Editor’s Note: This is, by far, the most popular article I’ve ever written on any computing subject. And, ironically, instead of answering someone else’s question, I was answering one of my own. We’re republishing the article here, in the hopes that it will get spidered by more search engines and more users can rid themselves of this extremely frustrating situation. These excerpts from some of the “thank you’s” I’ve received recently give you an idea how annoying it can be to be faced with this undocumented weird Windows problem.
"Thank you for the "Windows Explorer Weirdness" article about how an unintended holding of the Ctrl key messed up the File Open/Save dialog. You’ve saved me!"
"I just wanted to give you a quick thanks for your article. I was literally going CRAZY with the same problem (open dialogues using ‘sort by date’ rather than by alpha order. I am quite experienced with win98 and I had never found a solution. I personally wanted to thank those responsible for helping me fix this."
"I have wasted half a morning trying to find a fix and you are my saviour."
So, without further ado, here’s the article that appeared in our CC Tips e-zine in August of last year.
For the past couple of months I have been coping with an incredibly frustrating problem. My files in the File Open dialog box mysteriously started appearing in order of the "Last Modified" date, instead of in alphabetical order. Let me tell you, this problem was driving me nuts. Our Web site has more than 200 files in it and wading through the list NONalphabetically has been one gigantic pain. I figured at some point I must have clicked just the right key combination to change some Windows default setting somewhere. But I couldn’t put it back. (Oh the aggravation!)
I had my husband (the mega nerd) riffle through my Windows registry settings to see if he could find a setting somewhere that affects how files are listed. No dice. And I tried every combination of keystrokes I could think of in my effort to restore alphabetic order. One thing I did discover, which sort of mitigated the problem to a degree is that if you right-click over the file listing area of the File Open dialog box, you can change how the files are listed (choose Arrange Icons, then By Name).
Finally, I ran across a tip that contained the solution. As it turns out, you can force Windows to remember the file listing settings. I apparently did this accidentally at some point. Here’s what you do: go into Windows Explorer and open a folder such as My Documents. Now choose View|Details. Along the top of the file listing area, you see Name, Type, Size, Modified. If you click any one of these, it will change how your files are sorted in the list. For example, you click Modified to sort your files by the date they were modified.
Now…here’s the part that made Windows save this sorting information everywhere. Hold down the Ctrl key and click the X in the upper right-hand corner of the Window to close it. Now whenever you run a Windows application that uses the File Open, Save, or Save As dialog boxes, the files are listed in Date Modified order rather than Alphabetically.
It’s sort of astonishing to me that I could have experienced so much aggravation just because I held down the Ctrl key at an inopportune time, but there it is. The mystery of computers just never ends.