Organizing Data 

Windows Vista provides new user interface models for organizing data, introducing the concept of Visual Folders. The user interface contains live icons and a rich preview technology to assist users in determining the usefulness of data files.

Virtual Folders and Stacks

Virtual folders free users from the restriction of organizing data by its placement in physical folders on the disk. Files can independently organized by defining by specific criteria formulated as search queries, which are then displayed as virtual folders in the user Interface. A virtual folder contains an XML description of the query that is executed by the system, and is saved as a file on disk. The files are found under C:\Users\<User>\Virtual Folders and C:\Public\Virtual Folders and could actually be created or modified using a text editor – although this is not recommended. Adding or removing a file from a virtual folder does not affect the physical files stored on disk. The contents of a virtual folder can change over time based on the addition or removal of files it contains as well as the search criteria used to define it. Virtual folders and traditional folders are complimentary, and both appear side-by-side in the Vista user interface.

Information inside of a virtual folder can be furthered organized into logical groupings known as stacks. A stack contains a graphical representation indicating that a set of items within a traditional or virtual folder share common features, such as metadata. The same document can appear in more than one stack. The Breadcrumb toolbar tracks stack navigation, giving end users the same experience as navigating folders.

Virtual folders are supported on local machines, over SharePoints, other Vista PCs, and indexed network shares.

Traditional Folders

The access and use of traditional or physical folders will remain fully support and unchanged. As in prior releases, traditional folders are responsible for managing the physical lifetime and security of files; deleting a file from a traditional folder removes it from the system. Traditional folders, while robust and easy to use is limited in how they support organization. Even when supplemented with the Microsoft shortcut technology, there still is fundamentally only one access route to any given file – its path on disk. Effectively folders provide a library without an index, and locating data can within them can be difficult.

Live Icons

Live Icons provide visual information about the data in a file. A developer can display a large image instead of the static bitmap. Developers can provide a read-only preview of data in custom file formats using a screenshot image of the current file contents.

To support Live Icons functionality, an application must provide an implementation of the IThumbnailProvider Interface, as well as an implementation of IInitializeWithStream.

Rich Preview

Rich Preview is provided by a lightweight tool which is integrated into Windows Explorer, the Common File Dialog, and Outlook 12. It enables end users to browse content by providing a read-only preview of data without having to launch the associated application.

Rich Preview support is provided by a rich preview handler for a file type, which is provided by the associated application vendor. A rich preview handler must provide an implementation of the IPreviewHandler Interface and IInitializeWithStream Interface. The operating system will use the IInitializeWithStream Interface implementation to initalize the IPreviewHandler Interface, and then use the IPreviewHandler Interface to create the Live Icon.

Programming Model Documentation Links


System.Runtime.InteropServices, Advanced COM Interoperability


IPreviewHandler Interface

IInitializeWithStream Interface

See Also