Windows 8: More new File Explorer features

Greg Shultz shows explores and explains the contextual tabs on the new Windows 8 File Explorer Ribbon.

In Part I of this series, I began examining some of the new features in Windows 8's File Explorer. As I did, I primarily focused on the Ribbon's three Core tabs titled Home, Share, and View. As I mentioned, the Ribbon also provides you with a set of contextual tabs, which appear based on the location or type of object that you have selected in File Explorer, and then provide you with groups of appropriate commands. Along with the all of the commands on the core tabs, this system of contextual tabs is designed to expose close to 200 different file management commands in File Explorer without having them buried in numerous nested menus, popups, dialog boxes, or right-click context menus.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I will continue my in-depth look at Windows 8's File Explorer by exploring the contextual tabs on the new Ribbon.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

What is a Contextual tab?

As I mentioned, the Ribbon 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 Computer or Network, or select a specific object, such as an image file or drive. When one of these objects is selected, the appropriate contextual tab will then display commands related to that object.

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

In this way, contextual tabs essentially display the commands that you need only when you need them. Let's take a closer look.


Let's begin with Computer. When you select Computer in File Explorer's Navigation pane, the File menu and two tabs titled Computer and View will appear in the Ribbon. 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 Computer. For instance, when you select a drive letter, a contextual tab titled Disk Tools Drive appears.

Computer tab

As you can see in Figure A, the Computer tab contains three groups: Location, Network, and System. The Location group contains three commands:
  • Properties displays a standard drive Properties dialog box,
  • Open simply opens the drive, and
  • The Rename command allows you to rename the selected object.

Figure A

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, the 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 tap into the Control Panel, launch the Uninstall Program tool, or access a System screen just like the one you access in Windows 7 by right clicking on Computer and selecting Properties. The Manage command conveniently launches the Computer Management console, where you can access such things a Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, and Device Manager.

Drive Tools - Manage tab

Selecting the Manage tab, as shown in Figure B, 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 an additional green tab titled Drive Tools to make it stand out. This tab contains three groups: Protect, Manage, and Media.

As you can see, the commands in Media group in my screen shot 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.

Figure B

The Drive Tools - Manage tab contains a host of commands you will need when you select a drive in Computer.

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. The Protect group contains the Bitlocker command, which will allow you to enable and manage Bitlocker.

Search tab

When you select the Search box in any File Explorer window, you'll see the Search Tools contextual tab, as shown in Figure C. In the Location group, you can see that there are several commands that allow you to specify where you want to search, such as All subfolders. The commands in the Refine group allow you to narrow your search by such attributes as Date or Size. In the Options group you'll find several commands that will allow you to perform various search related operations, such as access Recent searches or configure Advanced search options. Once you're finished searching you can click Close a search to disable the Search tab and clear the results.

Figure C

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


When you select Libraries in File Explorer's Navigation pane, you'll see the File menu, the core tabs, and the Manage contextual tab, which is highlighted as Library Tools, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

When you select Libraries, the Manage contextual tab appears.

From this tab, which only has one group titled Manage you can perform a host of library related tasks, such as use the Manage Library command to add and remove libraries, specify the type of file that the library will be optimized for, as well as decide whether a library is to appear in the Navigation pane. If you have made changes and then decide you don't want them anymore, you can use the Restore settings command to revert to the default settings.


When you select Homegroup in File Explorer's Navigation pane, the File menu and two tabs titled HomeGroup and View will appear in the Ribbon, as shown in Figure E. The File menu and the View tab contain the same commands as I showed you last week. The commands on the HomeGroup tab allow you to share libraries and devices with the Homegroup as well as change Homegroup settings. You can also view the Homegroup password or launch the Homegroup troubleshooter.

(You'll notice that the name of the tab uses an uppercase G in group. As you can see on this tab, you'll find this feature spelled as Homegroup, homegroup, and HomeGroup throughout the Windows 8 and documentation. I am not sure why there isn't a standard naming convention here, but the same inconsistencies exist in Windows 7.)

Figure E

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


When you select Network in File Explorer's Navigation pane, the File menu and two tabs titled Network and View will appear in the Ribbon, as shown in Figure F. In the Location group of the Network tab, you'll find the Properties command, which will launch the Network and Sharing Center, the Open command, which when a computer is selected will access that computer and display its shares, and 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, the View printers command allows you to see any printers being shared by the selected computer. And. when you select a device such as a router, the View device webpage command in the Network group is enable 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 F

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

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, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G

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, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

Selecting a music file activates the Music Tools Play tab.

What's your take?

What do you think about Windows 8's File Explorer? Are you ready to embrace the Ribbon or are you going to complain about it? It's your choice! 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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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.


Yep, the Windows Explorer is cute and a significant improvement over previous versions. But it's nowhere near as functional as Directory Opus or some other file managers of recent vintage like ExplorerPlus and PowerDesk. What's really frustrating is that the vast majority of computer users never, ever, use their file manager. They don't have a clue what they are or how to use them. Maybe the new Windows Explorer will change that, but I doubt it. And techies seem to be the least able to understand the computer experience of the average consumer or worker.

Mr. Tinker
Mr. Tinker

Gregg, Thank you for all the hard work and effort you have been putting in to doing these. I really appreciate it! Sadly if this ribbon BS continues, I'll no longer be using MS, I can go to a Unix flavor. It reminds me of the ribbons Apple made back in the Windows 3.0 days. It doesn't work for me, and several thousands of others. Reason is simple; too many dang cartoons -er- icons that get in the way of simple words that are self explanatory and need no pretty little pictures to take up even more space on a screen/wall. Cave Men did pictures and we still today with all our collective intellect do not understand all that they depict or why they painted them. And now I know why the "brainiacs" coming out schools today have trouble reading or articulating... I'm just waiting for the grunts to follow.


For me, the right place for a context menu is on the right-click. I'm sure everyone using a mouse would agree. Win8 is designed for the finger, so all the context menus must be shoe-horned into the main menu system. Is there not a method of opening a context menu using fingers? I would think: while touching the item of interest, double-touch with another finger to get the context menu. Another option is to have one "button" to touch for a context menu. I for one find a constantly changing menu quite unnerving.


This article and the first part of the series forced me to step through each available function. This new functionality now provides me with a faster means to access Control Panel routines and move around the network with greater ease. I am also a DOS 1.1 user from 1983 and have followed the Microsoft developments over the years. This is most certainly a step in the right direction to improve productivity and recover from problems.


Apologies for the following. Greg Shultz is an excellent writer/reviewer who would be out of work, if he wrote the stuff I'm going to say below. :-) My first computer was a CMP desktop. My second was a DOS #? machine, on which I later installed the first MS-Windows and a 1M(?) memory card so it could load a clock any first grader could draw faster than Windows did. So you see, for me it is Clickety-clack, same old railroad track. Most of the look and feel has been 'explored' in applications on the market for several years for the home user. For business, this is change for change sake that does nothing to improve business productivity. History will class this as simply another 'Vista'. Microsoft is to software, what GM/Ford/Chrysler have been for years to the auto consumer. New paint & lots of advertising, segment the product, deliver faulty product and repair it under a limited warranty if it fails. Then convince the buyer to go buy their new car with the same bugs still hanging around underneath a new exterior. For new computer users, go for it, after all, the cripple-ware came on your new machine at a very small cost to the manufacturer; because you don't have the real OS to repair or reinstall the OS without paying big bucks to unlock the version codes residing on the same disc. By the way, be sure to bump up the memory to 6G or 8G on your new machine, and utilize a cloud backup service that can ghost your entire drive like businesses have been doing for years. The best thing MS could have done for Windows-8 was to have released W7 running as a shell on Linux (along with Apple, droid, etc.). Include the ability to run applications written for every version of Windows and DOS; and include a serious file and document management system for business with layered security and access controls for business. The home buyer would get the same software and if they took the time to learn it, they would be able to sit down at an office workstation and be productive. Touching icons on a droid or iphone, texting gibberish or knowing what/who some hottie is doing, is not going to help the business world be more productive. In 'Demolition Man' everyone listened to and sang along with 30-second commercials as if they were Mozart. Welcome 'comrades', to the world of Global Corporate Fascism! I rest my case. Ciao, and Happy New Year!!!


Made me take a close look at explorer and the ribbon. Nice!!


Has anyone else run into Windows 8 File Explorer not updating the details pane promptly when you click on each file? Then it takes a few seconds to open the File Properties dialog when I hit Alt-Enter. This is sporadic behavior


When I open msconfig and attempt to clear the start-up it says that I need to use task manager. I opened task manager but was unable to stop any of the start up apps that I wanted to. How do I go about doing that? Thanks, Ken Yedica


file Explorer features of window 8 are better comparison to window7.


It was mentioned in part 1 that it did not, can this be confirmed?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

The contextual tabs are where the real power of the Windows 8 File Explorer is to be found. Is the File Explorer growing on you?


Try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here:;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer".

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

... the Ribbon does not display a Map Network Drive command if you select a share. The Map Network Drive command shows up in the Ribbon when you select Computer. It does not appear in the Ribbon when you select Network nor does it appear in the Ribbon when you select a share in Network. Not sure if this is an oversight on the part of the developers or a limitation of the contextual tab feature. In any case, it seems that a Map Network Drive command would be appropriate on the Network tab. However, there are very simple ways to Map a network drive. First, if you right click on a share in Network, you'll see a Map Network Drive command on the context menu. Second, you can add the Map Network Drive command to File Explorer's Quick Access toolbar. Just right click the Map Network Drive command in Computer and select the Add to Quick Access toolbar command. You'll then have access to the Map Network Drive command no matter where you are.


Good to know the right click menus are still there for the functions the devs forgot lol.

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