Windows 8: Improvements in Windows Explorer

Posted by sumeethevans on August 30 2011, 3:31 AM. Posted in Windows.Next.

Windows 8 is about reimagining Windows, so we took on the challenge to improve the most widely used desktop tool (except maybe for Solitaire) in Windows. Alex Simons on the program management team authored this post with a detailed look at the evolution of Explorer and the major improvements to its interface and functionality for Windows 8. Judging by the passion on file operations and user interface design, we know this is an important subject so we expect a pretty engaged dialog on the topic. We put this in one lengthy post, will watch the comments and dialog, and down the road we'll continue the discussion.-- Steven

It’s exciting to have this opportunity to share the improvements we’re making to the file management capabilities of Windows Explorer. Explorer is one of the most venerable parts of Windows with a heritage you can trace back to the “MS-DOS Executive” in Windows 1.0!

The new ribbon

The Home tab is focused on the core file management tasks, and we’ve put all the major file management commands there in prominent locations: Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, Cut, and Properties. We’ve also given new prominence to two popular heritage features, Move to and Copy to, along with exposing a hidden gem, Copy path, which is really useful when you need to paste a file path into a file dialog, or when you want to email someone a link to a file on a server.

Figure 9 - Home tab The new Home tab

The Home tab is the heart of our new, much more streamlined Explorer experience. The commands that make up 84% of what customers do in Explorer are now all available on this one tab:

Figure 10 - Home tab showing % usage of each button Overlay showing Command usage % by button on the new Home tab

The Share tab is for sharing files by typical methods like zipping them up and emailing them to a friend, or burning them to optical media. Or you can quickly share files with other people in your home group or your network domain. It also provides one-click access to the ACLs for the currently highlighted file.

Figure 11 - Share tab The new Share tab

The View tab provides access to options for view customization. We’ve enabled one-click access for turning on/off the Navigation pane, Preview pane, and Details pane, a live preview gallery for the different icon display sizes, quick access to sorting and grouping by column, the ability to quickly add columns, plus easy access to three hidden features: show file name extensions, show hidden items, and hide selected items.

Figure 12 - View tab The View tab

The customization options for the Navigation pane are also much easier to access – in the drop-down menu, you get one-click access to them, including a new option to show or hide favorites.

Figure 13 - Navigation pane options Navigation pane options

The file menu and other tools

The file menu lets you quickly open new Explorer windows, access your shortcuts, and change folder and search options. It also includes a hidden feature that we love, Open command prompt, and a really useful new command, Open command prompt as administrator, both of which launch a command prompt with the path set to the currently selected folder.

Figure 14 - File menu File menu

We’ve provided a variety of contextual tabs that activate in the context of specific files and folders, and for tasks like searching, managing libraries, viewing pictures, and playing music. One of the best examples is the new Search Tools contextual tab which launches when you click in the search box.

Figure 15 - Search tab Search tab

The Search tab surfaces a bunch of hidden gems that most people are not aware of, but that could solve some common problems for them. You can quickly adjust the scope of any search, filter by common date ranges, file type, file size, and other properties like the author or name. Then you can save these searches for future use.

Here are examples of some of the other Explorer context tabs:

Figure 16 - Library Tools context tab Library Tools

Figure 17 - Picture Tools context tab Picture Tools

Figure 18 - Disk Tools context tab Disk Tools

Designing for a wider screen

When considering the ribbon UI, we knew we had to be conscious of one of the primary customer concerns we hear about: screen real estate. As we looked at ways to mitigate this issue, we dug up some more telemetry data for Windows 7:This approach gives you a new Details pane that is much easier to read, makes better use of widescreen formats, and preserves screen real estate for the main file/folder pane. The exact number of lines might vary a bit from PC to PC depending on what add-ins you have, but for the out-of-the-box configuration running full screen at 1366 X 768, you can actually fit two more lines on the screen than you could in Windows 7.

Figure 21 - Comparison of real estate used for data in Windows 7 Explorer versus "Windows 8" Explorer

And this comparison assumes you have the ribbon open. If you collapse the ribbon (double-click the tab, or click the Minimize arrow on the right side of the ribbon), you get even more vertical real estate with our new approach.

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