Can I Trust Explorer View

imageNothing sends a chill up your spine quite like saying something in public and then finding out that you were wrong. Well, there is one other thing, doing something, or telling other people to do something that you’re just not sure you should do. A strange sequence of events on this blog has me dealing with so many chills; I’m reaching for my Steeler hoodie. Last April, I wrote an article about using Document Sets where I talked about the features I liked. In one of the comments I received, a person asked how to create a folder inside a document set. I don’t usually dabble in the art of “how to” on this blog, but I thought I’d research that one a bit. I thought I found the answer, and I replied that as long as the parent library supports folders, you would be able to create folders in a document set – wrong!

A few days ago, somebody replied to the person who asked the original question, stating simply that “folder cannot be added to document set.” Seeing that comment caused chill #1, but it also inspired a bit of investigation. I was pretty sure I gave my original answer based on something I read, mainly because it was a statement of fact that I didn’t have the knowledge to support (I don’t usually make those). I couldn’t find anything to support my earlier conclusion, so I decided to see if I could find a solution that would work. By work, I mean “is there a way to add a folder to a document set?” The answer is yes, and the title has telegraphed the method. While you cannot get your document library to offer you the option to “create a new folder”, you can create a new folder in the parent library; open the library in explorer view and drag the folder into a document set. You can drag document sets into other documents sets and, if you like living on the edge, you can drag document sets containing folders into the folders you previously dragged into a document set. You can see in the image that ‘New Folder’ is disabled but my document set includes a folder and another document set. I’m not sure why I would ever want to create these organizational elements inside themselves, but suffice it to say, it can be done. That brings me to chill #2 – should I offer this as a solution to someone? I poked around and I found others who have offered explorer view as an option, but I’m stopping short of saying that here.

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I am a firm believer in the adage “just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it” and that second chill is because part of me thinks there’s a reason Microsoft didn’t include this feature. The option to create folders in a document set is missing due to an oversight, or perhaps they never considered anyone would want to do that, or perhaps there is something about document sets that makes having folders in them a bad idea. In the library I used for testing, it would be a bad idea, because the document sets have workflows attached to them. If a workflow ran on a nested document set, it would generate a task for a person who would rightly feel lost and confused when they found themselves inside a document library that doesn’t contain the set they were working on. I realize that my situation is unique, but if I were suggesting explorer view as a way of creating folders in document sets, I would have to qualify my advice.

I’m also getting a chill from what I consider the worm-hole nature of explorer view. Explore view provides us with an unfiltered opening into otherwise cloistered containers. In the TV series Star Trek Next Generation (STNG) worm holes were featured in several episodes. A “stable” wormhole between the Alpha and Gamma quadrants spawned a seven-year spin-off Deep Space Nine. In a different episode, “The Price” two people are lost for decades in the Delta quadrant because a worm hole they were exploring was only stable on one end – you could always enter at point A, but you might emerge at point B, or C, or Z on any given day. Using explorer view to nest folders and document sets inside document sets makes me feel like I’m traversing an unstable worm hole. I have users who might like to put folders in document sets, but before I offer this solution, I am going to conduct a little more research. I am going to start with asking them “why?” It seems to me that I’m more likely to find a disconnect between the user’s goals and the intended nature of this library than I am to find a valid request.

4 thoughts on “Can I Trust Explorer View

  1. Hi Dan, What are your thoughts on explorer view in general (outside of Document Sets)? Is accessing documents through explorer view or mapping SharePoint sites/libraries to drives something you discourage users from doing? What guidelines do you give about when to or not to use explorer view? Thanks!

  2. Hi Judy.I am not a big fan of explore view in general. We recommend it sometimes, as a tool of last resort. An example happened recently, when a coworker put a document in the wrong library and just wanted an easy way to move it to the correct one. Using explorer view is more desirable than moving via multiple operations and the desktop.Beyond that, I try to avoid explorer view as an option because I’d rather emphasize the value added by the richer interface SharePoint provides. Explorer view is like taking your kids to McDonalds, they are going to like it, it satisfies the requirement of feeding them, but opportunities are lost on both the preparation and consumption side of the equation. People like the familiar interface explorer view offers, but I want to encourage them to think about documents being more than the end product. We are trying to highlight the way in which documents represent company information that should be handled and processed with care. Of course, this thinking is a work-in-progress. We have recently had success getting people to start their documents in SharePoint, using templates associated with Content Types. We have also had very good success moving email attachments into SharePoint using Harmon.ie. In both cases, we can make life easy but still collect metadata and keep the SharePoint features in front of the users. As for mapping a drive to a SharePoint library, we have done that in one case, but I forget why. It may have been to make attaching files to email easier, in the days before we had Harmon.ie Navigation remains an issue that we struggle with, but I don’t think mapped drives are the answer. There are only 26, and people probably can only remember 4. We have to build a better system of navigation aids, and that is a major goal for us in 2012.Thanks for reading.Dan

  3. Subcatagories, that's the reason I'm currently looking at creating folders in document sets.I have collections of project files that would make sense to be treated as a set for record management and workflows. But these are large sets and each project folder is currently divided into catagories using subfolders. I can't seem to find a way to view only a subset of the project files. Another feature requested was to change the templates displayed based on the catagory you are in since there is a large number of project templates. I can do this by changing the new button order on folders but I don't think this will work with document sets.Maybe document sets are not useful here. But we've been trying to get away from folders.

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