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Sunday, 30 September 2007 11:20

Tales of the Forgotten (Part 2) -- Windows Explorer file filtering

Sometimes software developers bring out a new product version with lots of bells and whistles, while mystifyingly doing away with essential useful features that were frequently used in the old version. One such gobstoppingly glaring omission is wild-card file filtering in Windows Explorer. It's still not there in Windows Vista, and oh, how I want to see it reintroduced.

Prior to Microsoft Windows 95, you had to install Microsoft Windows on top of the DOS operating system.
I remember frequently using the Windows File manager as a much more pleasant way to locate and manage files than the command line in a DOS Command Prompt, in Windows 3.0 and 3.1 (including version 3.11, also known as "Windows for Workgroups").
With the Windows 3.x File Manager you could not only view the files in a particular folder, but you could also get a more focused view of them by specifying a filter mask, or wildcard. So the filter mask *.doc would show only those files with file type "doc" and the filter config*.* would list only those files having names starting "config" and any file extension. This was great.
I was quite taken aback when Windows 95 came out. In the Windows Explorer (which replaced File Manager),  to my consternation the filter mask capability had been ripped out and not replaced with any equivalent function This was a really nasty thing for Microsoft to do! It certainly violates the "do no harm" principle. What a silly design omission.
And so it went on for subsequent invocations of Windows: 98, ME, SE2, 2000, XP -- and now, Vista. None of these has file filtering in Windows Explorer. Shame, Microsoft, shame.
But there is a way you can get this capability, for no cost. Just download and install VCOM PowerDesk Free from
There is a PowerDesk Pro paid version with additional features, but the free version already has some nice ones and certainly is worth installing for the file filtering capability alone -- the bit that Windows Explorer so sadly lacks.
Here's the PowerDesk filter dialog, as seen in Vista Business (yes, it also works under Vista):

PowerDesk Free - filter dialog (for b*.bmp)
And here's the resultant display (of bitmap files having names starting with "b"):

PowerDesk Free - filtered file listing (for b*.bmp)
A nice feature of the more recent releases is the ability optionally to display the reminder "Filters On" in the background. ... So go get it, it's free!
Here I should disclose that I have no commercial relationship whatsoever with VCOM, apart from being a purchaser of a range of their products (including the PowerDesk Pro version).
While Microsoft delivers really excellent products, but also makes some silly design decisions and should be really ashamed of themselves for wantonly eliminating such a basic and much-needed function.

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Tony Austin

Worked at IBM from 1970, for a quarter century, then founded Asia/Pacific Computer Services to provide IT consulting and software development services (closed company at end of 2013). These says am still involved with IT as an observer and commentator, as well as attempting to understand cosmology, quantum mechanics and whatever else will keep my mind active and fend off deterioration of my grey matter.

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