Attack of the rogue feature: Oh no, where did my Explorer icon labels go?

Raymond Chen

A customer reported that on Windows Vista, if you hold down the shift key and repeatedly click the View button in the command bar of an Explorer window, you will eventually reach a state where all the labels under the icons have disappeared! Where did they go, and how do I get them back? Congratulations, you stumbled across a rogue feature. One of the developers who worked on Windows XP decided to add a cute shortcut: Holding down the shift key when switching to Thumbnail mode will cause the labels to disappear. (At least, that was the intent of the rogue feature, but it so happens that as a side effect, the hold the shift key to remove labels shortcut also takes effect during certain other operations, because the shift key test was made in a shared worker function.) Great, now that they’re gone, how do you get them back? The way to restore item labels in Windows XP was to repeat the operation and hold the shift key when switching into Thumbnail mode. But wait, Windows Vista doesn’t have an explicit Thumbnail mode any more. Since the hold the shift key to hide the labels feature was a rogue feature, nobody knew that the Thumbnail menu item was secretly being overloaded as an escape hatch! Okay, here’s how you get the labels back: Right-click in the background of the folder and select Customize This folder. From the customization dialog, change the template to Pictures and Videos, then OK. Now go back to the Explorer folder window and right-click in the background of the folder a second time, then go to the View submenu. (Alternatively, type Alt+V.) There will be a new Hide File Names option: Uncheck it. (If it’s already unchecked, then check it, and then uncheck it again.) If you want, you can go back and uncustomize the folder so it has the All files template again.

The customer support people are probably relieved to learn that this rogue feature no longer exists in Windows 7.


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