Removing item grouping in “open” dialog boxes

Here’s a really silly setting in Windows that I saw on a client’s computer for the first time last week

We don’t know how it happened and I couldn’t immediately see how to change it (but we got there in the end).

When this client wished to attach a file to an email message, she pressed on the paperclip as normal. In her case, this was in Gmail webmail, but the illustrations below were captured when I used Outlook.

As has always been the case, a dialog box popped up that invites the user to select which file(s) they wish to attach by clicking on it/them. The new problem, though, is that Windows has decided to group the files depending on how old they are. In the example below, the groupings that are visible are “Today”, “Last Week, and “Last Month”. On her computer, I saw more groups than this. The obvious problem is that you have to search each group until you find the file(s) you are looking for. That could take ages and be very tiresome.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Items are grouped – eg “Today”, “Last week”, “Last month”.

No doubt there’s a parallel universe somewhere, inhabited by Microsoft employees, where this is useful, but that’s not the universe inhabited by either my client or me.

There’s no point in clicking on the “change your view” or “show preview pane” buttons at the top right of the window. They won’t help. And neither will anything on the “View” tab of a File Explorer window. There is, however, a simple (if far from obvious) solution:

  • Open the dialog box (such as in Figure 1), for instance by by clicking on a paperclip in an email message.
  • Right-click on a bit of white space to the left of a folder or filename.
  • Hover over the “Group by” item in the list that has opened.
  • Left-click on the entry that says “(none)” in the list that has just appeared.
  • Breathe sigh of relief as normality is restored.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Right-click on some empty space – eg to the left of the filenames.
Figure 3
Figure 3. After left-clicking on “(None)”, the grouping will disappear.

When I told my client that I had never encountered this behaviour before, she seemed a bit surprised. I then had a moment of self-doubt and wondered if Windows had always behaved like this, but that the default was “no grouping”, and that the client had somehow accidentally turned it on and I didn’t immediately know how to turn it off again. I was very happy, therefore, to come across this web page from Ghacks that foresaw the introduction of this “feature” in 2019.

I really can’t see the benefit of this new “feature”, but at least it’s easily corrected when you know how.