Mind over meta

Metadata's back, and this time it's really useful. Get ready for Vista (Microsoft's next big OS) and save yourself some work right away by organising your documents.

The next version of Windows, Vista - having recently changed its name from Longhorn - will make it easier to find things by borrowing a few tricks from Outlook. But, if you already use Search Folders to organise your e-mail, Virtual Folders will look very familiar.

Grouping files in Explorer so you can see who wrote them or when you worked on them is just like organising e-mails in your inbox by sender or conversation instead of the order they arrived. Vista will make it sleeker, but you can already do this using Explorer in Windows XP. It takes a few steps to make the most of it, and searching by metadata - data about data - works best if you input more information to your files at the outset.

Better data

To add metadata, use Explorer or the Office program with which you created the file. I use Explorer as it gives a good overview of how much information is in files already. If files are open, Explorer locks their properties, so never try to edit them in two places at once.

In Explorer, choose Details from the View menu and right-click on any of the columns of information to get a list of file properties. For Office documents "Author", "Title" and "Subject" are the most useful. In Windows XP, you can't see the Keywords in Explorer's Details view. "Subject" isn't available from the default list, but can be accessed by clicking More...

Playing tag

You can edit any of the properties from Explorer or tag multiple documents by selecting them all, right-clicking and choosing Properties. On the Summary tab, click Advanced and select the field you want to edit.

The columns make it easy to sort the Details view, but you can't get groups that way. Switch to Icon view, right-click on the Explorer pane and choose Arrange Icons By to select which property to sort by, then right-click again and choose Arrange Icons By, Show In Groups.

The most effective way to add properties is to put them in templates. Normal.dot will record your name in its metadata, but not a lot else. If you make your own templates for different types of projects, choose File-Properties and fill in the subject or keywords in advance. You can do the same for templates you download from the Office Online site (http://office.microsoft.com).

They open as a new file. Use File-Save As and pick Word Template as the file type. Anything you add to the File Properties will be in files you create with the template.

To make sure you add info for each file choose Tools-Options-Save and tick "Prompt for document properties".

PICS: Outlook 2003 already has the virtual folders we'll get in Vista (Click here to view image).

Add metadata to a document template and you'll get it in all the documents you create from the template (Click here to view image).

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