Windows

Some big changes are coming for Windows Explorer in Windows 7

The Microsoft Windows 7 team has spent a great deal of time and effort on honing the user interface in Windows Explorer. Greg Shultz takes a look at some of the many Windows Explorer changes you will find in Windows 7.

As you may remember, when Microsoft redesigned the user interface in Windows Vista, there were many changes made to Windows Explorer. While most of these change were for the better, there was room for improvement, and the Windows 7 team has spent a great deal of time and effort on honing the user interface in Windows Explorer.

In this issue of the Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll take a look at some of the many changes you'll find in Windows 7's Windows Explorer.

Note: Keep in mind that this is a prerelease version and that the look and features of Windows 7 that I will discuss here may very well change between now and the time the operating system is actually released.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

New Folder button

While the New Folder button is not the most exciting new feature in Windows Explorer, it is something that many of us have been pining for a long time. In Windows XP, the Make a New Folder command appeared in the File and Folder Tasks pane, but once you closed the Task pane in favor of the Folders tree, it was essentially gone. In Windows Vista, the New Folder command appeared on the Organize menu, but if you didn't regularly access that menu, the command was essentially out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, in Windows 7, Microsoft has put the New Folder command where it has always belonged -- as a button on the toolbar, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Finally, we have a New Folder button on the toolbar in Windows Explorer.

Libraries

Now that we finally have a New Folder button, Microsoft perfects the Library technology (once called Virtual Folders), which downplays the real importance of folders as the ultimate organizational structure. You still will use folders to keep things separated, but when you want to find something, via browsing as opposed to searching, you'll use Libraries. Let's take a closer look.

By default, Windows 7 comes with four libraries called Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. What makes these libraries different from their similarly named counterparts in XP and Vista is that rather than solely being tied to a specific folder on your hard disk, libraries can contain links to files and folders anywhere on your hard disk or on any computer on a network. In addition to the default libraries, you can create your own custom libraries.

For example, when you launch Documents from the Start menu, you will actually be opening the Documents Library, as shown in Figure B. Notice that the panel on the left no longer shows a folder tree. That's because it is now called the Library Pane. If you look over at the top right of the interface, you'll see that the Documents library includes two library locations: My Documents and Public Documents.

Figure B

By default, the Documents library contains two locations, but you can add more.
Now, if you click library locations link, you'll see the Documents Library Locations dialog box, as shown in Figure C. Clicking the Add button brings up a browse dialog box that will allow you to select another folder on your hard disk or a network computer and add it to your Documents Library.

Figure C

You can add and remove locations from the Documents Library Locations dialog box.
Once you add another folder, it appears in your Documents Library where you can browse through it just as if the folder was located inside of the My Documents folder, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once you add another folder, it appears in your Documents Library.

Arrange By

To make quick work of browsing through the Documents Library, you can use the options available on the Arrange By menu. By default, the Arrange By setting is set to Folders, but, as you can see in Figure E, you can choose from a number of ways to arrange your files without regard for their actual location.

Figure E

The Arrange By settings allow you to quickly reorganize your Documents Library for easy browsing.

Preview Pane button

On the right side of the toolbar, you see the Preview Pane button, which allows you to quickly and easily toggle the Preview Pane, as shown in Figure F. However, the Preview Pane command still exists on the Organize | Layout menu.

Figure F

You can now quickly and easily toggle the Preview Pane directly from the toolbar.

Right next to the Preview Pane button, you'll find the Views button, which has been moved to the other side of the toolbar and stripped of its text label. Other than that, the Views button still works the same, allowing you to switch between the various icon views such as Details and Extra Large Icons.

What's your take?

These are but a few of the new features you'll find in Windows 7's Windows Explorer as it moves away from folders and toward libraries as the main organizational technique. What do you think about the new Library technology? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About

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.

93 comments
troutflys
troutflys

The search function in Windows Explorer in Windows 7 stinks. I use the search function on a daily basis to find specific files with specific contents. ex. Automation Job names (file Names) and internal contents (FTP Server URLS or IP addresses) within these files. From what I have been able to find in Windows 7, explorer does not allow file and internal contents to be in the same search as it only has one field for the search option. I personally think Windows 7 is a step backwards in many respects.

paulomagalhaes
paulomagalhaes

My clients got me crazy. They insists in using file path greater than 219 characters. Winodws 7 will help me? What can I do today?

programmer
programmer

Personally, I think Microsoft is going in the wrong direction. It's as though they want to dumb down the interface to the point of being a Mac. I hope they will continue to provide an option for the classic folder / Explorer interface. I fully understand directory structures and where data is located on our corporate network and I don't need some foolish interface such as this to find files and documents. I don't even like the default Explorer interface in Vista and made the configuration changes to show normal paths rather than bread crumb/cookie trails.

john
john

When will we get the ability to print folder/files tree with various options to suit most needs. This has always been missing from Windows Explorer and is an item that all administrators require.

skris88
skris88

Hi Greg Does Win7 include the option for a user to move their Libraries to a different partition or drive easily? To me this is one of the biggest problems for SOHO uses who don't have the benefit of Active Direcory and it's Group Policies. A malware infection and system rebuild invariably means loss of all data and restoration from backup, which can so easily be avoided with a partitioned drive and separated data folder/library.

werick
werick

This library thing could be interesting. I've been using the library feature on WinAmp ever since ver 5 (the library was first introduced in WinAmp 3, but WA3 was laggy and heavy), and the library feature made browsing my music and videos much easier and faster. Hopefully it will do the same for browsing all my files through Windows Explorer. Perhaps (if implemented) allowing multiple and custom "tagging" will eliminate the need for clicking "Back" multiple times, as well as having multiple folder windows opened to have quick access to different similar files.

d.w.a.milligan
d.w.a.milligan

For years I have used Norton (now Total) Commander and have never understood why anyone would want to use Windows Explorer. It will be interesting to see if this clever piece of shareware keeps ahead of the game with these new developments.

Silver0066
Silver0066

Why didn't they put .pdf files in the preview pane? Do they still have their heads in the sand?

lynneubank
lynneubank

Oh, well, I have a fair number of clients for whom directories, folders and, I suspect, libraries will continue to be a foreign language. (These are people who finally resort to buying a Mac, only to find that they don't understand it, either.) For the more experienced (and organized), I don't see much value in libraries. :) Lynn

timb138
timb138

Its a good idea if people realise the benefits, I have been using a similar system for my photos etc where I have a central storage library organised by date for all pics then folders for each person or event only containing shortcuts which point to individual files or sub folders in the library so i only have the actual file saved once on the pc and once on a back up whilst still being able to quickly find pictures of a certain place or all pictures of a certain person, it takes a bit of discipline on initally saving the files but works well when you want to view later.

scorpion_saga
scorpion_saga

Hmmmm.... We'll see. After 25 years there is still no real choices as far as I am concerned. Xp, Vista premium, and then ultimate ib under four years, rather tired of giving these people thousands and thousands of dollars for a "new folder" button that anybody with limited skills could produce in Visual... I'll just stick with Vista after spending the last two years making it work properly.

simonjbrowne
simonjbrowne

What would be useful, having navigated to the correct document, would be to search the preview pane directly and have search items highlighted there and then!

andre.jordaan
andre.jordaan

I Think Windows 7 is Awsome.I have some issue in the beginning getting Windows 7 to reconize all my hard drives and partitions put i qiuckly sorted out that issue.The cool thing is the W7 reconized all my hardware with the exception of one.My view on it is that the device (Ralink Wireless PCI card) is not of good .I am having issue ith the same card with Win SBS 2008.Overall i think W7 is a huge improvement a can't wait for the release.

troym
troym

Personally, i think one of the biggest improvements they need to make are to remove the author and tags from the default view, and go back to basics with size included in the default view. I bet most of the people who use the OS, both vista and new, don't care who authored what file. However, there are certainly some nice features that they have included. It's what Vista should have been in the first place.

Regulus
Regulus

My disappointments With WinEx actually started with Vista, not listing files and details in the manner that I needed. Especially, when the folder contained graphic files. Win 7 was the final straw. I downloaded Cubic Explorer which lists files and details as I want them. Fair enough, the new Win 7 Explorer is for the broad range of people who actually purchase & use the product in majority. For people with a nickels worth of tech insight (who I admit are probably the minorityh customer) can bypass their frustration with Cubic Explorer or similar product.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you have to know where a directory is to add it to a library, why would you not use the directory itself? If you can build a library full of directories, you can build a directory full of sub-directories. If you don't know enough about file management to locate a directory in the first place, you're not going to be able to add it to the library. Sorry, I don't see the advantage. If you understand file management, you don't need it. If you don't understand file management, you aren't going to get much use out of it. Enlightening counter-opinions are more than welcome.

mcmlxxiixxv
mcmlxxiixxv

I've yet to figure how users will benefit from the removal of the up button. I miss it dearly. :|

aspemail
aspemail

Would appreciate if the images are little crispier or bigger than the one shown, I could barely read/see anything on the image...

paul
paul

Libraries seems like a good idea. Pity they can't catch on to dual-pane as in Xplorer2.

junk
junk

Looks generally better, but I still don't see my old Copy, Cut and Paste buttons on the toolbar. Even after 2 years, I miss them and usually use an alternative explorer as a result. I don't mind using the keyboard or using the mouse, but having to go between the two is a big time waster. I found that Vista is full of these and unfortunately it looks like 7 is following suit.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Win7 search does exactly what you think it does hot do. They haven't removed much, just made defaults more logical. but for those who like to use the old methods, they are still there too.

JakeUT
JakeUT

I couldn't agree more! The search is just so messed up in Windows 7. A little glitz in the packaging I can understand...but totally turning things upside down for the sake of rebranding a new windows version is ridiculous. And then M$ touts this stupid "Windows 7 was my idea" mantra...well it sure as hell wasn't my idea!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Google it. It adds a 'print directory' option to your right-click menu. You can print to a file or directly to a printer.

lmenningen
lmenningen

I think they'd have to pay royalties, and with the number of copies of windows out there, the cost would be prohibitive.

lmenningen
lmenningen

Why would Win 7 be any different than Vista in recognizing hardware????

lmenningen
lmenningen

Yeah, agreed. The default display of columns in Vista on the right are useless and most of them are unused, and I'm forever having to change them. Trouble is, I can't figure out how to change the default template. Also, why all the emphasis on music, seems to me that music should be the absolute lowest priority.

th
th

One of the most frustrating things in Vista is that whenever you drop a bitmap into a folder the view changes and you lose the size, date modified etc with tags, rating etc taking there place. A huge step backwards. Let's hope Microsoft get this right in Windows 7,

john3347
john3347

I have been playing with Windows 7 since the beta became publicly available in mid January. While the "libraries" concept seems to me to be a large improvement over whatever system (or haphazard lack of system) Vista used to file documents it still falls far short of a straight forward, logical filing system. I believe that after one really becomes "at home" with the libraries concept that they will find themselves at least able to find whatever they are looking for. This cannot be said for Vista. It is obvious, however, that the people designing XP, Vista, and 7 do not understand (or at least do not choose to follow the rules of) basic file management.

lmenningen
lmenningen

I have sorta the same questions. Will users have the option to turn libraries be turned off?

bmcmenamy
bmcmenamy

One advantage that I see is that you can add directories from many PCs and Servers on the entire network and save them to one central LIBRARY. Once you have added them to the Library then you only have to go to one spot to find folders that potentially are located all over the place.

lallison19645
lallison19645

Ho Hum... They just can't get it right, can they? When are they going to try and shove it down our throats like they did vista? Already you're unable to purchase xp pro anymore... You need a new folder? Gee that's really tough to figure out...Certainly is hard and really slow alright to have to use the right click option on your mouse...LOL.Better off showing the end user how to load a new driver rather than creating a new folder...What a joke.

private.email1805
private.email1805

I prefer the breadcrumbs approach that they've implemented, it gives you the same as "Up" but more, since you now effectively have "Up x 2", "Up x 3" etc.

conwaysp
conwaysp

...to browse 'up' in the folder path.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

ctrl+x = Cut ctrl+c = Copy ctrl+v = Paste And for those us who are not perfect: ctrl+z = Undo And there are a tone of others as well. Yay for keyboards!

goldenpirate
goldenpirate

Have Build 7000 running on a spare computer. Have looked everywhere in the windows explorer for the button bar - it appears to have been removed by microsoft, so if you have it - where is it to be found? I am totally lost without my button bar!

Slayer_
Slayer_

Right click your buttonbar, and click customize. Add the Copy/cut/paste buttons and your done. This works since Windows 95 :)

dogknees
dogknees

I shouldn't need to find an extra program to do something that should have been part of the OS for the last 15 years.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]While the "libraries" concept seems to me to be a large improvement over whatever system (or haphazard lack of system) Vista used to file documents it still falls far short of a straight forward, logical filing system.[/i] Why is the OS responsible for providing the filing system? Was a filing cabinet ever responsible for providing anything other than drawers? The OS provides the container - the file system - to the user. It is the user's responsibility to organize the data - create the filing system - in that container. Train users how to organize their data and the need for a "library" goes away except as a means of organizing multiple network shares.

cnet
cnet

Didn't need libraries, this is what shortcuts are for. I put them in folders of my own making. I didn't need to create a "My Shortcuts" or "MY Library" section of the left pane to use this either, although I suppose I could have put them in Favorites. I don't impose my needs on other users. I think MS forgot how to use their own product. Elsewhere someone mentioned Cubic Explorer, which I also like. If left open a lot it tends to gobble memory and die, but it's a great free item. It knows shortcuts but probably will ignore libraries :)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

How? Maybe I'm not visualizing this properly, but what's the difference? Isn't that all this is?

Slayer_
Slayer_

I also see advantages when applying permissions to folders. And limited user access, etc.

wodahs1
wodahs1

Never happy with anything. Being so smart I guess you could do better, and why don't you?

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

I always have the problem where i want to go like x5(or x10) up. it seems to hide anything above 3 or so on even the largest screen. still seems easier than: cd ../../../../.. which i have done.

dogknees
dogknees

People are used to backspace taking them back to the last thing they looked at in IE. Changing the meaning like this doesn't help people develop the general skills that make using a PC quicker and easier. It's the same as the copy/paste metaphor in Windows Explorer. It breaks the model. Copy is supposed to put the data you have selected, of whatever kind, on the clipboard. I should be able to paste this data into a document or wherever I want. The fact that Cut doesn't immediately remove the selected items is another example.

mcmlxxiixxv
mcmlxxiixxv

uhh no ... that's going back to the previous location, like clicking the back button. Back is not always up.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I don' wann let go my mou-ouse! :_| . . . :^0 :^0 :^0

dan.klein
dan.klein

Right clicking the button bar or menu bar gives no option to customize.

geoman007
geoman007

The real advantage of libraries over shortcuts is that the tree pointed to by a shortcut is not indexed as part of the comprehensive relationship of folder trees discoverd in that view, whereas library folder trees are indexed through and through. Although the folder tree that a shortcut points to may very well be indexed by the system, that index is not engaged until the link is traversed and the pane view changes to that focus. What that means is that a search initiated in the root library reference will be performed on the entire library tree, but any shortcuts are excluded from such a search. I hope that explains it. Happy content control!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Just click in the address var and type a path if you really find it weasier that using a drop down style shortcut, which I find is way faster.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Just click in the address var and type a path if you really find it weasier that using a drop down style shortcut, which I find is way faster.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Not everyone runs Explorer across the full width of 22" monitor. Sometime you just can't go 'up' easily.

allanrockwell
allanrockwell

well...???... in the navigation pane, back is always up. And there is also left-alt+arrow ^ up.

john3347
john3347

I program the 4th & 5th buttons on my Logitech mouse to perform the "cut" and "paste" operations. These are two of my most popular commands. Only requires one motion for each operation this way, opposed to two movements with "ctrl" and "c" or "v". Also, being arthritic and having difficulty with a double click, I program the scroll wheel as a double click.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Maybe your shit just sucks? lol Sorry I have no better explaination. Learn to use Control C and Control V :)

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