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File Save and File Open dialogs in many applications are similar to Windows Explorer. Changing the default look of File dialogs is more difficult.

I have a PC running Windows XP Home and have Microsoft Office Professional. Whenever I Open or Save a file in an Office program such as Excel or Word, the Open or Save As window lists folders first, sorted by Modified Date, then all files sorted by Modified Date.

In Windows Explorer I know how to apply the current view (e.g., Details or Tiles) to all folders. Is there a similar feature for the Office Open and Save As windows?

As you note, in Windows Explorer it's not that difficult to do, and in fact I've discussed it in an earlier article: How do I get Windows Explorer to display details by default?. While it's not obvious, it's not really difficult.

File listing dialog boxes, on the other hand, are another story.

And Office? Another story still, but perhaps the easiest of all.

Many applications use a Windows provided library, called the "Common Control Library" to provide their File Open and File Save dialogs. In fact, just about any file selection dialog can be displayed using the Windows common control.

One of the nice things about using a common control is that all the dialogs look and act roughly the same. If you know how to use one File Open dialog, you'll immediately recognize the same dialog in another applications, or similar dialogs like File Save because they're all very similar.

The down side to using the common control is that all applications that use it share the control's limitations. In this case the ability to modify the default display is such a limitation.

"There's no supported way that I'm aware of to modify the default common file display."

There's no supported way that I'm aware of to modify the default common file display. That includes the size of the dialog, the sort order, or whether or not to display details, icons or something else. The default is what the default is, and you'll need to live with it, changing the display by hand each time you open up a new file selection dialog and feel the need to see things differently.

The good news here is that from what I can tell Office does not use the common control - or at least, not for File selection dialogs. With Word 2003, for example, I was able to resize the open dialog, change the view settings, exit Word and restart it, and the settings were preserved the way I had left them. The change is a simple click on the Views drop-down list:

Word's File Open dialog with Views Dropdown

Word simply remembers the setting.

While we might wish that other applications worked the same way, they most frequently do not. When you exit and restart the application, or even if you just bring up the file selection dialog more than once, you'll see it's been reset to the pre-defined defaults that you cannot change.

Now, there is a "patch" out there, but to be totally honest, it makes me really uncomfortable.

ElmüSoft has something called "Windows MultiEnhancer" which allows you to both resize the common File Open dialog and display details by default. It works by actually replacing the common control library with a patched copy. Naturally that patched copy is not official in any sense of the word, and certainly hasn't been tested by the Windows QA team. If there are ramifications to the patch - well, too bad, you're on your own.

I've run it, and while the install warned me about some missing file, it still seemed to work as advertised. Even better, the "Restore" function also worked properly, restoring my system to its "official" behavior. (I believe that running the System File Checker may also "undo" this patch.)

I can't honestly recommend unofficial system patches of this nature, but if you're desperate or daring, and you back up, it might be worth a test.

And finally, while I haven't tried it yet, this is such a common request, I hope that Microsoft has listened and provided the functionality we're all looking for in the next version of Windows.

Article C2811 - October 14, 2006 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

October 21, 2006 4:10 AM

Leo, you might appreciate this review of a whole bunch of programs that do exactly this:

one of our favorites (Filebox Extender) has just become freeware with the announcement that it won't work on Windows Vista.


November 5, 2006 5:43 PM

Thanks for the recommendation to use Filebox Extender - works like a charm.

December 3, 2006 4:42 PM

You might want to look at this KB article from Microsoft:

Though this is written for Windows 98, the same procedure works in Windows XP. Essentially, open an explorer windows, navigate to c:, choose View->Details from menubar, click on the Name column to sort the way you want, hold down the control key and click the close button (with the control key held down). Now the common open/save file dialog will be sorted by name. The KB article says to reboot right away, but in XP it seems to have an immediate effect.

July 21, 2007 3:56 AM

Mouse, thanks for the idea, was screwing me up but ROYALLY for the last 6 months.

Jim, thanks for the confirmation, 2 guys/gals saying it is OK is a decent sign. For me it works perfectly on XP Pro sp2 and on 2003 server RC2. My amazement is that
a)MS haven't bought it - Perhaps they have their own "new features" in Vista to do something similar but (par for the course) vastly inferior. They never seem to understand the words "flexible" OR "intutitive" OR "friendly", just "This is the product, this is what it does, no, we don't care a damn about what it doesn't do, go see your lawyer and show him/her our EULA". Sigh!

All I wanted was a simple way to set the open/save to "details" so I can see files sizes and scroll down instead of sideways. Making the dialogue box bigger (150% on width. 125% on height is a sheer, but wonderful bonus if you need long file names which I like. Also I can turn off the features I don't want like favorites menu at home (many users, not a good idea) etc etc. Beautiful program, beautifully done.

Stable as a rock, and FREE, but still (as a I speak) being updated and bugfixed. One downside, it uses 12 Mb of RAM, but then what program doesn't these days.
Thank you Hyperionics and Mouse and Jim.

August 14, 2007 1:58 AM

It seems most of the best Dialog Extenders won't work with Vista. What a shame !. With Vista coming pre-installed in most computers, there's a field wide open for the authors to update their software to cater to a need here. File-Ex ( is one of those that does the job exceedingly well with a very intuitive interface; but right now, it does not work very well with Vista.

August 18, 2007 7:09 AM

I changed my defaults for non-Microsoft applications so I know that it can be done. The problem is that I don't know how I did it and I can't get it back. Every time I open something the Open dialog box appears in List View sorted by date modified in descending order.

I am wasting so much time. It drives me nuts!

Willem Mol
January 6, 2008 8:43 PM

Jim had it right,
To get the file open dialog to show details the nex time: select details in the file open dialog and hold control key when clicking open. Works in Vista Business.

August 29, 2008 8:29 AM

Thanks, never would have thought of it! BTW, CTRL + Close works on Vista Ultimate too.

April 29, 2012 1:21 AM

Leo, I think it is not the situation.
When you will SAVE or SAVE AS a file in the HD, don't matter from where it comes or how explorer is configured, there are never details.
How to set the details by default?
For one, open the notepad, and get to save the text.
The dialog box never shows details. How to set it?
(the dialog boxes, not the explorer)

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