Conquer the divide in File Explorer by unlocking IE's toolbar in Windows 8.x

Greg Shultz takes a look at an anomaly in File Explorer and how you fix it by changing some settings in IE on Window 8.x systems.

File Explorer anomaly

Last week, I was experimenting with changing some settings in Internet Explorer on my Windows 8.1 system. A short time later, I discovered that an anomaly had appeared in File Explorer. Enough time had elapsed between my Internet Explorer experimentation and my discovery of the anomaly that it took me a while to make the connection. When I finally tracked down the correlation between Internet Explorer's Lock the toolbars setting and File Explorer's anomaly, I was very surprised. Not only was the problem consistent, meaning that I could repeatedly recreate it and fix it, but I also discovered that the same problem existed in Windows 8.

At the time, I wasn't overly concerned, because the anomaly is more of an annoyance and doesn't really affect File Explorer's functionality or performance in any way. However, since it is a bug, I took note of it and planned to send an email to Microsoft ASAP.

Later in the week, I was talking with a friend of mine and mentioned my discovery. He told me that he and a couple of his friends had discovered that anomaly but didn't know what had caused it and couldn't find a fix. He was glad to hear my solution, tried it as soon as he got home, and called to let me know that it worked.

Thinking that there are very likely others out there who have encountered this anomaly, I thought that I would write an article about it, so that everyone who encounters it can have the solution. Hopefully, Microsoft will fix this anomaly in the next release.

Let's take a closer look.

The anomaly

Let's dive right in and take a look at the anomaly. As you know, when Windows 8 was first introduced, we discovered that Microsoft had redesigned and renamed the operating system's file management tool. It went from being called Windows Explorer to File Explorer and went from having a toolbar to a Ribbon interface. As you can see in Figure A, the Ribbon is in a prominent position at the top, and below it are several navigational controls, the address box, and the Search box. Then we go right into the files and folders display.

Figure A

Figure A
File Explorer's Ribbon interface is very clean.

After experimenting with Internet Explorer settings, I discovered that File Explorer had a new divider line between the files and folders display, as shown in Figure B. Now, as I mentioned, this doesn't cause any major problem in how File Explorer works, but it wasn't there before.

Figure B

Figure B
A new divider line appeared in File Explorer.

When I positioned my mouse pointer over the new divider line, it turned into a double headed arrow, as shown in Figure C. This appeared to indicate that I could click and drag it. However, when I tried this, it just shifted up a hair but was otherwise unmovable.

Figure C

Figure C
A double headed arrow appears when you position your mouse pointer over the new divider.

I then tried a series of troubleshooting exercises such as closing and reopening File Explorer, changing the views, rebooting the system, and even updating my video drivers. But none of that had any effect.

Internet Explorer settings

I then backtracked over everything that I had done and got to Internet Explorer, where I had been experimenting with the enabling and disabling the Show tabs on a separate row and the Show Stop and Refresh before Address bar settings, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Figure D
I inadvertently left the Lock the toolbars setting disabled.

Then I remembered that I had also experimented with the Lock the toolbars setting. Disabling it had no major effect in Internet Explorer other than allowing me to move the Command bar, which I don't use. So, at that time, I abandoned my exploration with the Lock the toolbars setting and moved on. However, I had forgotten that its default setting was enabled before I moved on and inadvertently left it disabled.

As part of my troubleshooting expedition, I enabled the Lock the toolbars setting. I then launched a new instance of File Explorer and discovered that the new divider line was gone!

I then went back and repeated my steps. Disabling the Lock the toolbars setting put the divider line in File Explorer. Enabling the Lock the toolbars setting removed the divider line from File Explorer. And as I mentioned, I discovered the same anomaly in both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

So, if you see a divider line in File Explorer, go to Internet Explorer and enable the Lock the toolbars setting.


Satisfied that I could remove the divider from File Explorer, I postulated that while Microsoft removed toolbars from File Explorer and replaced them with the ribbon, there must still be some common code that was shared between Internet Explorer and File Explorer that handled toolbars. And, that code wasn't completely removed when the ribbon replaced toolbars in File Explorer. We'll just have to wait and see if Microsoft recognizes this as a bug and decides to fix it.

What's your take?

Have you noticed a divider in File Explorer where one didn't exist before? If so, are you glad to have found an explanation and a solution? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please chime in the discussion thread below.

By Greg Shultz

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.