Windows Explorer - Views

Stupid Windows XP/2003 Explorer default view

I must be just a plain idiot, or else incredibly determined. My simple goal for my end users is to provide a clear and consistent Windows experience. Microsoft does NOT make this easy.

I'm in the process of upgrading a customer from Windows NT 4.0 Workstation/Server to Windows XP Pro/Windows 2003 Server. (27 workstations, 2 servers). My pre-deployment testing has shown we are going to have a big problem: Windows Explorer no longer seems to STAY in "Detail" view. Also, I'm trying to figure out a policy to "show extensions".

After some brief instruction, my end users tend to much prefer the Windows Explorer 'Detail' view, with 'show extensions' turned on. Primary reasons are the ability to easily sort by name or date modified. With Windows NT Explorer, this seemed to be a one tweak, end of story.

With Windows XP, this has turned out to be a nightmare. The default settings are very confusing to users. Microsoft provides the ability to tweak so many settings, why not add "show extensions" and "view details" as a policy? I have now spent countless internet and Microsoft KB searches, spending about 6 hours trying to make this happen. What a waste of time, I know. I must be an idiot

So I figured if I can help someone else save some time, it'd be worth posting my findings. Note that this only seems to pertain to Windows XP/2003, and NOT Windows 2000. Additionally, I verified that the setting 'Remember each folder's view setting' is turned off, (seems like that's all I should have to do!).

It was easy enough to figure out the registry setting for show extensions:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced Key: HideFileExt Type:REG_DWORD Values: 0 = no, 1 = yes

Juding from the discussion I found on the internet, I'm not the only one who has thrashed with solving the 'view details' issue. Here are 2 examples:
MSFN > Windows Explorer Unattended View Tweaks Never Work. - Question about 'Set Defaults in Explorer' (Windows XP Discussion Forum)

Here is what I figured out and how I got there:

Just for reference, this was a wrong path...
From page: MSFN -> The Perfect Unattended Cd!:, it seemed like the key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Streams held my answer. With a fresh profile, I exported the Explorer registry key. I then changed the setting: 'View > Details', 'Tools > Folder Options... > View tab > Like Current Folder' and re-exported the Explorer registry key. A 'File Compare' (fc.exe) seemed to indicate that the Streams key was the only thing that changed. It turns out this key does NOT seem to have any effect on the default view.

The page Windows XP: Windows Doesn't Remember Folder Settings - pointed me in the right direction. To test, I deleted the referenced 'Bag' keys, started explorer, exported entire HKEY_CURRENT_USER key, and again did a file compare.

To save as default the view settings, I used the 'Ctrl+X' (X = Close Window button) method. Interestingly, this method produced No difference in the Streams key! The changes were all found to be under the 'Bag' keys.

The critical piece here seems to be that view settings are determined according to which icon you use to start Windows Explorer. The settings are then stored under: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\BagMRU

When I look under the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags\1\Shell, it seems that the important keys are:
Vid (REG_SZ), an UID that seems to distinguish which icon was used to start Explorer.
Mode (REG_DWORD), 1 = Icons, 3 = List, 4 = Details, 5 = Thumbnails, 6 = Tiles, (2 is unused, maybe the old 'small icons' option)

Reality Check:
I had been opening Windows Explorer with a shortcut on the desktop. I had tweaked the shortcut to open to the H: drive (instead of the terrible default of 'My Documents'). Once I set the View to Details, the setting stuck just fine.

So out of curiosity, I opened Windows Explorer through Start > Programs > Accessories. Sure enough it opened the default method of View Icons (and the My Documents Directory). I looked in the ...\ShellNoRoam\Bags key and there was now a ...\ShellNoRoam\Bags\2\Shell set of keys. The Vid key was a different UID value than the one I looked at as described above (the Mode was set to Icons).

I copied the (tweaked) Windows Explorer Shortcut from the desktop to the Accessories menu, and started Windows Explorer through Accessories. Apparently the Vid value goes with the shortcut because now this new Windows Explorer shortcut in Accessories started showing details.

So it seems I am going to have to touch each of the twenty-something users. If I can figure out an easy way to automate this, I'll post more here.

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