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Home > Lessons > Jan's CompLit 101 > Working with Windows > Files & Folders > Folders: Folder Tree

Jan's Working with Windows:

    Folders: Folder Tree

It is easy to get lost among the pile of folders on most hard disks unless you can actually see the ways the folders are related to each other. The folder tree is just such a helpful diagram.

 Folder tree (WinXP) Folder tree (Windows Vista)

Examples of folder tree in WinXP, Windows Vista

The folder tree shows all of the computer's drives and folders in a nested arrangement, plus some special areas like the Control Panel and Recycle Bin.

A small symbol,Expandor White arrow pointing right, marks drives and folders which contain other folders. Clicking this symbol expands this branch of the folder tree.

Another symbol, Collapseor Black arrown pointing down and right , marks something that is already expanded to show its contents. Clicking the symbol will collapse this branch of the folder tree.

In some versions of Windows, you can show or not show dotted lines between equal levels in the folder tree.

Icon: Windows VistaIcon: Win7 Vista/Win7: By default, the arrows White arrow pointing right and Black arrown pointing down and right do not show until the mouse pointer is over the folder tree.

Icon Step-by-Step 

Step-by-Step: Folder Tree

 Icon Step-by-Step

What you will learn: to open a view of the folder tree
to change the view
to expand and collapse the folder tree
to view folders on removable media

Start with: Desktop

Note: You do not need to make your windows as small as the illustrations. Those are small to speed up the loading of the web page.

Icon: WinXP WinXP: Open an Explorer Window

  1. Icon: Double-clickIn WinXP double-click the My Computer icon on the desktop to open a new window or in the Start menu select My Computer.

    A window opens that displays the various drives and special folders on the right and a set of tasks on the left.
  2. Left click Click on Button: Folders (WinXP) the Folders button on the toolbar to show the folder tree in the left pane. The window shows the folder tree for the whole computer, listing all of the drives and special folders.
  3. Menu: Views | Details (WinXP)If the right pane is not using the Details view, select Details  from the View menu.

Explorer: Drives in WinXP

Icon: Windows VistaIcon: Win7Open the Folder Tree: Vista/Win7

In Windows Vista & Win7, the folder tree is always available in a window that shows files and folders, but it may be hidden.

  1. Icon: Double-click In Windows Vista/Win7, double-click the Computer icon on the Desktop, or, from the Start menu, select Computer.

    A Computer window opens that shows the various drives. The default view is Tiles for the drives.

     Icon: ProblemProblem: No Navigation Pane at the left
           Solution: Click on the button  Organize > Layout > Navigation Pane.
  2. Icon: Windows VistaLeft click If necessary, in Vista, click on the Folders button Button: Folders - collapsed (Vista) at the bottom of the Navigation pane to show the folder tree. The Favorite Links section may or may not still be visible.
  3. Button: View - Details (Vista)Click the Views button and select the Details view.

Computer window showing folder tree of drives in Details view (Vista)

Open the Removable Disk

  1. Folder tree showing contents of USB drive (Vista)Left click Click in the left pane on the icon for your Class disk, which is the disk where you are storing your class files, to select it. In the right pane you will now see the contents of your Class disk which should have the two folders that you created in the previous lesson, class and my docs.


    Icon: ProblemProblem: Class disk does not show at the left
    Disks may not be expanded automatically in the folder tree. Different versions of Windows have different default behavior for this action.
    Solution: Click on the symbol beside Computer to expand it's branch of the folder tree.

    The Details view is not inherited when you open a new drive or folder.

Create New Folder

  1. Menu: File > New > Folder (Vista) Double Click Double-click in the right pane on the folder my docs to open it.
    Your two folders, excel docs and word docs are shown. 
  2. From the menu bar select  File  >  New  >  Folder  or right click and select New  >  Folder  from the context menu.

    Icon: ProblemProblem: Icon: Windows VistaIcon: Win7 Vista/Win7- Menu bar is not showing .
    Solution: Press the ALT key to show it temporarily. To show the menus permanently, Organize > Layout > Menu bar  

  3. Type  paint docs  as the name of the new folder.
    Yes, we just deleted this folder and here it comes again!  
  4. Click somewhere or press the ENTER key.
    Your new folder is created and named.

Views in Explorer

Clicking a drive or folder in the folder tree will display the contents on the right, but it does not expand the folder tree on the left. Double-clicking a drive or folder on the left does expand the tree, just like clicking the symbols, Expandor White arrow pointing right.

  1. Icon: Double click Double -click on the icon for Drive C: in the folder tree to open it on that side. Its contents show in the right pane.
  2. Scroll the right pane, if necessary, to see all the items listed.
    Below the folders you will see files. Notice that both panes display the folders, but only the right pane can show files. The files have different icons depending on what the file extension is. (Your window may not show the extensions.)
  3. Scroll the left pane, if necessary, to see all the items listed. No files will show, just drives, folders, and some special items like the Recycle Bin and Control Panel.
  4. Left click Change the view type, using each of choices in the View menu. These are somewhat different for each version of Windows. Choose Details View last.

    Icon: QuestionHow does the right pane change with each different View?

    Icon: QuestionDo you see advantages or disadvantages for particular views?

    Views of Computer window- labeled(Vista)

    Views of C: in Windows Vista

    TipDefault Column Width: The default width of a column in the Small Icons and List views, depends on the length of the names in the list. Here is yet another reason to keep file names reasonably short.

Expand & Collapse Folder Tree Branches

  1. Computer window showing two folders on USB drive (vista)In the Navigation pane (left pane), Left click click on the icon or the name for your removable disk.
    The right pane will show the top level folders on your disk - class and my docs.
  2. Icon: Experiment Experiment: Expand & Collapse
    Left click In the folder tree pane on the left, click the symbols beside various drives and folders to expand and collapse the folder tree. Now Icon: Double click Double-click the name of a drive or folder. Play around a bit, but do NOT drag. That would move whatever you had clicked on!

    Icon: QuestionDoes the right pane change as you expand and collapse the folder tree?

  3. Left click Click on various folder and drive names in the folder tree.

    Icon: QuestionWhat does the right pane show?

    Conclusion: When something is selected on the left, its contents show on the right. You can expand and collapse the folder tree without changing the right pane by clicking on the symbols beside a folder name.

    TipWinXP by default automatically expands a branch in the folder tree when you select it in the Navigation pane. Vista does not do this by default. This behavior is part of "simple folder view", which is a choice in the Folder Options dialog on the View tab under Advanced settings. In both WinXP and Vista this setting also controls whether or not you see dotted lines in the folder tree between levels in the folder tree. Win7 does not have the choice for simple folder view.

Arrange Icons in Contents Pane

  1. Left click In the folder tree pane, click on Drive icon or Icon: Drive C in folder tree (Vista) the icon for drive C (it may still be expanded from your earlier work). 
    Both panes show all the folders on the drive. The right pane also shows any files in the root directory C:\.
  2. Double Click Double-click on the folder Windows in the folder tree to display its contents in the right pane and to expand its branch at the same time.

    Icon: ProblemProblem: No folder named Windows on drive C:
    Sometimes Windows may not be installed to the default folder.
    Solution: Look through the folder tree to find where the operating system was installed. (We are assuming that you are working on a computer that is using Windows as the operating system!)

    At the top of the right pane in the Details view, some labels for properties of the files are displayed: Name, Size, Type, Modified or Date Modified. These column headings are actually sort buttons that manage the order of the display of this pane. Clicking one will reorder the display based on that property. Clicking it again will reverse the order.

    Icon: Windows VistaIcon: Win7 Vista/Win7: The buttons appear at the top of the Contents pane for all views. For previous versions, the sort buttons appear only in the Details view.

    TipResize columns: You can adjust the widths of the sort buttons and thus the columns in Details view. This is useful when only part of the information will fit. Put your pointer over the right edge of a column heading. The pointer changes to resize shape. Resize a column Drag to the left to reduce the column size. Drag to the right to enlarge the column. Double-click to size the column to fit the widest item displayed.

  3. Icon: Experiment Experiment: Sorting by Property
    Left click Click on a property button to sort the display. Scroll the pane to see what changes occurred. Click the same button again to reverse the display. Sort with each of the properties. Try the various Group by and Stack by (Vista) choices in the right click menu. Finish with the pane not grouped or stacked and sorted by Name in regular alphabetical order.

    How they sort:

    Name sorts alphabetically with folders first.
    Size sorts files based on size but leaves folders in alphabetical order.
    Modified date sorts based on the date the file or folder was last changed.
    Type sorts the files by type, which is indicated by a file's extension and icon. However, some extensions are treated as the same type, so the display is not exactly alphabetical for extensions. For example, the extensions exe and dll are grouped together because they are both executable files. That means that they run programs.

  4. In the folder tree pane scroll up to find drive C.  
  5. Left click Click on the symbol beside the icon for drive C to collapse this branch of the tree.
    Whoosh! A much shorter list!

    TipRemembering folder options choices: The arrangement that you choose for the icons applies to the open folder only. Windows can remember your choices for several recently viewed folders. There is no way to make your choices stick permanently. Once the maximum number of folders is reached, making more changes will replace the oldest choices. The maximum for Vista is supposed to be 5000 and for Win7 it is 20,000. You can apply your choices for the current folder to All folders in the Folder Options dialog.