A fix for the multifile-selection glitch in Windows 7 and 8

In earlier versions of Windows, you could select multiple files in an Explorer window and change the sort-by option without losing your selection. Tweak the Registry to return the capability to Explorer in Windows 7 and 8.

Windows 8 File Explorer with full-row selection disabled
Disable Explorer's full-row selection to retain the selection of multiple files when you change the sort order. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Sometimes you wish Microsoft would let customers decide when to delete a feature. Reader Dan Baechlin depends on Windows Explorer's ability to retain the selection of multiple files after changing the sort order. The feature has been removed from the version of Explorer in Windows 7 and 8. As Dan explains:

My job requires the ability to highlight multiple files or folders in a directory, and to retain that highlighting while re-sorting them by different fields (modification dates, thematically-based titles, etc.) Windows provided that feature -- until version 7. My work unit indexes, manages, and compares policy documents that undergo many revisions. The highlighting function is essential to that task. But now my agency is required to adopt Windows 7. My unit is struggling to avoid that as long as possible, but can't do so forever. Please help.

Ramesh Srinivasan devised a Registry tweak that disables the Full Row Select option in Windows 7 and 8 Explorer windows, and that has the side-effect of preserving multifile selections when re-sorting from Name to Size, Date modified, or some other category. Ramesh describes the process on the WinHelpOnline blog.

Follow these three steps to return the ability to preserve multifile selections when changing the sort type in the versions of Explorer in Windows 7 and 8.

Step one: Create a restore point
Whenever you change your Registry settings you're taking a chance that the alteration will have unintended consequences. By setting a restore point before you begin you're ensuring that the change can be undone. (Note that you'll also be backing up the specific Registry keys that will be deleted, but it can't hurt to have a backup for your backup.)

To create a restore point in Windows 7, click the Start button or press the Windows key, right-click Computer, and choose Properties. Click System Protection in the left pane, enter an administrator password if you're prompted to, select the System Protection tab, and click Create. Enter a description of the restore point, such as "Explorer tweak," and click Create.

In Windows 8 you create a restore point by pressing the Windows key, typing "create a restore point," clicking Settings under the search box, and choosing "Create a restore point" in the main window. Enter an administrator password if you're prompted to, click the Create button under the System Protection tab, provide a description of the restore point, such as "Explorer tweak," and click Create.

Step two: Change two Registry keys
Open the Registry Editor by pressing the Windows key, typing regedit, and pressing Enter. Navigate in the left pane to this key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Classes \ Local Settings \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ Shell \ Bags

Right-click Bags in the left pane, choose Export, select a convenient location for the key backup, and save it as a .reg file. Then right-click the Bags key again and choose Delete.

Next, navigate in the Registry's left pane to this key, which should be directly above the Bags key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Classes \ Local Settings \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ Shell \ BagMRU

Windows 7 and 8 Registry Editor
Back up the Bags and BagMRU keys in the Registry before deleting and replacing them with keys that disable Explorer's full row selection. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Export the key by right-clicking it, choosing Export, and selecting a handy location for the backup .reg file, and then delete it by right-clicking the key again and choosing Delete.

Step three: Download and apply the disablefullrowselect.reg file
Ramesh Srinivasan's w7-fullrowsel.zip file includes the disablefullrowselect.reg file that changes the behavior of Explorer in Windows 7 and 8 to allow you to select one field in Details view rather than the entry's entire row. After you download the .zip file, open it and double-click disablefullrowselect.reg to add that key to the Registry.

Your revised Registry entry will appear as shown in the screen below:

Revised Windows 7 Registry keys
After you apply the fullrowdisable.reg file, your Registry have several new keys that preserve multifile selections when re-sorting files in a folder. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To apply the change to Explorer, either restart your system or terminate and restart the Explorer.exe process. A quick way to reset Explorer.exe in Windows 7 is to press and hold the Ctrl and Shift keys while right-clicking any blank area on the Start menu, and then choose Exit Explorer. As Ramesh explains on the WinHelpOnline blog, the Start menu, taskbar, and desktop will close.

To end the Explorer.exe process in Windows 8, press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to open Task Manager, scroll to Windows Explorer in the "Windows processes" section under the Processes tab, select Windows Explorer, and click the Restart button.

Windows 8 Task Manager processes listing
Enable the Registry change to retain multifile selections in Windows 8 File Explorer by restarting the Windows Explorer process in Task Manager. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To restart Explorer.exe in Windows 7 and 8, press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to open Task Manager, click File > New Task (Run...) in Win7 or File > Run new task in Win8, type explorer.exe, and press Enter.

Bonus tip: Enable the file-selection check box
By default, Windows 7 and 8 hide the check box that lets you select a file by clicking the box that appears to the left of entries in Explorer's Details, List, and Small cons views, and in the top-left corner of the file icons in other Explorer views. Many people find the check boxes make it easier to select items.

To show the check boxes in Explorer in Windows 7, open an Explorer window, click Organize > File and search options, choose the View tab, and scroll to and select "Use check boxes to select items." To see check boxes for items in Windows 8's File Explorer, open an Explorer window, choose the View tab, and check "Item check boxes" in the "Show/hide" section of the ribbon.

Windows 8 File Explorer's View ribbon options
Add check boxes to the items listed in Windows 8's File Explorer by selecting the option in the Show/hide section of the View ribbon. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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