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I can't get myself to understand what the default "Date" column in Windows 7 Explorer is. It's not the creation date really and it's not the modified date ... What is it?

Anyone knows what Microsoft had in mind with this other than trying to confuse its users? There must be some thought to it in terms of its relevance and usability.

Can anyone shed some light on this?

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The "Date" column takes the earlier of "Date created" and "Date modified", ignoring "Date accessed", unless there is a "special" date field such as an Exif-header in a JPG, which takes precedence no matter whether it is before or after other dates present... just as @Richard guessed:

screenshot visualizing the above statement

The reasoning seems to be that when you copy a file, the "Date created" of the file copy is the current date, while the "Date modified" is carried over from the original file. So in this case the "Date Modified" contains more information about when the content was created/changed, so might be more relevant to some users than the date the file was copied.

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Date Accessed is essentially useless in Windows since Explorer (and other processes/services/programs) accesses it to do things like generating previews, reading headers, detecting modifications for backup purposes, etc., which in turn updates the field so they will always be just now. Back in DOS days, it was useful because simply generating a directory listing (eg dir) did not modify the last-accessed timestamp, so it was possible to view the last time the file really was accessed in the traditional sense of the word (modified = written, accessed = read). – Synetech Jan 28 '12 at 23:32
@Synetech I agree... to the point that I have set NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate to True... – Jonas Heidelberg Jan 30 '12 at 10:11
@Ariane: your edit made no sense, sorry... have a look at the screenshot ;-) – Jonas Heidelberg Feb 15 '13 at 12:33
@Jonas I misread it. Thanks, and sorry. – Ariane Feb 15 '13 at 23:55
Also, the Date column always puts folders before files unlike the other date columns which put them before or after depending on the direction of the sort. – Synetech Mar 13 '15 at 16:21

The default date column here is "Modified Date" and I cannot (quickly) see anywhere it does not match that.

Noting that for newly created files the last modified date is the creation date; and files copied in can keep there modified date so have a modified date before their creation date.

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In Windows 7 there is a choice of columns: "Date" (by default) and "Date Modified" as a choice. The default is not showing the last modified date (at least not on my system...) – Notitze Jun 1 '10 at 9:56
@Notitze: I wonder when I changed it? Looking in the full column list I can now see what you mean. A little checking and it appears to be the older of the modified and created dates (but media files, with more dates in their metadata, might do something more complex). – Richard Jun 2 '10 at 7:50

If the file is a photo from a camera, the vague 'date' column shows the datetime on the camera as that is the time it thinks is the real 'created' date. NOT the time on the PC when it was taken.

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Yes, this is what I address with the last two files in my screenshot... – Jonas Heidelberg Jan 30 '12 at 10:01

The default behavior of File Explorer in Windows 7 (other vers?) depends on what KIND of folder is containing the files. This is auto-detected by Windows depending on the type of files that are inside. For instance, if there are a lot of pictures, Windows tends to automatically optimize the folder's appearance for photos, such as a column for "Tags", and the Date column goes by date CREATED in case you crop or adjust the photo and still want to sort by the date you took it (not when you modified it).

To see what type of folder has been assigned by Windows, go up a level and right-click on the folder. Choose Properties and click the Customize tab. At the top, it has a drop-down list under "What kind of folder do you want", then it shows you how the folder is currently optimized. Options include General items, Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos. You can override the current selection manually to whichever you want.

You can easily modify some aspects of the default behavior for the current folder type. Pick the columns you want add or delete, arrange their order and set the column widths. When you're happy, you set this as the default by clicking on Tools (top of File Explorer window), then "Folder options...", then the View tab. Click on "Apply to Folders" to apply these settings to all other folders of this same type. This will alter all existing folders and be the default for new folders of this type. You can then tweak the appearance of individual folders later. "Reset" will restore the settings for that folder type back to Windows defaults.

More on this topic can be found here:

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