize the Five Windows Folder Templates

Are you’re particular about the way Windows Explorer presents each folder’s contents? Here we show you how to take advantage of Explorer’s built-in templates, which cuts down the time it takes to do customizations.

Note: The techniques in this article apply to Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

When opening a folder for the first time in Windows Explorer, we are presented with a standard default view of the files and folders in that folder.

foldersbefore

It may be that the items are presented are perfectly fine, but on the other hand, we may want to customize the view.  The aspects of it that we can customize are the following:

  • The display type (list view, details, tiles, thumbnails, etc)
  • Which columns are displayed, and in which order
  • The widths of the visible columns
  • The order in which the files and folders are sorted
  • Any file groupings

Thankfully, Windows offers us a shortcut.  A particular folder’s settings can be used as a “template” for other, similar folders.  In fact, we can store up to five separate sets of folder presentation configurations.  Once we save the settings for a particular template, that template can then be applied to other folders.

Customize Your First Folder

We’ll start by setting up the first of our templates – the default one.  Once we create this template and apply it, the vast majority of the folders in our file system will change to match it, so it’s important that we set it up very carefully.  The first step in creating and applying the template is to customize one folder with the settings that all the rest will have.

Choose a folder that is typical of the folders that you wish to have this default template.  Select it in Windows Explorer.  To ensure that it is a suitable candidate, right-click the folder name and select Properties, then go to the Customize tab.  Ensure that this folder is marked as General Items.  If it is not, either choose a different folder or select General Items from the list.

generalfolder

Click OK.  Now we’re ready to customize our first folder.

Changing the way one single folder is presented is straightforward.  We start with the folder’s display type.  Click the Change your view button in the top-right corner of every Explorer window.

viewbutton

Each time you click the button, the folder’s view cycles to the next view type.  Alternatively you can click the little down-arrow next to the button to see all the display types at once, and select the one you want.

foldertypes

Click the view you want, or drag the slider next to the one you want.

If you have chosen Details, then the next thing you may wish to change is which columns are displayed, and the order of these.  To choose which columns are displayed, simply right-click on any column heading.  A list of the columns currently being display appears.

selectcolums

Simply uncheck a column if you don’t want it displayed, and check the columns that you want displayed.  If you want some information displayed about your files that is not listed here, then click the More button for a full list of file attributes.

customcolumns

There’s a lot of them!

To change the order of the columns that are currently being displayed, simply click on a column heading and drag it to where you think it should be.  To change the width of a column, click the line that represents the right-hand edge of the column and drag it left or right.

changewidth

To sort by a column, click once on that column.  To reverse the sort-order, click that same column again.

To change the groupings of the files in the folder, right-click in a blank area of the folder, select Group by, and select the appropriate column.

Apply This Default Template to All Similar Folders

Once you have the folder exactly the way you want it, we now use this folder as our default template for most of the folders in our file system.  To do this, ensure that you are still in the folder you just customized, and then, from the Organize menu in Explorer, click on Folder and search options.

selectoptions

Then select the View tab and click the Apply to Folders button.

folderoptionsbox

After you’ve clicked OK, visit some of the other folders in your file system.  You should see that most have taken on these new settings.

What we’ve just done, in effect, is we have customized the General Items template.  This is one of five templates that Windows Explorer uses to display folder contents.  The five templates are called (in Windows 7):

  1. General Items
  2. Documents
  3. Pictures
  4. Music
  5. Videos

When a folder is opened, Windows Explorer examines the contents to see if it can automatically determine which folder template to use to display the folder contents.  If it is not obvious that the folder contents falls into any of the last four templates, then Windows Explorer chooses the General Items template.  That’s why most of the folders in your file system are shown using the General Items template.

Changing the Other Four Templates

If you want to adjust the other four templates, the process is very similar to what we’ve just done.  If you wanted to change the “Music” template, for example, the steps would be as follows:

  1. Select a folder that contains music items
  2. Apply the existing Music template to the folder (even if it doesn’t look like you want it to)
  3. Customize the folder to your personal preferences
  4. Apply the new template to all “Music” folders

A fifth step would be:  When you open a folder that contains music items but is not automatically displayed using the Music template, you manually select the Music template for that folder.

First, select a folder that contains music items.  It will probably be displayed using the existing Music template:

musicbefore

Next, ensure that it is using the Music template.  If it’s not, then manually select the Music template.

musictemplate

Next, customize the folder to suit your personal preferences (here we’ve added a couple of columns, and sorted by Artist).

musicafter

Now we can set this view to be our Music template.  Choose Organize, then the View tab, and click the Apply to Folders button.

folderoptionsbox

Note: The only folders that will inherit these settings are the ones that are currently (or will soon be) using the Music template.

Now, if you have any folder that contains music items, and you want it to inherit all of these settings, then right-click the folder name, choose Properties, and select that this folder should use the Music template.  You can also cehck the box entitled Also apply this template to all subfolders if you want to save yourself even more time with all the sub-folders.

subfolders

Conclusion

It’s neat to be able to set up templates for your folder views like this.  It’s a shame that Microsoft didn’t take the concept just a little further and allow you to create as many templates as you want.

Web2.0 programmer by day, singer by night, Aussie geek Mark Virtue keeps the How-To Geek flag flying Down Under.

  • Published 05/6/10

Comments (19)

  1. Chris

    I just migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7 and I hated how I’d sometimes change the settings of a folder and return to find that Windows 7 had reverted it to its old (default) view. Thanks for the easy-to-follow instructions. Hopefully my folders will now remain as I wish.

  2. Kristof

    can you delete them? I hate them all (except for the general items, of course)

  3. Mark

    I was hoping this would solve an annoyance I have with Windows 7 explorer and the desktop. My issue is I want to display the system files but I do not want the desktop.ini file to show on the desktop. In XP I can remove the checkbox for Hide Protected operating system files and the desktop.ini file is still not displayed on the desktop. But I have been unable to figure out how to display the hidden protected OS files without the desktop.ini files showing.
    I also noticed that in Windows 7 explorer that if you try to right click to customize the folder for c:\Users\username\Links\Desktop Customize is not an available option.
    Any ideas?

  4. alf

    What would be really useful is being able to have all the folders one uses at the top of the list in explorer.
    one could number the folders but this is rather limited.

  5. Bro

    I am unable to complete this customization because some of these options do not appear in my xp version of windows explorer. Like the “general” option, or the “organize” option. Or at least I couldn’t locate them.
    Thanks for all the good work though, best help website going.

  6. Trevor

    Is there a way to make windows 7 recognize tags in flac files?

  7. ander

    Except that it doesn’t work for removable media. For example, when I open a data CD, I always get the Details view in any folder. I can spend all night setting them to List view, then clicking “Apply to all folders”—and it doesn’t make a bit of difference.

  8. Kent

    Thank you SOOOOOO much for posting these instructions! I can finally view my Music folders the way I want to see them. Since WMP organizes based on “Album Artist,” (as opposed to “Contributing Artists”) it makes NO sense that this column would NOT be included in the default template for Music folders. Especially since this field is often blank in many downloaded mp3 files.

  9. annoyed

    XP Pro SP3 doesn’t allow editing of any of its 7 templates

    as soon as you hit the “Apply to ALL folders” button, that’s exactly what happens…and that was certainly not what i wanted after having already spent several hours customizing dozens of folders manually…

  10. Andrew

    Very helpful – My inability to customize Windows 7 folder views has been making me crazy – it sounds like this gives me the tool I need to set folder views the way I want them. Thanks.

  11. Bear

    Like “annoyed” above, I do NOT want to apply my customized folder settings to be applied to my ENTIRE file system. I re-read the article more than once to see if there was a disclaimer for XP SP3 or other explanation for the fact that my Apply button reads “Apply to All Folders”. not “Apply to Folders” as shown in the screenshot. Having had plenty of bad experiences in the past with trusting writers of blogs and such before, I decided to NOT click that Apply to All Folders and instead came back here one more time. And seeing what “Annoyed” wrote, I am glad I did.

    I hope the author will do his legwork now (whi9ch should have been done before) and verify this exception and edit the post so as to not mislead people with bad information.

  12. Paul Johnston

    Thank you.

    At last I dont have to change the view setting in each window.

    PJ

  13. Ripov

    thanks for the explanation, I’ve never understood what Windows meant by “folder types”, never thinking it meant folder content! But how do I show system files only in the partition with Windows in, and lose the references to “desktop.ini” and other irrelevancies in the other drives? -Property windows for “Windows” and “programme files” don’t have tabs, and the root has no appropriate property dialogue at all?

  14. Ripov

    that should have been “customize” tabs

  15. I hate win7

    This solution only works partialy, when i open folders from wuze it opens them in default state no matter what I do.

  16. Vagablonde

    oh my god this (*&^%%$$ folder view flaw in windows 7
    I dont have an apply to folders button I can only apply to all Folders…whines
    I’m hating windows 7..this folder issue makes it just impossible that every time i open something I have AGAIN to repeatedly change its view..
    tweak reg edit tweak..no matter..it always is messed up

  17. Loren

    You are my HERO!! Yay! Thank you SO MUCH!!

  18. Mark Goldstein

    This article is for absolute, rockbottom newbies. At many points it looks like written for mental retards – explainign obvious things which should take a few seconds, the author gobbles & gobbles ot no end about trivial steps.
    But it’s not the reason I am posting this message. reason is:
    THIS DOES NOT WORK. If you’re anythign more than a basic user, i.e. if you’re a poweruser with thousands of folders w/a variety of fileTypes, your Views will NOT be remembered.
    This is a known idiotuic “feature” added (?) in Vista as opposed to perfect WinXP handling of Fodler Views, and it’s only slightly fixed in Win7.
    The real fix is in REGISTRY- but since most readers of this website are not that “developed” I will leave it to themselves to discover that the fix explained in article does NOT work – for a complex Foldertree.

  19. Theo

    Works beautifully (so long as you choose your default folder(s)/template(s) at as high a level as possible). Thank you very much. I’m all for oversimplified explanations when they work.

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