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Seven days of Vista -- day 4: Stacking and filtering

Another day, another new Vista feature uncovered -- this time we take a look at how the new OS helps you find and arrange your files

We're four days into our hands-on with the final version of Windows Vista and all is well. All that is, apart from the Mac users in our office trying to pick holes in everything -- but it's fine: jealousy is the biggest form of flattery.

Today we're checking out how the new OS, due on 30 January, can help you locate your files. It might seem dull, and yes, we could probably think of better ways to spend a Friday morning, but there are some interesting new features, so pay attention. If you've ever mislaid a file, or trawled your way through 8,000 images looking for a picture of aunt Bessie, you'll want to hear about them.

The details bar in Vista's Explorer windows is always visible, no matter what view setting you choose, so column headings for file name and details such as type and date modified are always displayed. XP allows you to 'arrange files by' certain criteria, or to group them, but Vista re-introduces DOS-like levels of geekiness to your file listings.

Now, when you hover the mouse cursor over a column header, you can access a drop-down list of options for sorting, filtering, grouping and stacking. Hover over the 'File' column and you can choose to filter the list by the first letter of each filename -- so you can display only files beginning with the letters A-H, I-P and so on.

Most of us are familiar with grouping, but stacking is a new and potentially useful feature. It's basically a type of search that allows you to dump sets of similar files in a stack, or pile. This feature can be accessed from the drop-down menu under each of Explorer's detail headers, or by hitting Alt-V for launching the View drop-down menu and clicking the 'stack by' option.

From here you can select how you want to create your stack (or search). For example, if you have thousands of digital images, you can choose to display only those with a certain ISO setting, lens model, camera model -- or if it's a song, you can use bit rate, beats-per-minute and so on. Each stack can be saved so you can access it later -- a nice touch.

These features may not sound too sexy in comparison to the swankier features of Vista shown on days one, two and three, but we can almost guarantee you'll be using them. Check back soon for more. -RR