If Windows Explorer seems to freeze for a few seconds (or a few minutes) whenever a folder, especially top-level folders, are selected, then it could be XP’s auto-sensing feature that is to blame.
Windows XP introduced a feature that peeks inside a folder to determine what the predominate filetype is and provide file-specific tasks for it. For example, if it finds that there more picture files in the folder than anything else, then it will place tasks such as “Print pictures” and “Order prints online” in the Common Tasks pane to the left. It will also place a graphic watermark indicating the “folder type” in the bottom-right of the folder.
This feature is debatable because it has limited use since most people have other ways and programs to do these common tasks. Worse still, if a root folder somehow becomes tagged as a special folder, then all of its subfolders are scanned every time that it is selected, which is what causes the freezing.
Fortunately it is easy to fix. Open a folder that is not “special”, that is, open any folder whose common tasks pane displays “File and Folder Tasks” and has no watermark. Now click the Tools menu and select Folder Options. Click the View tab and then the Apply to All Folders button (then OK). This sets all folders to be the same as the current folder (non-special).
You should now be able to click any folder without it freezing for a while.
As a furtherance to this task, you could also set up other aspects of the folder to be exactly like you wish before clicking Apply to All Folders. This way, all folders will have the same columns, view setting, common task layout, and other attributes that you desire since they will anyway.
(As a side note, it seems that the delay is compounded by the presence of LNK files (Windows shortcuts) and URL files (IE bookmarks)—and possibly PIF files (DOS shortcuts)—in the subfolders as removing them eliminates, for the most part, the freezing. Broken shortcuts increase the delay as do bookmarks to FTP sites. No explanation as to why they affect common tasks has been found.)