Windows 7 tip: use Group by to merge and manage library views

I’ve been looking forward to the libraries feature in Windows 7. For example, on my desktop PC I keep some downloads in my personal download folder – under c:\users\[username]\Documents\Downloads – while others are in a download folder on drive E. It makes sense to treat this as one location, rather than two. Libraries let you view these two folders together, without physically merging them.

That said, Windows 7 tripped me up. I created a new library, called Downloads. I added the two folders. I was annoyed though to see that I had two separate lists of folders in the new library, not one. I wanted a single, merged list.

I clicked around to see if there was a way of merging the lists. I tried the Arrange by menu. If you arrange by Name, you get a single merged list but without folders at all – in my case, thousands of files. Arranging by folder got me back to the separate listings. I tried the Organize menu, but that didn’t help. I tried right-clicking, with promising options like Expand group and Expand all groups, but these were simply different ways of viewing the location groups.

Then I noticed that the default Documents library had exactly the view I wanted, merging the personal and public Documents folders. Had Microsoft included some magic for the built-in libraries, or was I missing something?

I was missing something. I found out what when I clicked Organize – Layout – Menu bar. Of course this is off by default, because someone at Microsoft has a religious aversion to menus; they have been removed entirely from most of Office. But once I had the menu bar, I found the View – Group by option. If I select View – Group by – None, then I get the merged folder list that I want.

In fact, all the Group by options seem to work on a merged list, which leads to strange fact number two: once I had the merged list, it was not obvious how to get back to the non-merged list. It is as if there is a Group by Location which is not on the menu. I did eventually work it out. To get back to the non-merged list, choose View – Arrange by – Clear changes. Obvious, eh?

Incidentally, there is a way of using Group by without displaying the menu bar. You have to right-click in the left margin of the right-hand pane of the library listing. Easy when you know how.

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25 thoughts on “Windows 7 tip: use Group by to merge and manage library views”

  1. Very helpful post. This was bothering me too. I had added a third location to the “Documents” Library and found this strange grouping thing had happened. I noticed that even when I was back to two (personal & public) it still happened, even though the default ones were comprised of two locations but didn’t exhibit this. I’m glad to have it all consolidated again!


  2. Dude! Thanks! That was so irritating and redundant. I even tried copying and pasting the default libraries by Microsoft, but when I include the folders I want, that thing comes back. This has been a great help. Thank you.

  3. Oh man, thank you so much. I was raging pretty hard at this computer. Everybody knows that even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can just search the menus for a bit and find stuff that sounds right. That’s what every computer expert in every office does when people ask them for help. Once those are gone, we’re completely helpless, and trying and failing to get a computer to do a simple thing like just merging these two freaking folders together winds up making you want to take an axe to the whole thing and be done with it.

  4. I didn’t see the option None. I had to choose an option first, then I did see None, and when clicking None I finally had the layout I wanted.

    Thanks. I knew this was possible but was driving me crazy to find the option 😛

  5. Just fantastic!!! Thanks a lot!!! If you ever come to Barcelona I’ll buy you a beer (or two :))

  6. I was wondering exactly the same thing after seeing another computer has the merged view and was trying to find a way to be like that. I used to think the separated view is the default, but the computer with merged view is a fresh install, so now I am not sure what happened…

    Thanks so much for the discovery, 10/10. I think Microsoft needs to make some UI change so it’s more apparent. It should have the “Group by” next to the “Arrange by”. Right now, only “arrange by folder” can apply the group by function. It can expand to other arrangements.

  7. This was really helpfull to me as I have merged music files on 3 seperate hard drives. The only problem is that they are in the same order as before-ie all the tracks for a particular artist are still shown seperately on the 3 hard drives.Any idea how I can index them so as tracks that are spread over 3 hard drives are grouped together making it easier for me to identify missing music and duplicates?

  8. @john doughty

    For that, you’ll probably need different view/arrangement. At the top level (Music library), select “Arrange by: Artist”. Double click the artist and select “Arrange by: Song”. Now you’ll see all tracks by this artist. Right click on the index row (the row that shows Name, Contributing artists, Album, etc.) and add “Folder path”. Now you can see where each file is physically located so you can find missing or duplicated ones in what folder or drive.

    Of course for the above to work, files must have details on them, e.g. name of contributing artists.

  9. Thank you so much! I was looking to do the same thing and couldn’t find how. Great post!

  10. Found this alternative way of removing and restoring the grouping by folder.

    1. To remove the folder grouping.

    View library Properties. Set “Optimise this library for” to Documents. Apply. Then set it back to “General Items” and press Apply again. The folder level grouping disappears.

    2. To restore the folder level grouping.

    View library Properties. Temporarily add a new folder to the Library. Apply. Remove the folder. Apply.

  11. Cheers dude! This is awesome, Now my computer is the way I want it. This was bugging me alot because I have an OCD about my shit being neat…

  12. Wow. Just… wow. I have tried figuring this out and gave up more times than I can count. I finally found the magic set of terms to get Google to lead me here. Awesome! Thanks.

  13. Windows just baffles me sometimes. This is really great information, but apparently the “group by” setting applies to ALL libraries on your system. So if you change to Group By > None on one library, they all change.

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