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January 18, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Deleting folders in Windows XP

NonsequiturLivia Labate writes:

While performing a simple task - deleting an empty folder - Windows XP provides me with the most puzzling and least helpful dialog box. It gives me four options to a yes or no question... "Yes to all?" ... but it's one folder, with nothing inside it!

Better than that, I clicked "Yes" to permanently remove it and it told me that it couldn't do it... and only gave me an "OK" button this time! I'm puzzled and trapped by the non-sequitur dialog box.


There is a way to hide files/folders in Windows. Right click, select properties, check "Hidden". So there could potentially be something inside that "empty" folder.

Posted by: oasis at January 18, 2005 12:57 AM

Even if there is something in it. It's just a single item that is selected. And what's the difference between NO and CANCEL. This is just stupid, and one of the many reasons Macs are better.

Posted by: Chris at January 18, 2005 08:16 AM

Definitely broken, but maybe not for the reason you think. It is certainly possible that this folder contains subfolders or files that are normally hidden from view, so that would explain why it's too big for the Recycle Bin.

This is simply a form displayed when you perform a certain action, like deleting an item or a group of items that collectively are too big for the Recycle Bin. The buttons are standardized and do not take into account if you have one item or multiple items selected. That's why you have a "Yes to all" and a "No" button, because if you were deleting multiple folders, you could click "No" for a few of them and "Yes" to the others. Obviously "Cancel" will get you out of the whole process.

As for why it failed, maybe there were files in use within the folder. The folder is named "Downloads", maybe this is where Kazaa or other P2P software downloads files to, and the files inside were currently being downloaded by other people.

PS- Chris, I hardly think this counts as an operating system deficiency and a reason to switch to Apple. It's funny that I hear your argument all the time, but I rarely hear someone telling a Mac user that it's in their best interests to switch to PCs. We realize they're flawed, but I guess I'm still wary about Macs ever since learning that the only way to eject the floppy disk was to drag it to the garbage can.

Posted by: Manni at January 18, 2005 09:03 AM

Standard Windows dialog box.

YES = Delete this file.

YES TO ALL = Delete this file and all others without asking me again.

NO = Don't delete this file (there may be another file that you would want to delete)

CANCEL = Exit the entire process.


I agree that it would help for it to be savvy enough to regocnize that it's processibng only one file. (As others have pointed out, maybe the reason you're getting this is that it's not really empty.) However, dialog boxes with those four buttons are very common in Windows, and a typical Windows user should be accustomed to using them.

I vote for "unituitive but not broken."

Posted by: Jay at January 18, 2005 09:20 AM

One way to disspell the theorizing might be to take a gauge on the properties of the folder. Right click on the folder trying to be deleted, choose properties and view the statistics. It will tell how much content is there -- size of all files/folders, count of all files/folders, etc. If still just 1 folder, 0 bytes, it's definitely broken. Oh. Don't forget to drag your floppy to the trash to eject yourself from your system after you're done. (j/k) :)

Posted by: John at January 18, 2005 10:15 AM

I've always wondered why there is not a "No to all" button. Drives me crazy! I usually just hit "cancel" and try some other way if it keeps asking me.

Posted by: eliot at January 18, 2005 10:40 AM

I'm not seeing the broken part here, the buttons mean exactly what they say (as they were defined a few posts ago by Jay)and due to the fact that you were moving the folder to the recycle bin, saying "no, don't completely delete this file" is perfectly reasonable.

I vote for not broken, and intuitive to anyone who can read English. (and any other language Windows is produced in)

And as to the "OK" option for the "can't delete this" message, Of course it only offers "OK", it's not asking you anything! It has given you a message, telling you it can't do something, what other option do you want other than to agnolege it and close the window?

Posted by: Mink'o'war at January 18, 2005 11:32 AM

eliot: How would 'No to All' differ from Cancel? If anything, No to All would take longer as it rolls through the list and says "Should I delete this? He said No" for each item on that list, rather than just aborting the procedure.

As to the matter at hand, unbroken.

Posted by: Jim King at January 18, 2005 01:59 PM

Check the properties dialogue box for read only, or other contents. If read only change and retry.

Posted by: Ty at January 18, 2005 03:43 PM

Usually that only occurs if there are enough files within the folder to make it large enough to not fit into the recycle bin..

and if you really think about it, this dialogue box is the best way to get the idea across... there were more than likely multiple files in this folder, hidden or not. So it gives you the choice of keeping files, or getting rid of them... but this only applies to files that have a specific property, if it is to large to fit in the recycle bin, or if it is read only, these are usually the two specifications that fall under the "we needed to let you know something about this file and want to make sure that its ok with you" theres been many times where i have been glad that my computer asked me about specific files, otherwise i woulda been SOL when i deleted them by accident. In all accounts, this isnt broken...

Posted by: Dragon at January 18, 2005 05:04 PM

errata: also, this box may have been caused due to lack of space in the recycle been from other items.

Posted by: Dragon at January 18, 2005 05:06 PM

On some networked computers, such as at my school, the My Documents folder is mapped to a network share, and this becomes the storage space for most of your settings, so they go along with you throughout the network.

Apparently, on this system the Recycle Bin has been pointed to inside the My Documents folder, which is on a share that is disconnected. So, with the Recycle Bin out of commision, the only option left is to permanently delete it.

I agree, this is really difficult to understand, and could use some more explanation.

Posted by: ssssmemyself at January 18, 2005 05:59 PM

Ahem!!,, I would suggest the person who authored this article/opinion learn how to spell. Grammer school students can spell better than this person can.

Posted by: Wally at January 19, 2005 09:01 AM

Ahem!!,, I would suggest the person who authored this article/opinion learn how to spell. Grammer school students can spell better than this person can.

Posted by: Wally at January 19, 2005 09:01 AM

Hey Wally: it's spelled "grammar" ;)

Posted by: Manni at January 19, 2005 10:48 AM

As in many instances, it is the button labeling that makes this overly confusing. Often, software and Web designers feel the need to make buttons overly short.

In Photoshop, when you try to delete a folder that contains layers, you get buttons which say, "Delete folder set and contents," "Delete set but not contents" or "Cancel".

When you limit it to "Yes," "No," "Cancel," etc. it is limiting and confusing, because the user then has to cycle back to the initial warning and figure out what the meaning of each button is. Better to just make the button say what it intends to do.

Posted by: Michael McWatters at January 19, 2005 12:50 PM


What's misspelled? I copied the entire entry into MS Word and no misspellings were found.

Not that I trust Microsoft to spell for me, but I couldn't see anything wrong myself.

Posted by: Dorri Williams at January 19, 2005 02:29 PM

ssssmemyself is correct. If you slow down and actually *read* the dialog box, you'll see that the problem is that some system administrator put the Recycle Bin in My Documents, which is currently offline. (It might mean the server is down, or that the user isn't logged in correctly.) Since the system can't move the folder into the Recycle Bin, it's warning/asking you that the files will be deleted outright without being stored in the Bin first.

You can't blame Microsoft for this one; the system administrator of this particular network is the guy who decided to put the recycling bin inside of a network share. Livia: talk to your system administrator about this, he should be able to solve the problem easily by tweaking a few settings.

The four options, as others have pointed out, are very common in Windows and should be familiar to anybody familiar with the OS.

(No doubt part of the problem here is people glimpsing at the screen and not actually reading the text of the dialog, assuming they know what the computer is saying when they don't.)

Also, you've got to stop posting problems that are due to non-Microsoft factors but blamed on Microsoft for some reason. Like that printer driver problem posted a few months back that was blamed on Word.

Posted by: James Schend at January 19, 2005 04:31 PM

Isn't everything about Windows broken?

Posted by: Michael at January 19, 2005 08:18 PM

If everything about Windows was broken, it would not be on the market

Posted by: joe plaugher at January 19, 2005 09:36 PM

Of course it's always easy to make fun of the most successful product. Windows isn't perfect, of course, but it's a hell of a lot better than most Linux distributions... now that BeOS is dead, I don't think there's a better OS than Windows XP available for x86 computers.

That part that bugs me is that most of the people who gripe about Windows use Windows. If you hate it so much, why not buy a Apple computer or install Linux?

Posted by: James Schend at January 20, 2005 12:09 PM

It's not too big for the recycle bin, the problem is that the My Documents folder is accessed over a network, and is not connected at the momet.

Posted by: Invalid Atribute Index Adam at January 21, 2005 10:37 AM

"I guess I'm still wary about Macs ever since learning that the only way to eject the floppy disk was to drag it to the garbage can."

Manni, you need to catch up with the technology. That hasn't been true for several years. (And of course, there are _no_ floppy drives in Macs these days.)

BTW, it's the _Trash_, not the garbage can. Garbage cans are where you put Windows CDs.

Posted by: His Holiness Dominic at January 23, 2005 06:54 PM

Well, it IS a microsoft product, isn't it?

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at January 25, 2005 05:08 PM

king you dumb fuck. no to all means if you are copying 100 files to another hard drive, if it sees duplicates you want no to all so it skips the duplicates and keeps copying the rest.

Posted by: anon at February 9, 2005 04:25 AM

To say "No to all" when the dialog box comes up, Hold the shift button and click on the No button. You will get the dialog box for folders and files at least once for each type.

I've been cursing and wondering for years how to say "no to all". Microsoft should have made this more clear by just putting a "No to all" button.

Posted by: Igs at May 26, 2005 04:22 AM

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