Be a power user: Customize the file management features of Windows Explorer

Greg Shultz shows you how to customize Windows 7's Windows Explorer so you can set it up to meet your specific productivity needs.

Back in October I wrote "Tap into the Power of Libraries in Windows 7" and explained that Libraries were a refinement to the Search Folders Feature introduced in Windows Vista and that you can think of Libraries as collection points for files of a certain type that can exist in any number of locations. In the article "How Do I Create and Configure a Network with Windows 7 HomeGroup?" I then touched on how Libraries come into play in Windows 7's new network paradigm.

Now, while Libraries are notably the biggest enhancement to Windows Explorer, Microsoft did indeed make many other standard file-management enhancements in Windows 7. Over the past couple of months I've uncovered and begun to use many of these to enhance my productivity. While some of them are obvious, many of them are a bit tricky to find and harness.

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll investigate the file-management enhancements I've discovered in Windows 7. As I do, I'll show you how to customize Windows 7's Windows Explorer so you can set it up to meet your specific needs.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

New Folder button

While the New Folder button is not the most exciting new feature in Windows Explorer, it is something that I have been pining for a long time. I don't know why it has taken Microsoft so long to put this button where it has always belonged, but it did. In Windows 7's Windows Explorer, you'll find the New Folder button on the toolbar, as shown in Figure A. Just click it and a new folder appears!

Figure A

Finally, we have a New Folder button on the toolbar in Windows Explorer.

Preview Pane button

On the right side of Windows Explorer's toolbar, you see the Preview Pane button, which allows you to quickly and easily toggle the Preview Pane, as shown in Figure B. And if clicking the Preview Pane button isn't easy enough for you, try the [Alt]-P keyboard shortcut.

Figure B

You can quickly and easily toggle the Preview Pane from a toolbar button.

Simulated dual-pane file manager

Back in the DOS days, I lived and breathed Norton Commander. With its dual-pane interface, copying files from one folder or drive to another was a breeze. I've always wished that Windows Explorer had a dual-pane feature. Now, thanks to Aero Snap, creating a simulated dual-pane interface with Windows Explorer is, well, a snap.

You can create your dual-pane file-manager simulation with four simple keystrokes:

  • [Windows]+E
  • [Windows]+[Left Arrow]
  • [Windows]+E
  • [Windows]+[Right Arrow]
You don't even have to let up on the [Windows] key. In fact, I press and hold down the [Windows] key and then press E, [Left Arrow], E, [Right Arrow]. Once you have the two windows open, as shown in Figure C, you can easily copy files from one folder or drive to another.

Figure C

In four easy keystrokes, you can open a simulated dual-pane interface with Windows Explorer.

Change Windows Explorer's target

When you launch Windows Explorer from the Start menu in Windows 7, the default target is the Libraries folder. If you would prefer to have Windows Explorer open Computer, all you have to do is change the target.

To do so, press [Windows], type "windows explorer" in the Search box, right-click the first result, and select the Properties command. When you see the Windows Explorer Properties dialog box, type the following command in the Target text box, as shown in Figure D, and click OK.
%SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /root,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

Figure D

To make Windows Explorer open Computer, just change the target.

Save time with Favorites

If you have certain folders that you access all the time, you can save yourself time and navigation steps by adding those folders to Windows Explorer's Favorites. In Windows 7, it's a very simple operation to add folders to the Favorites.

Navigate to and open the folder that you access all the time. Then, right-click on the Favorites item in the navigation pane and select the Add Current File Location to Favorites command, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

In Windows 7, it's a very simple operation to add folders to the Favorites.

Expand the navigation pane

By default, Windows Explorer displays five sections in the navigation pane: Favorites, Libraries, Homegroup, Computer, and Network. While this makes the navigation pane a straightforward tool, there are other locations you may want to have easy access to. To expand the number of items in the navigation pane, pull down the Organize menu and select the Folder and Search Options command. When you see the Folder Options dialog box, select the Show All Folders check box and click OK. When you do, you'll see a fuller navigation pane, as shown in Figure F. As you can see, there are now nine items in the navigation pane including Desktop, your User folder, Control Panel, and Recycle Bin.

Figure F

Selecting the Show All Folders check box expands the navigation pane.

More Album Art

To help you more easily associate individual MP3s with the artist, you'll now discover that each file's icon can now show Album Art when you select Tiles, Medium, Large, or Extra Large as the view, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G

Each MP3s icon can now show Album Art.

Content View

There's a new View setting in Windows 7 called Content View that makes it easier to keep track of multimedia files -- pictures, videos, music/MP3s. As you can see in Figure H, Content View displays one item per line with information about that item, such as date modified, size, author, and type.

Figure H

Content View makes keeping track of multimedia files easier.

What's your take?

The file-management features in Windows 7's Windows Explorer are pretty nice once you get used to using them. Have you grown to like the file-management features in Windows 7? What do you think? 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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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.