Some big changes are coming for Windows Explorer in Windows 7

The Microsoft Windows 7 team has spent a great deal of time and effort on honing the user interface in Windows Explorer. Greg Shultz takes a look at some of the many Windows Explorer changes you will find in Windows 7.

As you may remember, when Microsoft redesigned the user interface in Windows Vista, there were many changes made to Windows Explorer. While most of these change were for the better, there was room for improvement, and the Windows 7 team has spent a great deal of time and effort on honing the user interface in Windows Explorer.

In this issue of the Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll take a look at some of the many changes you'll find in Windows 7's Windows Explorer.

Note: Keep in mind that this is a prerelease version and that the look and features of Windows 7 that I will discuss here may very well change between now and the time the operating system is actually released.

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

New Folder button

While the New Folder button is not the most exciting new feature in Windows Explorer, it is something that many of us have been pining for a long time. In Windows XP, the Make a New Folder command appeared in the File and Folder Tasks pane, but once you closed the Task pane in favor of the Folders tree, it was essentially gone. In Windows Vista, the New Folder command appeared on the Organize menu, but if you didn't regularly access that menu, the command was essentially out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, in Windows 7, Microsoft has put the New Folder command where it has always belonged -- as a button on the toolbar, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

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


Now that we finally have a New Folder button, Microsoft perfects the Library technology (once called Virtual Folders), which downplays the real importance of folders as the ultimate organizational structure. You still will use folders to keep things separated, but when you want to find something, via browsing as opposed to searching, you'll use Libraries. Let's take a closer look.

By default, Windows 7 comes with four libraries called Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. What makes these libraries different from their similarly named counterparts in XP and Vista is that rather than solely being tied to a specific folder on your hard disk, libraries can contain links to files and folders anywhere on your hard disk or on any computer on a network. In addition to the default libraries, you can create your own custom libraries.

For example, when you launch Documents from the Start menu, you will actually be opening the Documents Library, as shown in Figure B. Notice that the panel on the left no longer shows a folder tree. That's because it is now called the Library Pane. If you look over at the top right of the interface, you'll see that the Documents library includes two library locations: My Documents and Public Documents.

Figure B

By default, the Documents library contains two locations, but you can add more.
Now, if you click library locations link, you'll see the Documents Library Locations dialog box, as shown in Figure C. Clicking the Add button brings up a browse dialog box that will allow you to select another folder on your hard disk or a network computer and add it to your Documents Library.

Figure C

You can add and remove locations from the Documents Library Locations dialog box.
Once you add another folder, it appears in your Documents Library where you can browse through it just as if the folder was located inside of the My Documents folder, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once you add another folder, it appears in your Documents Library.

Arrange By

To make quick work of browsing through the Documents Library, you can use the options available on the Arrange By menu. By default, the Arrange By setting is set to Folders, but, as you can see in Figure E, you can choose from a number of ways to arrange your files without regard for their actual location.

Figure E

The Arrange By settings allow you to quickly reorganize your Documents Library for easy browsing.

Preview Pane button

On the right side of the toolbar, you see the Preview Pane button, which allows you to quickly and easily toggle the Preview Pane, as shown in Figure F. However, the Preview Pane command still exists on the Organize | Layout menu.

Figure F

You can now quickly and easily toggle the Preview Pane directly from the toolbar.

Right next to the Preview Pane button, you'll find the Views button, which has been moved to the other side of the toolbar and stripped of its text label. Other than that, the Views button still works the same, allowing you to switch between the various icon views such as Details and Extra Large Icons.

What's your take?

These are but a few of the new features you'll find in Windows 7's Windows Explorer as it moves away from folders and toward libraries as the main organizational technique. What do you think about the new Library technology? 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.