Windows 8: Windows Explorer's compatibility features ease transition

Greg Shultz shows us how to configure the new Windows 8 version of Windows Explorer to act like the old Windows Explorer.

Over the last week I've been reading the posts in the discussion area for my last blog post, "The Windows Explorer Ribbon in Windows 8 Is Ready for Prime Time," and found quite a few comments that expressed concern over how Microsoft had ruined Windows Explorer by putting a Ribbon on it.

Of course, there were also plenty of positive comments that expressed excitement about the changes brought on by the Ribbon. I'm glad to hear that a lot of you are ready to move on with the new features in Windows Explorer.

For those of you who are a bit more apprehensive, I thought I would take some time to investigate what I'm calling the compatibility features in Windows 8's Windows Explorer; i.e. things that make the new Windows Explorer compatible with the old Windows Explorer and may help ease the transition. (Keep in mind that you will have to take the word compatible here with a grain of salt.)

I believe that the three main complaints about the new Windows Explorer in Windows 8 are 1) I want to get rid of the Ribbon, 2) I want be able to use the old keyboard shortcuts that I have memorized over the years, and 3) I want a customizable toolbar like I had in Windows XP.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how you can make the new Windows Explorer work like the old Windows Explorer.

Minimizing the Ribbon

One of the main complaints about the Ribbon is that it is so big that it takes up more screen real estate than it should, thus reducing the amount of space available to display files. Well, that's not actually true. According to the Windows 8 team, the new Windows Explorer has been modified and optimized for wide screen format in such a way that even with the Ribbon, it has the same amount of vertical space for content that Windows 7's Windows Explorer had.

Regardless of the amount of space it uses, you can minimize the Ribbon such that it appears only when you want it to. Right-click just about anywhere on the Ribbon and then select the Minimize the Ribbon command, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

You can essentially remove the Ribbon by selecting the Minimize the Ribbon command.
When you do, the Ribbon will appear in Windows Explorer temporarily only when you activate it. As soon as you press Esc or click on another part of the screen, the Ribbon will instantly disappear. For example, if you select one of the tab titles, which remain at the top of the window, as shown in Figure B, the Ribbon will temporarily appear. You can reactivate the Ribbon anytime by selecting the Minimize the Ribbon command again to remove the check mark.

Figure B

When the Ribbon is minimized, only the tab titles appear at the top of the window.

Using keyboard shortcuts

If you are a keyboard shortcut fanatic, then you have nothing to worry about. Windows 8's Windows Explorer still recognizes all the standard keyboard shortcuts that you have been using for years. Keep in mind, however, that there are some keyboard shortcuts that no longer exist -- particularly those keyboard shortcuts that were associated with commands on the old pull down menus. Most of those have been replaced with new keyboard shortcuts associated with commands on the new tabs. Yes, this means that you will have to get used to some new keystrokes, but doing so is extremely easy, as I'll show you in a moment.

As I have been using the new Windows Explorer, I have verified that all the standard keyboard shortcuts shown in Table A still work as they did in Windows 7.

Table A: All these standard keyboard shortcuts still work in the new Windows Explorer.

KB Shortcut


+ E Open Computer.
Alt + D Select the Address Bar.
Alt + P Display the Preview Pane in Windows Explorer.
Alt + F4 Close the current window.
Alt + Enter Open the Properties dialog box of the selected item.
Alt + Up Arrow Move up one folder level in Windows Explorer.
Alt + Left Arrow Display the previous folder.
Alt + Right Arrow Display the next folder.
Shift + Delete Permanently delete the item (rather than sending it to the Recycle Bin).
Shift + F10 Access the context menu for the selected item.
Ctrl + A Select all items.
Ctrl + C Copy the selected item.
Ctrl + X Cut the selected item.
Ctrl + V Paste the selected item.
Ctrl + D Delete selected item.
Ctrl + Z Undo an action.
Ctrl + Y Redo an action.
Ctrl + N Open a new window in Windows Explorer.
Ctrl + W Close current window in Windows Explorer.
Ctrl + E Select the Search box in the upper-right corner of a window.
Ctrl + Shift + N Create new folder.
F1 Display Help.
F2 Rename a file.
F3 Open Search.
F4 Display the Address Bar list.
F5 Refresh display.
Home Move to the top of the active window.
End Move to the bottom of the active window.
Delete Delete the selected item.
Backspace Display the previous folder.
Num Lock Enabled + Plus (+) Expand the selected folder.
Num Lock Enabled + Minus (-) Collapse the selected folder.
Num Lock Enabled + Asterisk (*) Expand all subfolders under the selected folder.
Application key Display the selected item's context menu.
Left Arrow Collapse the current selection if it is expanded or select the parent folder.
Right Arrow Expand the current selection if it is collapsed or select the first subfolder.

As I alluded to earlier, there are new keyboard shortcuts for every command that appears on each of the tabs in the Ribbon. But you don't have to worry about having to memorize all the keyboard shortcuts for the more than 200 different file management commands that appear on the Core and Contextual tabs on the Windows Explorer Ribbon. All you have to do is press the [Alt] key and you'll see all the keyboard shortcuts that are available in the portion of Windows Explorer that you have showing.

For example, if you press [Alt] in Windows Explorer's main view, you'll see pop-ups that show the available hotkeys. If you then press H, which is the hotkey for the Home tab, you'll then see pop-ups showing the hotkeys for all the commands available on the Home tab. This sequence is illustrated in Figure C.

Figure C

When you press the [Alt] key, a pop-up appears that shows you the available hotkeys.

With this system of pop-ups guiding the way, learning the new keyboard shortcuts will be an easy task. For instance, the Map as Drive command is on the Easy Access menu on the New section of the Home tab and its hotkey is M. Therefore, the keyboard shortcut for instantly accessing the Map as Drive command is [Alt]+H+A+M. While it may look a little weird at first, after you use it a couple of times, you'll remember it easily. (Keep in mind that this is a sequence -- in other words, you press them one after the other; not all at the same time.)

Customizing the Quick Access Toolbar

If you want to make the commands that you use most often more easily accessible, you can use the Quick Access toolbar. If you look back at the context menu in Figure A, you'll see the Show Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon command. When you select it, the Quick Access Toolbar moves down from the top of the Windows Explorer window, and it appears between the Address bar and the Tab titles, where it is more accessible, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The Quick Access Toolbar now appears below the Ribbon.
Now, you can add your favorite commands to the Quick Access Toolbar. Just locate the command, right- click, and select the Add to Quick Access Toolbar from the context menu, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

You can easily populate the Quick Access Toolbar with your favorite commands.

What's your take?

Even if you don't like the Ribbon, Microsoft has made it very easy to live with when you use what I am calling the compatibility features. Are you a part of the Anti-Ribbon movement? Will the features I've shown in this article make it easier for you to accept the Ribbon? 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.


I'm definitely fair and square in the "Anti-Ribbon Movement". Where do I sign up? In Office, half the things on the Ribbon, I don't use and half the things I do use, I have to click through the Ribbon to get to the old dialog. There's still things that used to be simple in office 2003 that I haven't had time to figure out how to do in Office 2010. Windows Explorer is a key tool. The basic unit of information is the "File" and the filing structure is a tree of "Folders". I gave up opening an application and then the files from it back in the Windows 3.1 days. With Metro and a Ribbon, Windows 8 has become irrelevant for me for the foreseeable future. I haven't yet found a use for an xPad. That is what I have a Smartphone to accomplish (Android). I wouldn't buy an "appliance" powered by Windows. Home users will be stuck with it because buying through retailers, they get no choice. I can't see corporates wanting to *invest* in the loss of productivity. Even the change between WindowsXP and Windows-7 is a significant productivity hit for non-computer-savvy users.


There is no access through Metro. Are you using some sort of work around such as shortcut keys, run menu, or turning on desktop icons? Because don't be surprised if these workarounds are removed by the time they have an RC version.


I am surprised that you failed to mention that the ribbon has a open/close errow over by the "information question mark" that can be used to easily open and hide the ribbon when you feel you need more screen real estate.


I am tired of having to spend a considerable amount of time reconfiguring new Windows releases to meet my old expectations. Do they ever poll users before they make these pointless UI changes? This is a major reason why I am still using XP and didn't move off Win98 until programs I needed to access were no longer compatible. It's just not worth the bother.


that the ribbon doesn't take up any more room than current version of Explorer. The toolbar takes up less than 1/2 the room of the ribbon. I'm wondering what kind of government accounting Microsoft is using to make this claim.


Windows 8 Explorer indexing/searching Green Bar from hell is still there and needs to go the way of Windows 3.1, long forgotten. It slowed down my system so much, that I rebooted into Vista to move files around. It's time to get rid of that piece of crap.


I have clicked unsubscribe several times in an effort to put an end to these useless emails that tell me little more than an 8-year-old knows about computers. Between this and Hiners contradictory articles, I'm at my whits end. Maybe I'll just keep being a troll until they fix the remove process or ban (bless) me from the site. Cordially, -Me


Although none of these features are new, giving them some attention may help those who weren't aware of them.


- Creating folders. - Moving files/folders between drives/folders/partitions. I have "Jump List" entries for all of my partitions (and a shared network folder) pinned to Windows Explorer. My documents partition has 6505 folders (33,960 files). My pictures partition has 3951 folders (62,385 files). I am "constantly" using Windows Explorer (or FreeCommander, which is far superior). I have 3 HDDs and when I mess around with video subtitling, I use one HDD for the source files, the 2nd for extracted content and the 3rd for the remuxed videos.

Justin James
Justin James

For all of the changes in Windows around "better ways to access files"... jump lists, "Recent Files" lists, etc., do people REALLY spend this much time in Explorer? I have very little need for Explorer personally, and professionally I only need it for system administration work and software development. I am really curious why people are spending so much time with basic file tasks, and what exactly they are doing, that things like the Ribbon in Explorer make a significant impact on their day. J.Ja

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you a part of the Anti-Ribbon movement? Will the features Greg has shown in this article make it easier for you to accept the Ribbon in Windows Explorer?


XP explorer with text and large icons, is pretty close to the ribbon, but the ribbon shows many more option. And the loss of the task pane adds a lot more real estate than what is lost by the every so slightly larger ribbon.


Although I do not have it yet all the other ribbons I have can be easily minimised and vice-versa by clicking on the arrowhead next to the ? at the top right. Also in your shortcut table it is easier to remember the "windows"+"E" as "Explorer" not "Computer"

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