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I had originally wanted to include this in the Do you use Libraries and / or Saved Searches topic, but its size increased to the point that I felt that it warranted a new topic. Unfortunately, the poll in that topic suggested that only a scarce number of users actually use the Saved Search feature, with an even smaller number of users preferring it over Libraries.

Beta 1 Virtual Folders.png

The Saved Search (Virtual Folder) feature would most likely be used more often (or even appreciated) if Microsoft had made it more prominent within the interface like it was in the beta iterations of Windows Vista—for example, in Beta 1 there was a total of 18 different virtual folders, unlike 8 in RTM—and if the company had not removed some of its best features while developing the operating system.


All Documents.pngAll Pictures and Videos.pngAlbums.png
Virtual folders were, at one time, intended to be the primary way that users would interact with files. With Windows Vista Beta 1, they replaced the links to the physical folders on the Start menu and they, perhaps equally as important, appeared prominently within the navigation pane in File Explorer. Note how in the screenshots shown above, the virtual folders in the navigation pane change depending on the type of folder displayed, with specialized virtual folders appearing for documents, music, pictures and videos, and also for their respective types of metadata.

Stacks navigation pane.png
In addition, the navigation pane listed files with metadata in groups called "stacks," which are groups of similar files. It is worth noting that every time a new keyword was added to a file, a new stack would automatically be created—and displayed within the navigation pane—to hold all files with that keyword. I will get to stacks again in a moment, but I want to focus on a level of abstraction that is not available today with virtual folders.

Users could drag and drop files into a virtual folder, which would then place the files in the corresponding physical folder; though not shown, users could also create new files from the context menu straight from within certain virtual folders which, as before, would place the new files in the virtual folder's corresponding physical folder.

Files in virtual folders could also be arranged into groups—like today's physical and virtual folders—but a feature that is not available today is the ability to simply drag and drop files within one group to another group to modify or set properties on them. In the example shown above, dragging multiple untagged images into a group applies that group's metadata to all of those images simultaneously.

On the subject of dragging and dropping files, like the RTM version of Windows Vista (and later versions of Windows) files in beta builds could be arranged into stacks, but it was also possible to drag and drop files into these stacks to automatically modify or set properties on the files (e.g., dragging a document without an assigned author to a stack based on an author would assign that author as a property of the document). In the example shown above, this rich functionality is used to apply a single tag to an image. Like the groups functionality shown above, however, multiple files could be added to stacks to apply metadata to all of those files simultaneously. Users could, as shown, create their own stacks from the context menu to facilitate personal customization of metadata.

Stacks were not limited to modifying or setting a single property; dragging a file to an album stack, for example, could set multiple properties on the file at once, including the album artist and the album title.

Grouping stacks.png
Stacks themselves could be grouped by file properties such as names, dates, ratings, keywords, et cetera.

Microsoft's virtualized storage efforts would lead the company's Greg Sullivan to state:


We actually considered at one time not having folders. It was all going to be virtualized storage with search queries and so on. We would just completely abstract the file organization stuff from the physical folders and disk structure. But that was too much of a leap over the chasm, too confusing for users.

Microsoft's intention to provide virtualized storage to users was ultimately deemed by users to be too confusing. Users were not accustomed to the idea of virtual folders on the Start menu. While this may seem natural now—with Windows 7 and its Libraries feature—it was an idea that predated the release of Windows 7 by at least four years. The pain of this change was exacerbated by the fact that some of the virtual folders included names that were similar to the physical folders and that the same files would ultimately appear in both locations. The company significantly scaled back its plans and cut features as a result, perhaps starting with the removal of the virtual folders from the Start menu.

You may be thinking, "Who cares?" If this functionality were available today—even in newer releases of Windows such as Windows 10—users could organize and sort their files in ways that would not be dependent on folder location, in ways that would be richer, and more personal.

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This thread is just as bad as the ones that talk about technologies from XP. What's the point of this thread?

This would be a nightmare for IT pros to manage, glad it was trashed.

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Wow very interesting post. The virtual folders seems like a combination of Apple's tag system in OS X and smart searches with more advanced features. I do like the idea of creating virtual folders with criteria that allows them dynamically capture your files as opposed to you having to organize them, but I can see how it might have been confusing to regular users who are familiar with the concept of fixed folders. Still it might have been a neat feature to keep around for more advanced.

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17 hours ago, Jared- said:

This thread is just as bad as the ones that talk about technologies from XP. What's the point of this thread?

This would be a nightmare for IT pros to manage, glad it was trashed.

It's a good post for those interested in Windows and its feature developments. Though it's clear that you are not interested, which is a shame, but I understand that everyone is different.

Edited by LimeMaster
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I always liked the design of Vista. the look was easy on the eyes, the icons were "spot on". The Layout was better than what we have now.

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19 minutes ago, chrisj1968 said:

I always liked the design of Vista. the look was easy on the eyes, the icons were "spot on". The Layout was better than what we have now.

True, 7 kept a lot from vista, but it dumped a lot too,

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Thanks Ian for another brilliant Vista thread. Vista was my favourite OS right between it being released & 10 coming out, at which point it's too far out of support by third parties to be particularly useful any more (AMD drivers for one thing).

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  • 2 months later...

I realize that this is a few months old, but I wanted to follow up on the functionality in the Beta versions. There used to be a self-guided tour for the functionality before Windows Vista was released to manufacturing and I wanted to post the material here for reference. The portions that are perhaps the most significant are written in bold text.


Exploring the New Storage Functionality

1. From the Start Menu, open the Document Explorer. Copy no more than 1000 files (not including e-mail messages) to the Document Explorer. Close the Explorer and wait about 15 minutes for the PC to fully index that content. You can check the status of the indexer by clicking the magnifying glass icon in the system tray.

2. After the indexer displays idle in the status, re-open the Document Explorer.

3. The default view is the All Documents view. Windows Vista can show you all your documents regardless of their physical location on the hard disk.

4. Click the blue Authors folder. These new blue folders are called Virtual Folders and are simply saved searched (queries). Note that your documents are placed into stacks according to author.

5. Click the Keywords Virtual Folder, and then click the Type Virtual Folder. Doing this gives you many different ways to look at the same content.

6. Drill into any of your stacks and select a Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation. When you select it, notice all the information it gives you about the file.

7. Along the top of the window is the Command Bar. This bar has a series of available content-specific tasks. One of the controls on the Command Bar is the slider control, which lets you quickly switch between different views (e.g., Details view, Icon view).

8. Some of your Microsoft Word documents or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets may feature Live Icons or live snapshots of the first page of those items. If you do not see Live Icons for those items, you need to open them up in Word or Excel, go to the File menu, choose Properties, and make sure the Save Preview Picture check box is selected. You should then see a Live Icon of that item.

9. Select another document, and in the preview pane, select keyword and add your own keyword to that document. Briefly wait, and that keyword will then show up within the expanded Keyword Virtual Folder within the Navigation Pane.

10. Keeping the Keyword Virtual Folder open, select the All Documents Virtual Folder. Multi-select a group of documents. Drag those documents on the Custom Keyword (the one that you just created) node found within the Keyword Virtual Folder. This adds that keyword to those documents.

11. Create more keywords by repeating the previous steps. You can add multiple properties to the same document either by dragging it onto a node within the Keyword Virtual Folder or by manually typing it into the Preview Pane.

12. Click the All Document Virtual Folder. See the column header controls available to you in the pane viewing area in the window. Hover over the keyword column header until a drop-down arrow appears. This control lets you group, stack, or filter by keyword.

13. Notice the Quick Search Box in the top right corner of the Explorer. This lets you quickly filter content in any view, based on any of the displayed properties found on the column header (such as name, author, or keyword). In Beta 2, this will also be a full-text search mechanism.

14. The same features are also available in the Photos and Music Explorers.

There was also additional drag-and-drop functionality intended—depicted in the screenshot below—including the ability to drag a folder onto a target virtual folder to set properties on files. The following table illustrates what could occur when dragging various objects onto other objects. Note that labels refer to what are now known as keywords.

Windows Vista Drag and Drop Operations.png

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