Software

Get to know File Explorer's Contextual tabs in Windows 10

Greg Shultz explores the Contextual tabs on the Ribbon toolbar in Windows 10's File Explorer for recent Windows 7 and Windows XP users.

File Explorer
Image: Greg Shultz

In last week's article, "Get to know File Explorer's Ribbon toolbar in Windows 10," I told you how the Ribbon toolbar system, with its one menu and three Core tabs along with the Contextual tabs, is designed to easily expose close to 200 different file management commands. I then focused in on the commands and features on the File menu and the three Core tabs: Home, Share, and View. As I did so, I explained how to take advantage of the command on the Core tabs. While the File menu and the Core tabs are always visible and provide easy access to standard commands, the Contextual tabs only appear when you need them (i.e. they appear based on the type of object that you've selected, such as a location, a folder, or a file) and then provide related commands.

In this article, I'll continue my in-depth look at the Ribbon toolbar in Windows 10's File Explorer by exploring the Contextual tabs.

What is a Contextual tab?

As I mentioned, the Ribbon toolbar system with its tabs is designed to expose close to 200 different file management commands in File Explorer. One of the ways that the Ribbon system accomplishes this feat is by using Contextual tabs, which only appear when you select a specific location, such as This PC or Network, or select a specific object, such as a image file or a drive, and then display commands related to that object.

For example, when you select an image file, you'll see a tab that contains commands like Rotate and Set as background. When you select a drive, you'll see a tab that contains a command like Optimize and Format.

Computer tab

When you select This PC in File Explorer's Navigation pane, the File menu and two tabs titled Computer and View will appear in the Ribbon. In this case, the Computer tab is the Contextual tab. The File menu and the View tab contain the same commands as I showed you last week; however, the Computer tab contains a set of commands for the tasks that you typically perform in This PC. The Computer tab (Figure A) contains three groups: Location, Network, and System. The Location group contains three commands: Properties, which displays a standard Properties dialog box for the selected item (folder, drive, or network location); Open, which simply opens the selected item; and the Rename command, which allows you to rename the selected item.

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Greg Shultz

The Computer tab displays commands for the tasks that you are likely to perform in Computer.

The Network group contains Access Media, which allows you to connect to the media shares on other computers on your network; Map network drive, which allows you to assign drive letters to a network share; and the Add a network location command, which launches the Add Network Location wizard that you can use to connect to a cloud site, an FTP site, or a network location.

The System group allows you to easily access Settings, launch the Uninstall or change a program tool, or access a System properties screen, just like the one you access in Windows XP/7 by right-clicking on Computer and selecting Properties. To add even more functionality to the This PC view, the Manage command conveniently launches the Computer Management console, where you can access a Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, and Device Manager.

As you can see, the commands on the Computer Contextual tab pretty much cover everything you find on the Quick Access menu. And, as if that's not enough, when you select a drive letter in This PC, a second Contextual tab called Drive Tools | Manage (Figure B) appears next to the View tab.

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Greg Shultz

The Drive Tools | Manage tab contains a host of commands that you'll need when you select a drive in This PC.

The Drive Tools | Manage tab provides you with access to a set of commands you commonly need to use when working with drives. You'll notice that this Contextual tab is highlighted with green to make it stand out. The Drive Tools | Manage tab contains three groups: Protect, Manage, and Media (keep in mind that the Protect tab doesn't appear if you're running Windows 10 Home).

The Protect group contains the Bitlocker command, which will allow you to enable and manage Bitlocker. The Manage group contains the Format, Cleanup, and Optimize commands, which work exactly as you would expect—but instead of being spread out on a context menu and a couple of tabs on the Properties dialog box, they are now readily available on the Ribbon. As you can see from my screenshot above, the commands in the Media group are inactive, but they become active when you select the appropriate type of drive, such as a USB thumb drive or a DVD-R disc.

Search Tools tab

When you select the Search box in any File Explorer window, you'll see the Search Tools Contextual tab (Figure C), which contains three groups: Location, Refine, and Options. In the Location group, you'll find that there are several commands that allow you to specify where you want to search, such as Current folder or All subfolders. Once you initiate a search operation, the Search again in command becomes active, making it easy to relaunch the same search in a different location. The commands in the Refine group allow you to narrow your search by selecting from a host of file attributes, such as Date, Kind, or Size. In the Options group, you'll find several commands that allow you to perform various search-related operations, like Recent searches, or configure Advanced search options, like search file contents or search in Zip files. You can even save a command search to make it easier to reuse again at a later date. Once you're finished searching, you can click Close a search to disable the Search tab and clear the results.

Figure C

Figure C
Image: Greg Shultz

When you select the Search box, you'll see the Search Contextual tab appear in File Explorer.

Network tab

When you select Network in File Explorer's Navigation pane, the Network Contextual tab appears in the Ribbon (Figure D). This tab contains two groups: Location and Network. In the Location group, you'll find the Properties command, which will launch the Network and Sharing Center, and the Open command, which (when a computer is selected) will access that computer and display its shares. You'll also notice that the Connect with Remote Desktop Connection command is available when you select a computer in the network. The Add devices and printers command launches the Add a device wizard, and the View printers command allows you to see any printers being shared by the selected computer. And when you select a device, like a router, the View device webpage command in the Network group is enabled and allows you to quickly change configuration settings. You can also easily access the Network and Sharing Center by clicking its button on the Network tab.

Figure D

Figure D
Image: Greg Shultz

The Network tab exposes some nice commands such as the Connect with Remote Desktop Connection command.

HomeGroup tab

When you select Homegroup in File Explorer's Navigation pane, the HomeGroup Contextual tab will appear in the Ribbon (Figure E). The commands on the HomeGroup tab allow you to share libraries and devices with the Homegroup, plus change Homegroup settings. You can also view the Homegroup password or launch the Homegroup troubleshooter.

Figure E

Figure E
Image: Greg Shultz

The HomeGroup tab makes it easy to manage and configure your HomeGroup settings.

File type Contextual tabs

When you select certain file types in File Explorer, you'll see Contextual tabs that contain commands related to the file type. For example, when you select an image file, you'll see a Picture Tools Manage tab that contains the Rotate and View groups (Figure F).

Figure F

Figure F
Image: Greg Shultz

Selecting an image file in File Explorer activates the Picture Tools Manage tab.

When you select a video or music file, you see the Video Tools Play tab or the Music Tools Play tab (Figure G).

Figure G

Figure G
Image: Greg Shultz

Selecting a music file activates the Music Tools Play tab.

What's your take?

What do you think of the Contextual tabs in File Explorer's Ribbon toolbar? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

Also see

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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