Do you have a lot of personal files on your PC? Want help keeping them sorted? One useful way to help organize them is to tag them in various ways with metadata. In Windows Vista and up, only a few file types normally allow their metadata to be edited. However, there is a free program called “File Meta” that allows you to add tags, comments, and other types of metadata to most files in Windows 7 and 8.x.
Metadata is information about file contents that is present in all Windows files. Some of it, such as file size and date of creation, is familiar but there is much else that may be stored as metadata. In Windows XP, it is possible to add a tag or comments to any file’s metadata. See this article for some details on using metadata to organize files in Windows XP. Starting with Vista, Microsoft limited the availability of editable metadata to certain types of files such as images, music, and Microsoft Office files. And that is where File Meta comes in. With this utility, you can add and edit metadata for just about any file.
A description and download for File Meta can be found at this CodePlex link. Additional documentation is here. The utility is currently in version 1.2 and there are both 32- and 64-bit versions. The download is a 1 MB Microsoft installer file (MSI). Since the program has to be installed and modifies Windows File Explorer, be sure to make a restore point before installing. The .NET Framework 3.5 is required. A check with VirusTotal shows no warning flags and the File Meta site has a green WOT rating. Administrator privileges are required to run the program. I have used it in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, 64-bit.
Installing and setting up File Meta
Once you install the program, the file you actually use is called “File Association Manager”. In Windows 8, this is what you have to search for in order to open the program. (Don’t ask me why the developer decided on this confusing switch to another name.) In essence, the utility is a specialized Registry editor that provides an easy way to make certain changes in the Registry key, HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. This Registry key has handlers for all the file extensions available on the system.
The interface that you see when you open File Association Manager can be seen by clicking the thumbnail on the right. You will see a left column that lists all the entries and file extensions from HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. Here is how to use the program.
- Scroll down the list of file extensions until you find the file extension where you want to add metadata, for example “.txt” for text files.
- Highlight the desired extension.
- Leave profile setting at “Simple”'
- Click the button “Add File Meta Handler”.
- If for some reason you want to remove the setting for metadata, there is also a button “Remove File Meta Handler”.
- After a file type has been configured, the computer or Windows File Explorer has to be restarted for the new setting to take effect.
How to use metadata to organize files
Here is the procedure to edit metadata
- Right-click a file to open the context menu.
- Select “Properties”.
- Click the tab “Details”.
- The properties sheet will open.
- Edit the field of interest. You have to place your mouse to the right of the item you want to edit and click in order to open the box where edits are made.
Using metadata to organize photos and music is well known but File Meta lets you classify all sorts of files. I have used the program primarily to tag text and script files. The figure below is an example of adding a tag to a batch file. Other fields such as Subject, Category, and Comments can also be edited.
A useful property of the editable metadata fields is that they can be searched by the Windows search function (provided that you have indexing enabled). That makes it easy to find files marked with a given piece of metadata.
Another way to use metadata is to display a particular field while in the details view of Windows File Explorer.
- With the details view of File Explorer open and the menu bar showing, click the tab “View”
- In the menu that opens, click “Choose details…”
- In the dialog box put a check by the details you want displayed in File Explorer
- Click “OK”
You can then use the “Sort by” or “Group by” settings in the View menu to select files with a particular kind of metadata.
Be aware that edited metadata may not carry over when you copy a file to another drive.
- Organise And Search Your Photos By Metadata
- Metadata in Your Files May Reveal Hidden Personal Information You Didn’t Know About
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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.
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