Build Your Skills: Exploring the advanced features of Microsoft Windows Explorer

Advanced Microsoft Windows Explorer tips to improve efficiency

If you’ve never had the chance to learn some of the less prominent features of Windows Explorer, you’re missing out on the convenience that comes with mastery. Here are some ways you can use Explorer to make browsing your computer more productive. These options should work in Windows 9x, Me, NT, and 2000.

Command-line switches
As you probably know, Windows Explorer has two views: the single-pane My Computer view and the double-pane Explorer view. You can start Windows Explorer in a double-pane view by typing explorer and pressing [Enter] from the Start | Run menu or the Command Console (known in Windows 98 as the MS-DOS prompt). Adding the /n switch will open Explorer with a single-pane view. Using the /e switch instead will ensure Explorer opens in the two-pane view. Adding a path lets you open Explorer directly to that path. For example, typing:
explorer /e,c:\program files

will bring up Explorer in a two-pane view with the Program Files directory conveniently selected. Note the comma required after the /e switch, as well as the convention of using forward slashes (/) for command-line switches and backslashes (\) for paths.

One useful switch, /root, defines the top level shown in the folder hierarchy. By default, Windows Explorer opens at the desktop level. If you want to explore the Program Files tree in a two-pane view without any other folder distractions, type the following:
explorer /e,/root,c:\program files

You’ll see a screen similar to the one shown in Figure A.

Figure A
It’s possible to start Windows Explorer in a root folder other than the desktop by using the /root switch.

The /root technique isn’t limited to a local machine. For example, you could type the name of a shared computer on a network to open Explorer rooted in that directory. Here’s an example of such a command:
explorer /e,/root,\\corpnt2\tpg

Remember to use two backslashes before a networked computer name.

Customizing your own shortcut
The command-line switches presented above really become beneficial when you want to customize an Explorer shortcut. For example, in administering your workstation or server, you may often find yourself navigating to the C:\Winnt\Profiles directory. You could create a shortcut to open Explorer rooted at that directory by doing the following:
  1. In C:\Winnt\, select Explorer.exe.
  2. While holding down the [Alt] key, drag the highlighted file over to a blank area of the desktop and drop it. Holding down [Alt] tells Windows to create the file as a shortcut in the new location.
  3. Right-click the shortcut and choose Properties.
  4. On the Shortcut tab, you’ll see the Target text box. Add the command-line switches you wish to use and click OK to save.

Using these steps, you can easily open Explorer, rooted at the Profiles directory, whenever you double-click the shortcut icon. Figure B shows the Target information added for this example.

Figure B
Adding command-line switches to an Explorer shortcut lets you customize your computer browsing.

In a good graphical environment like Windows, users don’t often find the motivation to learn command-line switches unless they’ve come from a UNIX or DOS background. However, as you can see from this Daily Feature, your browsing with Windows Explorer can be enhanced through these console commands.
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

Editor's Picks