How do you drop on the background of an Explorer window when it is in details view?


When you set your Explorer to Details view, it can become tricky to drop an item onto the window background (in order to move it into the folder) because Details view sets full row select (starting in Windows Vista). This helps users of tablets and touch screens, because it increases the size of the target when dragging and dropping into a folder. On the other hand, when you have more items than fit on the screen, every pixel in the view corresponds to an item; there is no background any more. So how do you drop on the background?

If you're using Windows 7, you can take advantage of a little gutter space to the left and right of the columns. There is a gutter to the left of the leftmost column and another gutter to the right of the rightmost column. Windows Vista doesn't have these gutters, but you can create a gutter on the right hand side by resizing your columns narrow, and then resizing the window wider than the sum of all the columns. Yes, it's clumsy.

Less clumsy is dropping onto the Details panel at the bottom of the window, which works both on Windows Vista and Window 7. Dropping onto the Details panel is treated as a drop on the folder background. And the Details panel is a nice big target for your drag/drop operation, so those of you using a tablet or touch screen should have no trouble finding it. (Those gutters are nice for mouse-based users, but if you've got fat fingers, they're not much help on a touch screen.)

If you've turned off the Details panel, you can also drop onto the title bar. It's not as big as the Details pane, but it's still bigger than the gutters.

Finally, there's always the copy/paste approach instead of drag/drop. Multi-select the items you want to transfer, right-click them and select Copy (or Cut, as appropriate), then go to the destination folder, and under the Organize menu, select Paste.

Except for the gutters, all of these techniques also work for Windows Vista.

Bonus chatter: Commenter Medinoc complains that, with the switch to full row select, it's very hard to click on the background. Actually, it's not that bad. You can right-click on the blank space of any unselected item. For example, find an unselected item with a name that doesn't fill the entire Name column and look at all that white space to the right. You can right-click there and it will be treated as as a right-click on the background. The full row is still treated as part of the item when dropping, for the benefit of people using tablets and touch screens, or people who simply want to hit a target bigger than a 16×16 icon.

Comments (38)
  1. Brian Friesen says:

    One of the many reasons I will never switch to Vista is this full row select.  I like details view, but full row select makes things much slower and very frustrating for me.  Maybe there is a registry key to disable this that I’m not aware of.

  2. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    I thought that “benefitting” the 0.5% that use touch screens and tablets should not be done by pissing off some 50% of those who don’t.

    [It helps people who don’t use touch screens or tablets, too. Just ask your average user who does not have the mouse dexterity of a twelve-year-old. (Or maybe Fitts’ Law doesn’t apply to you.) Besides, wasn’t one of the big complaints about Windows that “Details mode should be full row select”? Now you get what you want, and you don’t like it? More proof that whatever you do, somebody will call you an idiot. -Raymond]
  3. Michael says:

    I rushed right out to try the "right-click on the blank space of any unselected item" technique.  This annoyed me from time to time, when I want to start a command window from the directory’s context menu.  Turns out, the technique works great when you don’t have any modifier keys pressed.  When you hold down the Shift key (to reveal "Start Command Window Here" on the context menu), no go – pressing the Shift key down causes the current row to be selected, and thus you’re no longer clicking on the background.  Ah, well.

  4. SeanBa says:

    @Michael

    I tried this on Win7 RTM and it mostly works the way you wanted. I held down shift while right clicking in a column in details view and the "Open command window here" option was available. I don’t have any Vista boxes around to check if this behavior changed, though. One thing to note is that this only works if no items are currently selected. Aside from clicking in the gutter to clear the selection, it looks like right clicking in white space also clears the selection, allowing you to shift-right click.

  5. Adrian says:

    It’s interesting that, in Vista, the drop on any part of the details pane seems to work.  I expected the numerous dead spots (where a mouse click will fail to activate the window) to also apply to the drop process.

  6. Brian Friesen says:

    @Anonymoose

    Thanks a million for the link for how to remove full row select.  Whereas I would never run Vista at home, from time to time I must use it at work.  This setting will go a long way to decreasing my frustration and making Vista slightly more usable.

    One annoyance down, 473 more and I might consider upgrading to Vista. :)

  7. Mark Jonson says:

    I hate how Vista and Windows 7 don’t let you right-click on a file without first left-clicking on them. Doesn’t that defeat the whole “reducing clicks to improve UI” ideology that motivated Microsoft to create features like Aero Snap?

    In addition, there were two major UI changes in Windows 7 that were bad: making an icon selection persist when you Refresh a folder/desktop and removing the sort/group heading from folders when you’re not in Details view. If Windows 7’s taskbar weren’t such an improvement over Vista, I’d consider going back to Vista to have those two features back.

    [Huh? I just did a direct right-click on an unselected file and the context menu for that file showed up just fine. Click on a part of the file that isn’t blank. -Raymond]
  8. James Schend says:

    I hate how Vista and Windows 7 don’t let you right-click on a file without first left-clicking on them.

    Your computer’s defective.

    making an icon selection persist when you Refresh a folder/desktop

    Why is that bad? Isn’t that exactly what you’d expect to happen? Removing the "Deselect" side-effect from "Refresh" is definitely a good thing, fewer side-effects make the behavior less mysterious and easier to understand.

  9. BOFH says:

    That’s all fine and dandy, but whatever happened to the classic start menu in Windows 7?

  10. Dan says:

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the problem or have done something to my Vista machine, but for me there is always a couple pixels in between each item in the details view that will let me drop to the folder I am currently looking at (drop the background).  When you line it up right a solid black line is displayed.

  11. Anonymoose says:

    @Brian Friesen

    Disable/enable full-row select in Vista:

    http://www.winhelponline.com/blog/enable-or-disable-full-row-select-feature-in-explorer-in-windows-vista/

    This doesn’t restore the *exact* legacy behaviour, though.  Full row select becomes "first column select", in details view.  (The entire column is a selection target.  Previously, only the filename itself was a selection target.)

  12. Gabest says:

    Left clicking the black space is also interesting. Dragging it downwards grabs the selected item, but upwards it starts drawing the selection rectangle.

  13. Gabest says:

    Hm, it’s more like sideways for selection. Pretty hard to control with the mouse.

  14. Enoch says:

    Re the bonus chatter: it’s quite annoying since right clicking on anything now requires a left click on the item and then the right click otherwise it’s treated as a right click on the background.

    [Huh? Just right-click on the item (as opposed to a blank space) if you want to right-click on the item. -Raymond]
  15. Dean Harding says:

    Gabest: I get the selection rectangle no matter which direction I drag in. Note that this only happens when you start dragging from a blank space. If you start dragging from the filename, you’ll drag the file.

  16. Leo Davidson says:

    << Besides, wasn’t one of the big complaints about Windows that "Details mode should be full row select"? >>

    Not that I’d ever heard but maybe the people I talk to all over the net aren’t a representative sample. <shrug>

    It seems odd to me that Explorer optimizes for the case where you want to drop files into a subfolder rather than the case where you want to drop files into the current folder.

    Also, IMO, you get the worst of both worlds by combing full-row selection with the old-style selection system (where to deselect you have to find some empty space to click, or reach for the ctrl key). File managers which use full-row selection typically combine it with toggle-selection instead. (Or they leave both choices up to the user.)

    I am not saying that the old-style selection system is bad. I actually quite like it and use it myself; I just don’t think it combines well with full-row selection.

  17. Mark Jonson says:

    @Raymond Chen: That’s what I mean, though. It isn’t consistent. If I right-click on the actual text or icon it works, but if I right-click on a blank area (where the mouse is still above the “illuminated hover” for that file) it does not. Left-clicking will work anywhere in the “hover” area. The UI leads me to believe that I can interact with that file when the area is illuminated, but it’s inconsistent because I can left-click anywhere to select that file, but I cannot right-click anywhere to select and display a context menu for that file.

    [Since this is your first comment, I don’t know what “it” is referring to when you say “it works” or “it does not”. If you want to right-click to select and display a context menu for an item, then just right-click on it! (Say, on the icon or the name or anything else that isn’t blank space.) I find it strange that multiple people interpret “the blank space is treated as the background” to mean “everything is treated as the background.” Let’s try that again. The blank space is treated as the background. The non-blank space is treated as the item. If you want to right-click on the item, then right-click on the non-blank space. -Raymond]
  18. Barry Kelly says:

    This is actually my single biggest annoyance with Vista, and the primary reason I didn’t switch. The fact that it’s still not fixed in Windows 7 makes me less likely to buy it.

  19. Dan F says:

    Yeah, I get the same behaviour that the other Dan up there says. Dragging over folders in details view makes the space between them droppable onto. It was hard to get used to at first, but now that I’m used to it I quite like the feature.

  20. jon says:

    “I find it strange that multiple people interpret “the blank space is treated as the background” to mean “everything is treated as the background.” Let’s try that again. The blank space is treated as the background. The non-blank space is treated as the item. If you want to right-click on the item, then right-click on the non-blank space.”

    Maybe that’s because it’s confusing, inconsistent and non-intuitive?

    The instructions above should actually read:

    “The blank space is treated as the background, unless you’re left clicking or dropping something on it, in which case it’s treated as the item. The non-blank space is treated as the item. If you want to right-click on the item, then right-click on the non-blank space. If you want to left-click on the item, then you can click on the blank space or the non-blank space, unless you want to drag the item out, in which case you you have to click on the non-blank space. If you want to drag and drop on the item then you can drop on the blank space or the non-blank space. If you want to drop on the background, good luck finding any blank space.”

    [It’s not that complicated really. The blank space rule applies only to right-click. (Or at least that was the idea.) Dragging, as others have noted, provides many blank spaces between the rows. You even get visual feedback that you are “dropping in between”. -Raymond]
  21. Worf says:

    I guess I like full-row select. It means less mousing when you window is on the left side and the mouse on the right.

    Plus, since explorer doesn’t have horizontal zebra marking, identifying the properties of a file in a cluster of similar ones is a lot harder. Full row select means I can highlight the file, and scan across the details (isn’t that why we set detail view? Because we want the details?)

    The eye has issues following across a table – it can easily jump a line.

  22. Drak says:

    I don’;t get it.. I just have an enormous unused bit of white space next to my last column in details mode (where there is no column). Perfect for dropping onto, right-clicking the background, etc.

    I don’t see the problem:

    | Name    | Date mod | Type    | Size    |    |
    ———————————————–
    | Bla     | 20080909 | Bla file| 20l     |    |
                                             DROP
                                             HERE

    (I really hope my drawing comes out ok, but I don’t think it will unless Raymond can make it ‘preformatted’)

  23. Anonymoose says:

    @Brian: You’re welcome.

    Raymond wrote:"Huh? I just did a direct right-click on an unselected file and the context menu for that file showed up just fine. Click on a part of the file that isn’t blank."

    See, this is the confusing thing.  In details view, the selection/left-click target is now the entire row (including blank spaces in the details columns), but the *right-click* target is only non-blank spaces (i.e. text, icons) in the columns.  However, when a file is already selected, then you can right-click anywhere on the selected row, which is why some people think you now have to left-click before right-clicking.

    Seems slightly inconsistent to me, but oh well….  Not complaining too loudly, but just pointing out a potential source of confusion.

  24. Shane says:

    A bigger nuisance that’s been introduced since vista is the inconsistency between the tree view on the left and the folder contents on the right.

    It’s very easy to have a folder highlighted on the left but showing a completely different folder’s contents on the right. (just click in the blank space next to a folder to highlight it, but not actually show the contents).

    This gives a terrible user experience, and can cause you to delete a folder thinking it has contents or lack thereof that it really doesn’t.

    [I am not surprised (but always disappointed) that any time I give a tip that relates to Windows Vista, the comments turn into “file your Windows Vista complaints here.” And you wonder why I don’t often give tips on Windows Vista. (P.S., if you don’t like it, you can turn it off.) -Raymond]
  25. newcomer says:

    [It’s not that complicated really. The blank space rule applies only to right-click. (Or at least that was the idea.) Dragging, as others have noted, provides many blank spaces between the rows. You even get visual feedback that you are “dropping in between”. -Raymond]

    I think the confusing is, left-click & right-click have the different rule:

    ・left-click: “full row” is the item

    ・right-click: “only non-blank” is the item

    [They have different rules because they have different usage patterns. The rules for left-click are tweaked for left-click operations (where you want to make it easier to select items, and not selecting anything is a rare operation); the rules for right-click are tweaked for right-click operations (where not selecting anything is a common operation). -Raymond]
  26. anonymuos says:

    OR – Simply install QTTabBar to COMPLETELY turn off full row select and lots of other fixes for quite a lot of Vista Explorer annoyances. (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Features_removed_from_Windows_Vista and http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Features_removed_from_Windows_7)

    Search for QTTABBAR.

  27. jon says:

    “The blank space rule applies only to right-click.”

    Despite the fact that that’s not completely correct, I’m curious – from a design point of view, how do you actually justify this? Why have different behavior for left and right buttons?

    [That’s right, how dare left-click and right-click do different things! We should switch to one-button mice like Apple! (1) If selecting via left-click required clicking on non-blank space, then it wouldn’t be “full row select” any more, now, would it! (2) How often do you need to left-click on a blank space? -Raymond]
  28. anonymuos says:

    Forgot to mention: QTTABBAR can also give Explorer alternate row color (zebra marking) in details view.

  29. Medinoc says:

    @Anonymoose: Thank for the link.

    @Raymond: << Besides, wasn’t one of the big complaints about Windows that "Details mode should be full row select"? >>

    I should have precised in the first place that I’m in single-click mode. While I acknowledge full row select can be useful when you’re not in single-click mode, it quickly becomes a problem when you are.

  30. Leo Davidson says:

    << (1) If selecting via left-click required clicking on non-blank space, then it wouldn’t be “full row select” any more, now, would it! >>

    Strawman. He didn’t suggest that you change the left-click behaviour. You can make it consistent by changing the right-click behaviour to use the full row.

    You can, after all, select files by right-clicking. But only if you right-click their names. That isn’t “full-row select” anymore, now, is it? :-)

    << (2) How often do you need to left-click on a blank space? >>

    Erm, all the time. In Explorer it’s the easiest way to deselect everything that I know of.

    [The right-click exception was added specifically because people complained that although they liked full-row-select, it made it hard to right-click on blank space. Sorry for trying to help. -Raymond]
  31. Leo Davidson says:

    “Sorry for trying to help.”

    Nobody is against trying to solve problems. It’s the way they were solved that’s being criticised.

    [All right then, how would you have added full row select? -Raymond]
  32. Thursday says:

    BOFH, they’re hoping to cut future support costs by producing a one-line manual which says: USE SEARCH.

    In the meantime, all the existing millions of users are left out in the cold.

  33. DWalker59 says:

    Medinoc: Ah yes, single-click mode.  Doesn’t actually work that well for reasons such as the one mentioned in this post.  I recommend that you not use it, but feel free to do whatever you want!  :-)

  34. Medinoc says:

    @DWalker59: You may be right: The problems with hover-select have started to become more visible now that I often do file operations, and Vista might provide the final "push" make me switch back to double-click mode.

    @Leo Davidson & Co: I for one, think the right-click exception was the right thing to do, and it’s quite intuitive.

  35. Leo Davidson says:

    (Tried to post this a few times but the site goes back to the main blog page instead of showing the "comment accepted" thing it usually does. I’ll try splitting it into shorter parts in case it’s the length causing the problem.)

    "All right then, how would you have added full row select?"

    I’ll list some ideas/thoughts but, TBH, I probably wouldn’t have made full-row-select the default (let alone mandatory if you don’t know an obscure registry setting) in the first place.

    Does the desire for full-row selection come from:

    1) People wanting to be able to click anywhere on a row to select things.

    2) People wanting a larger selection target, especially for small filenames, but not necessarily the entire row.

    3) People wanting a visual highlight so they can see across a row without getting mixed up with adjacent files.

  36. Leo Davidson says:

    Sorry, something in the 2nd part of my post seems to be confusing the blog comments form.

    Tried to work out what it was but I’m not sure. Maybe some hash characters? Very odd…

    Anyway, I’ve put the post in full here:

    http://www.pretentiousname.com/misc/full-row.html

  37. Seva says:

    Just drop on the window caption.

  38. w95 says:

    This is almost how Explorer in W95 worked. How ironic. Never liked the hacked (non listview compliant) full row select of w2k/xp/vista.

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