Windows

Use breadcrumb navigation in Vista instead of the Up button

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, Greg Shultz briefly examines our continued reliance on the Up button as a hard disk navigation tool. He then explains how Microsoft Windows Vista’s breadcrumb navigation system works and shows you how to take advantage of it.

As you probably know by now, I'm always on the lookout for great gadgets or PowerToy-like utilities that you can add to Microsoft Windows Vista to enhance the operating system. While on a recent utility search operation, I encountered a number of programs that were designed to add an Up button to Vista's Explorer interface.

While at first glance I thought that such a tool might be an operating system enhancement, I quickly reconsidered. In fact, I began to think that such a tool would actually be detrimental, in that it would prevent users from using Vista's breadcrumb navigation system.

Then it hit me that the reason such a tool would exist in the first place was that users might not realize how much better a navigation system the breadcrumb is when compared to the Up button. Furthermore, adding an Up button to Vista could be viewed as a waste of space and resources as it is actually duplicating a feature that is already built in to the operating system.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll briefly examine our reliance on the Up button as a hard disk navigation tool. Then, I'll explain how Vista's breadcrumb navigation system works and show you how to take advantage of it.

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

The Up button

It's no wonder that there are a lot of tools out there designed to add an Up button to Vista's Explorer -- we've all come to rely on it as a navigation tool in the Windows operating system and now it's gone. Ever since Windows 95 made its debut, the Up button has been near the top of the Explorer interface, as illustrated in Figure A, and we've all just gotten very used to using the Up button as an easy way to move up the folder tree structure one folder at a time.

Figure A

The Up button has been a part of Explorer's navigation system since Windows 95.
As such, when Windows Vista appeared on the scene with its new GUI features, the missing Up button, as shown in Figure B, caused a bit of anxiety when we accessed Windows Explorer or Computer. So it's just natural that we'd want to add it the first chance we got.

Figure B

Windows Vista's Explorer interface no longer contains the Up button.

Of course, when something that is so heavily relied on goes missing, someone is going to come up with a way to replace it. However, even though the absence of an Up button may seem to be a chink in the Vista operating system, it's really not. In fact, once you get used to it, you'll discover that the breadcrumb navigation system offers the same capability as the Up button and much more. As soon as you do, you'll quickly forget about the Up button.

The breadcrumb navigation system

While you may not realize it, you are already quite familiar with the breadcrumb navigation system. Chances are good that many of the Web sites that you visit on a regular basis incorporate a breadcrumb navigation system.

In most cases, breadcrumbs appear across the top of a page and provide you with links back to each previous page through which you navigated to get to page that you are currently viewing. Breadcrumbs essentially provide you with a trail that you can follow to get back to each page that you've visited since entering the Web site.

For example, a typical breadcrumb navigation system on a Web site may look something like this:

Home PageCategory PageSubcategory Page → Article Page

In this case, you've click through several pages to get to the Article page. At any time, you can move to any of the other pages in the breadcrumb navigation system simply by clicking its name.

Now, if you look at the example Windows Vista's Explorer window, shown in Figure C, you can see the same type of navigational system in the Address bar. Each folder that I've navigated through is shown in the Address bar separated by a forward arrow.

Figure C

Once you begin to use

In this case, if I'm working in the Text Files folder and need to go back up to the Greg Shultz folder, I would just click Greg Shultz and would move up one folder. If I want to go all the way back to Computer folder, I would just click Computer and would instantly move up four folders.

As you can see, not only does this system allow me to easily move up one folder at a time, it also allows me to move up multiple folders with just one click. If I were using an Up button, it would have taken me four clicks to move up from the Text Files folder to the Computer folder. That makes the breadcrumb navigation system more efficient.

Moving down

As I mentioned, in addition to providing the same capability as an Up button, Vista's breadcrumb navigation system offers other features that make it more valuable. For instance, you can use it to move, or drill down, through your file structure. As you can see, in between each folder name in the Address bar is a forward pointing arrow. Well, if you click on any one of these arrows, it will instantly turn into a drop-down list showing you all the folders directly below the one you currently have open, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Windows Vista's breadcrumb navigation system also incorporates a drop-down menu system to help you navigate beyond the indicated path.
Better still, once you click an arrow, you can simply hover over any one of the arrows in the breadcrumb path and see a drop-down list showing you all the folders directly below that one, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Once you activate the drop-down menu feature, you'll be able to see all your navigation options with a simple hover operation.

What do you think about the breadcrumb navigation system?

Are you one of those folks who miss the Up button? Would you rather install an Up button replacement tool or learn to take advantage of the breadcrumb navigation system? If you are already using the breadcrumb navigation system, how do you like it? Please drop by the Discussion area and let us hear from you.

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.

50 comments
cheesestealer
cheesestealer

It doesn't show the folder in the address bar if it's too long. So all the usability is out of the window. Plus having to make a concious effort to decide which part of the address bar to click isn't as fast as being able to click a button that never changes size or shape or position. You do it without realising it after so many years, you think "i need to be in the parent folder" and you're there right away. Why FORCE the new system on people who were happy with the old one? Microsoft have such a long running habit of not giving us the options we want. It's one button! Why not just put a checkbox to enable it.

web.accs
web.accs

What a load of crap!.. I had this in Dos6.22 command line about 10 Years ago!!! (FDir or QDir or QChange dir or something??) You could navigate through the whole directory structure with the arrow keys or mouse(driver loaded) -If anyone knows the tool name I'd love to get it again... MS should do themselves a favour and give out the Software for free until there's actually something worth paying for! Only a total muppet would buy this software unless they were selling it to one for a hefty and 'A fool and his money...' profit!... So much for Innovation. Muppets!!!

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

I knew about and use the Bread Crumbs, but reading this make me check out the filtering of the file listing. You can click on the Name, Date modified, Type, Size, etc columns and filter the listing! I have missed this feature since XTree :p I constantly want to show just *.jpg and could never do it in Windows until now (ok somebody will make me look like a fool and show me how in XP to filter the file listing). This is really great :)

abhaykulkarni16
abhaykulkarni16

the up button means to go one level above in the file hierarchy. this navgn sys does not satisfy this thing. I am not satisfied by it. It would have been a better solution to keep an option whether the user wants the up & back btn, or this system...

thephpdeveloper
thephpdeveloper

that Up button should be kept for those who need it. best if we can turn the button on or off from the Folders Options.

txpecmakr
txpecmakr

I like it. I didn't know it had a name but I have been experimenting with it since I started using Vista. I find it very handy.

Ralph S.
Ralph S.

Since using Vista BETA RC2 I had seen this navigation, yet i didn't know that it was called BREADCRUMB, it too a bit to get used to but now I navigate to where i want to go a bit faster than before. Also, when I click in the address line window I get the traditional C:\xxxxxxxx\xxxx\yyyy structure that I was used to.

FXEF
FXEF

I don't use Vista, however Nautilus which is the Ubuntu file manager has both the up button and breadcrumbs. I must say, very seldom use the up button, but use breadcrumbs all the time.

Nsaf
Nsaf

A real time saver..

mevansca
mevansca

The operative word for me is the oft repeated statement by all the Microsoft shills that "once I get used to it I'll love it." I've been using Windows Explorer since Win 95 and I know how to use it. I've been using Vista's version of Windows Explorer for over a year now and I'm still not "used to it". I'm telling everyone I know to avoid it like the plague while I look for a third party replacement.

slscott126
slscott126

I went from Windows 98 Second Edition to Vista Basic and have no formal computer training. Since I never got to use an UP button, I guess I'm ahead of the pack!

wyattharris
wyattharris

I usually pass mouse clicks for hot keys anyway. Some really good ones have been mentioned in the comments already. Once you get quick with tab/shift+tab its a simple matter of using your left arrow to zip right up the tree, just like in regedit. That is assuming those hotkeys still function the same in Vista. I use the mouse very little for basic navigation and the hotkeys have just been building on ever since 3.1.

applegate.jerry
applegate.jerry

An additional feature that is very handy is the translation of a path to a traditional "\" or DOS style path when you click in the address bar. You can then paste the path as needed in other applications for attaching files, etc.

becky.cashdollar
becky.cashdollar

I have finally gotten used to the breadcrumb thing, what I cannot abide by is the dumping of web links in the drop down list on the address bar. I hate that clutter! I am not going to save something to a web page, nor do I need Windows to remember the last ten folders I was in. I want a clean drop down list where I can quickly find Documents or my drives. Got any tips for that???? :)

owen
owen

I never used the UP button, I allways had the left window open and displaying the directory tree. Vista explorer does have once sucky feature in that it does not remember the folder settings from one session to another.

bearcat245
bearcat245

I have been using "breadcrumb navigation" and didn't know it. As we are creatures of habit the "Up Button" was a automatic. Article cleared up my navigation questions and I learned more ways to find items easier.

ogunduyi
ogunduyi

Breadcrumb navigation has its advantages and disadvantages. One of it main advantages you have explained above. However, this advantage may not be as good as you expect in other situation. I happened to have all the common 4 versions of Windows Vista (Home, Home Pre, Business and Ultimate). I am working on getting the Enterprise Edition. These are some of the Disadvantages: If you have a folder name that is very long that it will not fit in the address bar, your breadcrumb feature is useless. If you click on it, it will display a weblink/???explorer-link??? or shortcut address instead. Secondly, if you are running Windows Vista without the capabilities of displaying resolutions more than 800X600, sometime 1024X768, you will have the same problem as above. If you are using a shares hard drive over a network, or if you are using any drive (flash, external drives, USB drives or devices) that suddenly becomes unstable, your breadcrumb makes your whole explorer window lockup and will not respond There are more. And to be honest, out of habit of using the ???Up??? button when you go back to older systems at work or elsewhere, you will still miss it.

merciers2
merciers2

Hated it at first now I really like it and use it as my preferred navigation in Vista. When I use my XP computers I miss it.

geo
geo

I tend to use freeCommander for nearly all my Explorer and file movement type maneuvers. I use the keyboard more than the mouse and this program makes that easy. When I occasionally do use Explorer, I use the breadcrumb navigation and find it great. I too like Vista on the machine I have it on, although I would not bother to upgrade the other computers I have. -=Geo=- www.nscave.com

ChrisEvans
ChrisEvans

Believe it or not I have used Vista for months and never clicked the little drop arrow next to the breadcrumbs .. timesaving gold! Great article!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but when we deploy it I'll definitely be on the lookout for this feature. I haven't used it yet and already I like it better than the Up button.

ababiec
ababiec

For example, if the folders have very long names, you won't see the previous folder name in the breadcrumb trail - so you have to click on this tiny arrow

SKDTech
SKDTech

I like the breadcrumb navigation. It is highly useful in my eyes and can be converted to standard convention with one click on the address bar outside the address for the purpose of copying pathnames for shortcuts or in order to send them to someone you are teching for over IM. The ability to go to any subfolder of any folder in the current tree is also a major plus. Now if only the OS Luddites would get over their fear of change and start examining the benefits of the new OS maybe their could be some real progress towards the future. Quick hint guys and gals, Windows 7 is most likely going to have as many changes over Vista as Vista had over XP, and just as many new quirks. The only difference will be that those of us who embraced progress will have a shorter learning curve in adopting the next generation. There is nothing wrong with holding back until a platform is proven stable, but to outright deny the possibility of stability is to put on your own blinders.

khannum
khannum

Yes, I do use it and find it preferable to the old up button. And if I get lost and cannot find what I am looking for even using breadcrumb there is the old method of typing in C:

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you one of those folks who miss the Up button? Would you rather install an Up button replacement tool or learn to take advantage of the breadcrumb navigation system? If you are already using the breadcrumb navigation system, how do you like it?

SKDTech
SKDTech

Funny, last I checked Explorer still works the same as it always has, only now it has even more added functionality. I bet you hated the luna scheme that came default on XP and immediately disabled it on every computer you worked on whether or not the owner of said computer wanted it or not.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

You feel that nobody else can either and that's a reason their computing should be restricted? as you can see from this thread, MOST people find it faster, easier and a great imporovement. Well hope you are not a consultant, your inability to grasp a useful feature is limiting users who rely on you for sound advice! Isn't it in your and thier best interests to ADVISE people of what is best for them, especially if they are still learning or new to computers? Let me hazard a guess, XPSP3 RULES? Too bad it sucked so bad when released, it could have matched Vista out of the gate and not taken so many years to get working.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Funny I had noticed the same problem when using shares or other drives that become unstable in XP as well, ppretty sure it also happened in the 9x and the NT series as well. Its not a problem with the breadcrumb navigation that I have seen, more a problem with the way windows reads the directory tree.

saved2serve
saved2serve

I find with breadcrumbs to go up one level or more when not having a previous decent requires a two pane window, and I would rather work with single panes for space purposes, esp. since Vista seems to overrule narrow previous sizes. Here is a nifty freeware utility that does far more than just replace the up arrow. Lots of options. http://qttabbar.wikidot.com/ Now for one that will allow you to do with task bar buttons what Colorful Tabs Firefox ext does for tabs. We ought to be able to move them also. Thank God He did not make us clones.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Pressing [Alt]+[Up Arrow] will take you up the folder tree one folder at a time just like the Up arrow.

petercs
petercs

Will someone come out with a 3rd party util giving the same nav capabilities for XP?

pgit
pgit

I didn't know about this, not the arrow/drop down thing anyway. Good stuff to know. I don't deal much with Vista, so when I do things slow down substantially because I'm still near the bottom of the learning curve with it. This will be a time saver. Thanks...

gentryart
gentryart

It seems that I can never find time to sit down and read the manual but your quick tips really help make me aware of improvements such as the breadcrumb nav sys. I seem to begrudgingly accept that things aren't exactly the same, knowing they must be better, but grouse about making it work while I go about my business. I have been foggaly aware of using the BNS, understanding it in sort of a backbrain way but this really cements it in my mind. I won't forget how to use it now. Thanks Mark!! Regards, Fran Lucas

Researcher75
Researcher75

'Up' button i have always used for document navigation, which I reckon is what it was meant for back in the days of DOS! I think I can see how 'breadcrumbs' came into the IT dictionary when you think of what is left over from cutting a loaf of bread. In our case the loaf is the Internet and the web page is what we are cutting from it and the notes we are making/taking are the breadcrumbs? [QED???] Cheers - Roy

brandon.townsend
brandon.townsend

I was hesitant of the breadcrumb navigation system, but after using for a couple months, it dramatically increases the useability of the explorer system.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Love the new breadcrumb navigation, talk about an easy system. It works FAR better that the UP button. UP just takes you up one level. If I have a breadcrumb string of say, C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Dreamweaver CS3 and I wan't to open my C:\Downloads file I just have to click on the down arrow beside PROGRAM FILES in the toolbar to open a list of programs in C: . So it's ONE click to back up to C:\Downloads instead of UP, UP, UP, then selecting your folder after each UP action finishes. Also getting back to the other file is just as easy. It is like an instant Windows Explorer page, where you open ALL the Explore pages at the same time instead of moving through one step at a time. This is a great feature that many Vista haters have no idea about, and one that saves a lot of time over the course of a day.

reilert
reilert

yes I use it. It saves a lot of time and is very easy to get used too.

Researcher75
Researcher75

Hav used it almost since Vista was born as it seemed to be the right thing to do. Didn't know it was part of the daily diet though, how about some delicious Dairy Butter to go with it?!?.....

JackDan
JackDan

I love the Vista Breadcrumb Navigation System. I just didn't know what it was called before your article. It lets you move around Explore in ways that were never possible before. Like most new features in any Software upgrade it's hard to get used to new features. Thats why most people give Vista a bad rap. It has so many features that make it much better than XP, and I really Loved XP. Many of your articles have helped me to start using a lot of these features. Others I found by trial and error.

sylvain.drapeau
sylvain.drapeau

... but does the "Backspace" key still work to go back one level (same as Up Button)? If so, it seems frivolous to add the button when you can duplicate the effect using the keyboard. I believe anything that does not belong to the OS adds to the weight. It reminds me of someone who wanted a shortcut to lock his workstation because he thought it was faster to click a shortcut than to press Windows+L.

mevansca
mevansca

Whoa. You're very emotional about this, aren't you Oz? No, XPSP3 doesn't rule. It's just the lesser of the latest MS screw ups. Vista hasn't been adopted well because it forced too many ill advised changes too fast, for no reason. But don't take my word for it Oz, check out your sales charts. The changes to Windows Explorer were confusing, often frivolous and mostly unnecessary. No wonder nobody's buying Vista. Why bother?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I learned teh term when building websites, a bredcrumb trail shows the path to teh existing page, clicking anywhere on teh breadcrumb string takes you back to teh selected page. I don't know if it had an appearance prior to that, other than in Hansel and Gretel though.

waynepd
waynepd

Yeh I agree I didn't know what it was called but i am using it and once you get used to it, it is great. A very intuitive setup which I find quicker than going back up the tree with the old UP arrow especially when you need to jump back several folders.

CreepinJesus
CreepinJesus

But the backspace key is actually a 'Back' command, like in Internet Explorer, therefore it is not necessarily an 'Up' shortcut.

amreldib
amreldib

But sometimes I jump directly to a folder an I want to go up one level, that's when the back button doesn't work and I have to move the mouse to the address bar to navigate up.. There's an application called "QTTabBar" that adds tabs to your windows explorer windows (either XP or Vista) and lets go up one level by simply double clicking the white space in windows explorer.. Here's a link http://qttabbar.wikidot.com/

sylvain.drapeau
sylvain.drapeau

... I stand corrected. Thanks for pointing that out!