Microsoft

Windows 8: New File Explorer features

Greg Shultz introduces you to the Windows 8's new File Explorer and some of its time-saving features.

As you probably know by now, one of the many changes in Microsoft Windows 8 includes an updated version of Windows Explorer that has been rechristened as File Explorer. In addition to its new name, the file management tool has been given a slightly new user interface that features a Ribbon toolbar instead of a traditional drop down menu system.

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

However, while the Ribbon is the most prominent new feature in File Explorer, the basic functionality of Windows Explorer remains virtually unchanged - there is still a Tree pane on the left and File pane on the right. There are also a host of other new features sprinkled throughout the new File Explorer that add great functionality to all the typical file management operations you are likely to perform.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I will introduce you to the Windows 8's new File Explorer. As I do, I'll only touch on some of the main features - there are just too many new features to cover everything in one blog. I'll continue with additional details next week in Part II.

Popularity poll

To begin with, I know that the Ribbon is not the most popular interface feature that Microsoft has added to their products. In fact, I must admit that when I first encountered the Ribbon in Office 2007 I was disconcerted by what I initially thought would be a big learning curve, but once I adapted to the Ribbon, I found that I really liked it.

In fact, I've found that I've become very adept at using the File Explorer's Ribbon and have come to depend on it - so much so that whenever I go back to a Windows 7 or Windows XP system I find myself struggling with the old Windows Explorer interface. Of course, I remember when I first began using the new Ribbon interface it took me a while to adapt and I know that you will too. However, I can say with confidence that once you get used to it, you'll wonder how you ever got along without its feature set.

To the naysayers, I have to point out that it appears that the Ribbon is gaining momentum and not going away, so you really need to stop grumbling so much and embrace the advantages that it brings to the table. Really, once you learn your way around a Ribbon, you'll definitely come to appreciate its design. This is especially true with the new Ribbon in Windows 8's File Explorer - it's truly a much more efficient navigational system.

The return of the Up button

The first new feature in File Explorer that I want to talk about is really an old feature. Of course, I'm referring to the Up button.

As you may remember, one of the mistakes that the Windows Vista developers made was to remove the Up button from Windows Explorer. While a lot of users complained about the missing Up button, it remained MIA in Windows 7. However, in Windows 8 the developers heard our complaints and put the Up button back in File Explorer. As you can see in Figure A, the Up button appears right next to the Back and Forward buttons just like it did in Windows XP.

Figure A

The Up button reappears in File Explorer.

Just click the Up button and File Explorer will display the parent folder. You can also still use the breadcrumb if you want.

Ribbon overview

In Windows 8's File Explorer, you'll discover that the Ribbon contains one menu and a set of Core tabs that always appear in the Ribbon along with the Contextual tabs, which appear based on the type of object that you have selected, such as a location, a folder, or a file, and then provide related commands. This system 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.

The Ribbon in File Explorer includes the File menu and three Core tabs titled Home, Share, and View, as shown in Figure B. Let's take a closer look.

Figure B

File Explorer's base Ribbon contains the File menu and three Core tabs.

File menu

The File menu, shown in Figure C, is designed to provide you with quick access to some of the more general commands in File Explorer. When you access the File menu, you'll see a set of commands on the left side and Frequent places on the right side. The Frequent places show the most recently accessed folders and remains visible until you select a command that has a submenu. The submenu overlays the Frequent places space and provides you with related options.

Figure C

The File menu provides access to the general commands in File Explorer.
For example, when you select Open command prompt, the submenu overlays the Frequent places and shows commands to open a regular or an administrator command prompt, as shown in Figure D. Both of the open a Command Prompt window selections are targeted on the currently selected folder.

Figure D

Selecting an item from the File menu, displays a menu of related commands.

As you can see, other commands on the File menu allow you to open a new Explorer window, open PowerShell, delete history, access the Help system, and close File Explorer.

Home tab

The first of the Core tabs is the Home tab, and as you can see in Figure E, it provides you with access to the most often used file management commands. The Clipboard group includes all the standard commands along with a very handy Copy Path command. Just select it and the current path is copied to the clipboard.

Figure E

The Home tab provides you with access to the main file management commands.

In the Organize group, you'll find that the Move To and Copy To commands are readily accessible rather than being hidden away on the Edit menu as they were in Windows XP/Vista/7. You'll also find that the Delete and Rename commands live in this group.

Moving down to the New group you can, of course, create new folders and files of various types. Using the Easy Access command allows you to make things easier to find by pinning them to the Start screen, adding folders to a Library or to the Favorites, as well as by mapping a drive letter to a network location. This menu also contains items for configuring and using Offline files and folders.

In addition to the Open and Edit commands, which function just like before by launching the associated application and loading the selected file, the Open group also provides you with quick access to the Properties dialog box.

The History command provides access to the new File History feature. (File History is a new feature in Windows 8 that works like a combination of Previous Versions and Windows Backup and Restore. File History continuously monitors files stored in Libraries, Desktop, Favorites, and Contacts folders and when it detects changes in any file it then makes a backup copy to another location - such as an external hard disk or a network drive. I'll cover File History in more detail in a future article.)

The Select group provides you with a set of commands for selecting groups of files and folders.

Share tab

The Share tab, shown in Figure F, is your one-stop location for any command related to sharing files with others. For example, within the Send group, you can create a Zip file and email it. You can burn files to an optical disc as well as print or fax documents.

In the Share With group you'll find a gallery that allows you to share files and folders with your Homegroup or with specific users. The Advanced Security command opens the Security tab where you can lock down sharing by setting specific permissions.

Figure F

The Share tab is your one-stop location for any command related to sharing files with others.

View tab

On the View tab, you'll find a host of commands, as shown in Figure G, that you can use to configure the way you want File Explorer to display files. In the Panes group you can configure the Navigation pane as well as enable or disable the Preview pane or the Details pane - the latter now appears in the same space as the Preview pane rather than on the bottom of the window.

Figure G

The View tab provides you with a host of commands for configuring File Explorer's display.

The Layout group sports a live preview gallery for choosing your icon display - just hover over an option in the gallery and the file display changes accordingly. The Current View group exposes several great commands. First, the Group By and Sort By commands, which give you neat ways to narrow and organize the display of your files, are readily available. Second, when you are using the Details layout, the Add Columns and Size All Columns to Fit commands come in real handy for getting a better look at the available file and folder details in File Explorer's display.

The Show/Hide group brings several valuable items that were previously hidden in the Folder Options dialog box to light. The Item check boxes option allows you to enable the check box file selection feature. When you want to show or hide file extensions on the fly, just select the File Name Extensions check box. When you need to quickly see hidden files, just select the Hidden Items check box. The Hide Selected Items command allows you to quickly set the Hidden attribute - no more going to the Properties dialog box

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.

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.

41 comments
BentLightyear
BentLightyear

You may get to this later, but I love the new progress screen when you copy files. To see it at its best, select several large files and copy them somewhere. You'll see a window that shows you a histogram of the speed during the copy as well as progress details. It's great! I was a bit skeptical at first about Win 8, but I'm a total supporter now. But you have to use it a while to love it. Of course, newbies won't know anything different, so they'll have to like it immediately. Off topic: I also tried to defrag a disc and discovered that Win 8 seems to keep them perpetually defragged. Zero fragmentation whenever you check it. Who knew?

dogknees
dogknees

I don't see many new features here. It's all stuff we've had for years re-arranged. Once again and article that doesn't match the title.

ofergal
ofergal

when clicking on tagged folder it dies with a c++ run time error

cumming
cumming

One of my bigger pet peeves is that Map Network Drive is now MUCH harder to access, and I need that command several times per day. It used to be readily accessible in the Tools menu regardless of whether the current focus was a file, folder, drive, My Computer, etc. But now in Windows 8 the only way to access Map Network Drive is to select My Computer. THEN it appears in the ribbon. Grrr.

dan
dan

I've pinned the file explorer to the task bar and when right clicking on it you see the folders you go to frequently.

jfuller05
jfuller05

This tech welcomed the file explorer ribbon with great excitement. When I first heard about it, I was a little skeptical, but when I saw screenshots of it and actually used it in demos; well it wasn't long until I liked it.

sparent
sparent

For some reason, the File Explorer Preview pane doesn't work on JPEG files . It seems to work fine with other file types. Any idea as to why it won't work on those files?

carlsf
carlsf

The Light side Linux Zorin 6 Ultimate to be precise. http://www.zorin-os.com/ We are NOW NO longer tied to the WHIM of Microsoft, and our accountant love this.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Its mostly adding features that already existed, but were hidden in some way. Either by registry, or by having to do dumb things like right clicking a file while holding shift. Have they fixed the 15 file limit? Where you can only open 15 files at a time, if you try 16 or more it just opens the first file selected and no more? I liked the old way better where it just warned you that you were doing something crazy.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I know we still get complaints about the Ribbon interface, but I have to agree with Greg - complaining about it is not very productive. Just by using it, I have reached a point where the Ribbon is as comfortable as the menu ever was. What about you? Will you relent and embrace the Ribbon?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Maybe W8 has improved in this area, but previous versions of Windows are notorious for being mistaken about a drive's fragmentation condition.

Slayer_
Slayer_

They have finally been made visible. That's new.

james
james

Why not add it to the Quick Access area if you use it that much? Just right click on the 'map as drive' command under 'easy access' on the 'Home' tab of the explorer. Then it's always right at the top of the window, one easy click.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Something like net use J: /d /y Net use J: %1 To get to your sendto options, in the run command type "shell:sendto" without quotes.

JJFitz
JJFitz

maybe you should google it. You could try disabling the preview pane, closing Explorer, opening Explorer and re-enabling the preview pane.

kmthom
kmthom

Oh wait....nevermind.

kmthom
kmthom

When I was first exposed to the ribbon on other Microsoft software I immediately hated it. However, once you navigate it a few times, finding what you are looking for is much easier than rummaging through menu after menu.

Ron_007
Ron_007

The Ribbon Gooey is obsolete. It was obviously designed with a 4:3 CRT monitor, or a Portrait oriented phone monitor. On a "widescreen" 16:9 LCD the ribbon WASTES TOO MUCH of MY (I paid for it, NOT m$!) vertical screen space. I would rather be able to select and see 3 more file names than have to look at the ribbon (yes I know it can be minimized ... ).

dogknees
dogknees

Functions that are available in a menu or dialog box are not "hidden". They are the usual place you find things in an application.

mikef12
mikef12

And this is an improvement??? Click tools, click map network drive, bingo. MSFT not only has a hard time getting things right, they have a hard time knowing when things are, in fact, right. Hence the continual, space wasting, MS Mess.

sparent
sparent

I tried all of those. I'll try Google again. When I did the first time, there weren't many hits. Thanks for your help.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I don't think the ribbon is a great fit in Word because there is too many options. But in file explorer, its a great idea. Have a home and task sensitive menu always up front, and other menus for networking and stuff. How about a GUI front end to robocopy?

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

Why didn't you just use toolbars instead of menus? I had [b]ALL[/b] of my most frequently used commands on 2 toolbars in Word and Excel (plus a bunch of infrequently used ones - just to use up the surplus space).

dan
dan

I pin my task bar on wide screens to the right side, size windows to use all the vertical space but leave the left and right sides open for quick desktop access.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Such as replace the old task pane with the ribbon, put the ribbon tabs on the left or right side of it.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

You could add "Copy To" and "Move To" to the toolbars in XP. MS in their "infinite wisdom" decided to eliminate those functions in Vista and W7 (and proper toolbars too).

dogknees
dogknees

It's partly that the capabilities of applications aren't ramping up as fast as they were 15 years ago. People seem to think we've reached some sort of plateau where we don't want more functionality or capacity. Seems pretty short-sighted to me. I look forward to new paradigms and concepts like we use to see in the eighties and nineties. When OO was new and shiny, when a new OS meant a new slew of functions to learn and apply,... I must be getting old!

Slayer_
Slayer_

Managing files on an operating system has become a power user tasks. A good chunk of casual users have no clue how files work. I just spoke with a women who is convinced she has "VLC" file and "windows files" to differentiate different movies. I tried to tell her that those are the programs the operating system is set to use for that file type, but the concept of a file type was completely lost on her. She got a virus yesterday, blamed it on file sharing to her TV set to play movies. Apparently she used windows media player to file share her movies to another device. It couldn't possibly be all the torrents she downloads. Also AVG failed her utterly. The virus actually deleted AVG. I think we are going back to a time when applications opened files. Not files opening applications. I don't look forward to making that step backwards but users have gotten dumber over the years.

dogknees
dogknees

I hadn't picked up on the couple of new things. I got frustrated after the first few new things not being new! These days I look for articles that go beyond the obvious or the easily discovered. I get bored with the same articles every time we get a new OS. Where is the content that assumes I've read every article posted in the last 15 years? That assumes I've been into every dialog and advanced button and want to go to the next level. /rant

Slayer_
Slayer_

Copy to and move to were registry only before. Up button was simply hidden entirely, but still existed. Copy path was a shift + right click only.

Slayer_
Slayer_

It's not really necessary for users to have quick access to that function. Us IT people use DOS anyways for such admin tasks. If you want, I can write a quick app that you can add to the right click menu of folders that will map the drive.

JJFitz
JJFitz

I find that WordPad works well if you don't want too many options. You can always draft in WordPad and finalize in Word.

mikef12
mikef12

This is by far the most important thing about the fat, fatuous, space-wasting ribbon.

james
james

When it's minimized just clicking a tab heading only brings the ribbon back for one use. You can minimize or bring back the ribbon by double clicking on the tab names too...

Slayer_
Slayer_

While I am typing the bulk of the content, I'll hide the bar. But when it's time for decoration and formatting, I bring the bar back.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

In Office 2003, they had sidebars despite the fact that most people had 4:3 monitors (wasted valuable horizontal real estate). Once a lot of people had swapped to 16:9 monitors, they introduced the "Ribbon" in Office 2007 (wasted valuable vertical real estate). As for minimising the "Ribbon", how is it any better than the menu system, if it is minimised?