Attack of the rogue feature: Oh no, where did my Explorer icon labels go?

A customer reported that on Windows Vista, if you hold down the shift key and repeatedly click the View button in the command bar of an Explorer window, you will eventually reach a state where all the labels under the icons have disappeared! Where did they go, and how do I get them back?

Congratulations, you stumbled across a rogue feature.

One of the developers who worked on Windows XP decided to add a cute shortcut: Holding down the shift key when switching to Thumbnail mode will cause the labels to disappear. (At least, that was the intent of the rogue feature, but it so happens that as a side effect, the hold the shift key to remove labels shortcut also takes effect during certain other operations, because the shift key test was made in a shared worker function.)

Great, now that they're gone, how do you get them back? The way to restore item labels in Windows XP was to repeat the operation and hold the shift key when switching into Thumbnail mode. But wait, Windows Vista doesn't have an explicit Thumbnail mode any more. Since the hold the shift key to hide the labels feature was a rogue feature, nobody knew that the Thumbnail menu item was secretly being overloaded as an escape hatch!

Okay, here's how you get the labels back: Right-click in the background of the folder and select Customize This folder. From the customization dialog, change the template to Pictures and Videos, then OK. Now go back to the Explorer folder window and right-click in the background of the folder a second time, then go to the View submenu. (Alternatively, type Alt+V.) There will be a new Hide File Names option: Uncheck it. (If it's already unchecked, then check it, and then uncheck it again.) If you want, you can go back and uncustomize the folder so it has the All files template again.

The customer support people are probably relieved to learn that this rogue feature no longer exists in Windows 7.

Comments (19)
  1. Joseph Koss says:

    “If it’s already unchecked, then check it, and then uncheck it again.”

    ummm… known bug?

    [I don’t know if this “if unchecked then check it and uncheck it” is necessary but I listed it just to be sure. And think about it – you’re complaining about a bug in a rogue feature! -Raymond]
  2. James Schend says:

    Joseph: look up the article on "Rogue Feature." Basically, someone added it to Windows without telling his manager about it. Thus the guys working on Explorer changes for Vista didn’t know about it, either. Thus the bug.

  3. Ankur Goel says:

    I tried this on a random folder, and had to check it and then uncheck it.

    The undo formula does not work on the "My computer" screen though – I was able to get the labels to disappear, but there is no "customize this folder" menu to undo it.

  4. AC says:

    Nick:  Do you know anybody who actually used scraps??

  5. John says:

    I used scraps once, only after accidentally discovering them.  There was this one application I was using, but because I didn’t have a license (too much for a college student at the time) it wouldn’t let you save any documents you created.  I discovered you could save your documents by copying them to a scrap, and then you could load them by copying the scrap back into the application.  Having never heard of scraps at the time, I found this behavior to be fascinating.

  6. Dee says:

    Shame the root of a drive doesn’t have the customise option (yeah, I know I should have picked a scrap folder… :)

  7. Anonymous Coward says:

    I’ve been using XP since forever and never stumbled upon this one… is the worker function in XP only used by the miniature menu? May one inquire as to why that developer thought hiding file names would be a useful customization?

    Regarding scraps, I’ve known about them since I first played around with drag and drop in Windows 95, you know, ‘hm, this should work, I wonder if it does…’ and it did, but since it uses a different file format than what the document normally uses I haven’t found it as useful. The only real use I can imagine is if you would want to reorganize a document and want to cut pieces from multiple locations to somewhere else. Of course then came Office XP with its multiple clipboards.

    Still, I would favour keeping the feature, if implemented right, because even though drag and drop is one of the most intuitive ways to operate a computer, people will not automatically try it if it has a habit not to work. If you use a computer long enough, you will hit upon cases that are uncommon, and when they don’t work that reinforces the ‘works only for specific sources and destinations’ feeling and that’s bad for drag and drop because if it has a downside, it is that contrary to menus and buttons there is no neon sign shouting ‘you can do stuff’ on screen. So drag and drop has to a) always work and b) be predictable.

  8. :( says:

    So, was the "column headers in all views so you can sort without switching to details view and back" feature a rogue one?

  9. I found a solution to C: and "Computer" special folder: Switch to Details view. Then press and hold the SHIFT key, and from the “Views” drop-down, select "Medium Icons". Close and reopen the folder.

  10. steveg says:

    This all stems back to two things waaay back to Windows 1.0. a) user-interface expectations of 198x and b) the way WM_LBUTTONDOWN was documented and used.

    In the good old days, and today, in MANY MANY if not 99.9% of all applications, most controls react the same way to mouse-click with or without modifiers.

    Arguably all controls should ONLY respond to well-specified keyboard modifiers when clicked, and for 99.9% of cases this is "no modifiers", and any controls that exhibit the same behaviour for Click and (say) Shift+Click are buggy.

    Cast your mind back… imagine if there had been no WM_LBUTTON down message, but instead a plethora of modifier messages: WM_LBUTTONDOWN_NO_MOD and WM_LBUTTON_LMOD1 and WM_LBUTTON_RMOD1 and WM_LBUTTON_MOD1 and WM_LBUTTON_LMOD1_MOD2_RMOD3_LHAND_BEHIND_BACK and so on (whazzat? integers are cheap, plenty of room for another gazillion messages (where gazillion is defined as 2^16)) we wouldn’t’ve seen this bug — because the explicit nature of the interface would have caused a very different behaviour in design and implementation and user expectation over the last 20 odd years (my argument is the behaviour for only valid actions would be specified).

    Sure, it’s very much on the preposterous side of things, and involves Raymond’s beloved time machine, but hey, sue me.

  11. Nick says:


    First scraps get scrapped (haha) in Vista, and now the seekrit hidden filename feature is getting killed in Win7.  Windows sure is going down the tubes!

    All my favorite features are getting deleted!

    [The “hide file names” feature is still there. It’s just not seekrit any more. -Raymond]
  12. Todd Berkebile says:

    Just to be clear, I was NOT the person who added this rouge feature.  I did a lot of work on thumbnails and even I didn’t know about that feature.

  13. tactoth says:

    Seems it doesn’t work for me. I’m using Windows XP.

  14. Dan says:

    Works for me on my XP.  Maybe it’s dependent on a Service Pack (I am fully patched) or something.

  15. Worf says:

    Well now. Raymod has just given us a great prank to play on someone. Dangerous, but it might be fun on say, their My Documents or something.

    Or hey, on C: – you can claim it to be a new "don’t screw up your PC feature".

  16. Brian Tkatch says:

    Are easter eggs considered rogue features?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Let’s be honest.  If this were not a "rogue feature", there still would have been a non-zero chance that someone would have spec’d this change in behavior without considering its implications.  :-)

  18. steveg says:

    Are easter eggs considered rogue features?

    These days you get defenestrated for adding them.

  19. anony.muos says:

    I knew about this since it’s mentioned in the excellent TweakUI 2.0 tips & tricks. Then again, Vista completely screwed up the shell, so there’s no point discussing over this rogue feature when real working features are missing and broken.

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