Windows Vista - Save Preview Representation ("Save Ghost") feature

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While using Windows Vista Beta 1 build 5112 to experiment with its virtual folder functionality my eye caught something while saving a file that it had seen previously: a file with distinct visual effects during the save process. This was not a visual artifact or a result of using pre-release software, but a preview representation of the file about to be saved, designed to aid the user during the save process.

Save Ghost.png

There are apparently only a very few references to this preview representation on the Internet. Paul Thurrott did share what were referred to as "interesting Vista prototypes," most of which depicted this preview representation, but there are no details about it provided in the article. Additionally, there are at least three patents that explicitly mention the feature, and at least one image included in what is apparently Microsoft's own documentation, but the scarcity of information is the reason I wanted to post this topic and discuss the feature with fellow Neowinians.

For those interested, one can trace the history of the preview representation feature—preliminarily referred to as "Save Ghost"—back to "pre-reset 'Longhorn'" when Microsoft sought to create an "improved metadata management system" that largely focused on the property pane (i.e., the details pane). It is not the purpose of this post to discuss all of the aspects of this system—the patent, titled Metadata editing control, is available for viewing—as I want to focus solely on a single aspect of the system described in the patent, and that is the "Save Ghost" feature.

Metadata editing control suggests that "Save Ghost" was conceived as a result of the ability to navigate based on properties (emphasis mine); image provided for context:



Referring now to FIG. 6, a screenshot 600 shows an integrated property pane and visual component in accordance with the invention. A different view from the minimal SaveAs design is to add a browsing component. The different view can be provided as being more useful in some cases for user viewing, but too complicated in others. The browser implementation allows viewing files clustered by various properties. In a WINDOWS XP brand operating system environment, for example, navigating to a specific folder meant putting the saved file there. In the query-oriented browser, navigating to a specific property cluster means assigning that property value to the file being saved. The functionality builds on the experience with which users are familiar.

There are, however, significant differences from a WINDOWS XP brand operating system environment. Previously, there was just one folder tree to navigate. When dealing with a properties-based file system, there can be many properties to which a value can be assigned. The navigational space becomes multi-dimensional, with multiple property axes to consider. Additionally, there can be storage favorites (e.g., collections of multiple predefined property values) that cut across single-property trees. Since users typically visualize only one dimension at a time (without significant confusion), visual confirmation of the choices is provided when switching between different cluster dimensions.

One solution involves use of a “Save Ghost” feature, which is a visual representation of the file being saved. Ghost is a projection or preview of what is about to be saved. The use of Save Ghost has a number of advantages. It provides a simple way to visualize where the file goes and what will be its peers, and enhances the meaning of the property clusters as a location to save to and retrieve from. Save Ghost provides a handle for direct manipulations. For example, dragging the save ghost from “a Word brand Document” to “Text Documents” can have a meaning of changing the document type from Word to Text. In ordered lists, the save ghost can be dragged into the proper position.

Save Ghost provides feedback for invalid property values and immutable properties. For example, navigation to an EXCEL brand spreadsheet document cluster may not show the save ghost there because saving Word documents in Excel format is not supported. Similarly, a view of documents from a previous week does not include the new document because it will be always saved with the current date. At the same time, the use of save ghost enables exploratory navigation to places where the file cannot be saved. Without it, navigation to EXCEL brand spreadsheet documents or documents from a previous week would have to be disallowed (to imply that these are invalid locations.)

Perhaps stated in a simple way: as part of the invention, an expandable dialog box with a property pane could be implemented into the operating system and it could allow users to navigate based not only on folders, but on properties. Because of the new storage capabilities, a preview representation, or ghost, could be part of this new dialog box to aid the the user during the save process, and to facilitate the creation of files with metadata properties.

A continuation-in-part of Metadata editing control, titled Save Preview Representation of Files Being Created, provides additional reasons to include "Save Ghost." It describes how current user interfaces are ineffective in regards to "the way files are represented during the file creation process." Users always organize and / or view existing files while navigating, but such features are unavailable for files that have not yet been saved as there is no preview representation, and thus no visual confirmation of what an unsaved file could look like in File Explorer or where it could appear (e.g., in a group of files).

As one would expect, Save Preview Representation of Files Being Created also elaborates the previous information provided by Metadata editing control in regards to user features. For instance, the patent mentions the ability to automatically assign properties "based on user navigation," which was previously alluded to. The sliver of text that focuses on this aspect of the ghost has been written in bold text in this topic for emphasis.

  • The preview may appear as part of a save file dialog, and may show an indicia corresponding to the new to-be-created file, and may show how the new file may be visually represented in the GUI after the save is performed.
  • The preview may exhibit certain behaviors, such as having a unique appearance, always appearing as a first element, to be easily noticed by the user. Users may also interact with the preview to manage the file and/or edit its properties even before the file is saved.
  • The preview may also intelligently guide the user through the save process by, for example, refusing to allow the user to save the file to an invalid location, or automatically populating metadata fields based on user navigation through the GUI.

It also suggests that the following aspects—some of which were alluded to but not explicitly mentioned in Metadata editing control—could have been implemented as part of the "Save Ghost":

  • The ghost could be treated like a file already saved (e.g., selected, dragged, dropped)
  • Users could overwrite an existing similar file (e.g., by dragging and dropping the ghost on to an existing file) and receive its metadata properties; if the user later decided, before completing the save process, that this was not desired, no file would be replaced and the original metadata values belonging to the ghost could be automatically reinstated into the details pane; completely cancelling the save process can remove the ghost (along with its metadata properties)
  • Users could drag a ghost into a group to inherit that group's metadata properties; similarly, the ghost could change its location within the interface (e.g., position itself within another group) based on properties that were added by the user (e.g., added via the details pane)
  • The system could be sophisticated to understand that when navigating to a new location, the user may not necessary want to add a property to the ghost
  • A unique context menu with commands for the ghost could be incorporated
  • The system could prevent the ghost from being saved to an invalid save location or from being moved outside of the Save As dialog, which could potentially prevent confusing user scenarios

I realize that not all of what is described in the patents may have necessarily been included in the shipping product, but the information is intended to provide a general overview of the potential functionality. Note that some of the potential functionality was already included in pre-release Windows Vista.


For illustrative purposes, an example animation of the ghost as it appears in Windows Vista Beta 1 build 5112 has been provided. The ghost features a subtle opacity change of the filename and thumbnail of the file about to be saved, and a distinct text color. Moreover, a tooltip appears when the user hovers a mouse cursor over the ghost to inform the user that the ghost is the file about to be saved. Please notice how in the above animation, simply navigating to a keyword automatically assigns that keyword as a property of the ghost in the details pane.

It should be noted that, while not depicted in the animation above, changing the filename in the "File name" field also changes the filename of the ghost, and saving the ghost causes it to become a normal file. In other words, in these respects, the ghost is largely similar to the traditional file save process.

Windows Vista SaveAs.png

While the feature may seem like a minor addition to the operating system, Microsoft's reasons to implement it were laudable. Alas, as indicated in the screenshot above, it was not included in Windows Vista (or subsequent versions of Windows). Perhaps it was scrapped because, like most of the virtual folder functionality in Windows Vista Beta, it was deemed to be too confusing.

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That's pretty nifty. I never came across that one at the time, beta 1 must be like 10 years ago now? Wow. As you say just one of the many amazing features which has never seen the light of day. Small parts of virtual folders have sort of made it into newer OS's but it really is just scratching the surface of what it could have been like.

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On 8/12/2016 at 4:06 AM, Vince800 said:

That's pretty nifty. I never came across that one at the time, beta 1 must be like 10 years ago now? Wow. As you say just one of the many amazing features which has never seen the light of day. Small parts of virtual folders have sort of made it into newer OS's but it really is just scratching the surface of what it could have been like.

Yes! I wish that current operating systems offered what Windows Vista could have offered in regards to organize / search / virtual folder features such as:

  • The ability to drag a file into a target stack belonging to a metadata property to assign that property to the file
  • "Direct manipulation" commands for virtual folders (dragging, dropping) to manage not only files, but their metadata
  • The use of thumbnails for stacks, such as the actual album art being shown when music tracks are stacked by their associated albums, instead of generic icons, as seen in FIG 9 as 900:


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