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Introducing the New File Explorer

Windows Explorer has had a bit of a makeover and even has a new name - File Explorer. In terms of appearance and functionality, if you’ve used Office 2010 and beyond, the changes should be very familiar: the Quick Access Toolbar and The Ribbon.

The Basics: Anatomy of an Explorer Window

A default File Explorer window is composed of seven primary parts.

Address Bar

The Address Bar allows you to enter or select a location. You can click or tap part of the path to go to that location or click the white space at the end of it to select the whole path for copying.

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When you switch to the Details view, it shows the file list in sortable columns. Then you can click on the headings to sort how files in the list are displayed.
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For example, clicking on the Size column will sort all the files and folders by their size in either ascending or descending order. If you click and hold, you can drag the column left or right. If you right-click you can add more and Size All Columns to Fit.

Direction Buttons
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Use the direction buttons as you might in a browser. Back will take you to the previously viewed location or search result. Forward will return you to the next location or search result. The Up button will take you to the top of the Explorer hierarchy or parent folder. Repeatedly clicking Up will eventually take you to the Desktop or top-most location.

File List
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The file list shows the contents of the library, current folder, or search results.

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The Ribbon contains Explorer functions replacing the former pull-down menus seen in older Windows versions.

You can quickly show or hide the Ribbon by clicking the arrow to the far right next to the Help (?) button or just hit CTRL + F1.

The Ribbon

Aside from the Quick Access Toolbar, the biggest change in Explorer is the Ribbon. Users of Office 2010 should be intimately familiar with the ribbon concept. The Ribbon eschews traditional drop-down menus in favor of tabbed toolbars. These toolbars give users a large graphical interface with control elements that are grouped together by functionality. Tabs are contextual with some control elements appearing only when a certain location or object is selected. You can hide or show the Ribbon to create more space in your Explorer windows, the fastest way being CTRL + F1.
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The Explorer’s Ribbon changes are universal meaning every menu has it and cannot be restored as it was in Windows 7. We think these changes are helpful because they bring all the Explorer’s menu functions to the fore. Nothing is left buried or hidden. Still, if you’re used to the old dropdown menus, the new style is going to take some getting used to. Luckily we take you through and show you each and every part of it.

To begin, the four tabs you will see most often are File, Home, Share, and View. Other tabs will appear according to content and location.

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When you enter a search term, the results are displayed in the file list. Search results begin to display as soon as you start typing.

Status Bar
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The Status Bar isn’t enabled by default but is very useful and doesn’t really take up that much screen real estate. You can enable it in the Folder Options under the View tab.

It lets you see the total number of items in a view, how many items you've selected and the combined size of your selections.
At the far right end of the Status Bar (squared in red) you can switch between Details and Large Thumbnails file list view.

Window Title Bar/Quick Access Toolbar
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The Windows title bar – every window has one – with a control icon, minimize, maximize/restore, close, and the new Quick Access Toolbar.
The Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) allows you to display an array of commonly used file functions (Undo, Redo, Delete, Properties, New Folder, and Rename) above or below the Ribbon.

You can also add any Ribbon function to the QAT by right-clicking on said function and selecting Add to Quick Access Toolbar. So, for example, if you want to have immediate access to the Folder Options regardless of what Ribbon tab you're on, you can right-click on the Options button in the Show/Hide section of the Ribbon's View tab, and choose Add to Quick Access Toolbar. Now you can easily access and change your folder and search options no matter where you are in File Explorer.

Explorer Panes
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There are a number of optional panes you can enable that makes the File Explorer easier to navigate and give it greater functionality.

Details Pane
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The Details Pane shows a selected file’s properties. For example, clicking on a Word document will display its name, file type, icon, Date Modified, Size, Date Created, and much more. If the details pane is not visible, you can show it by clicking on the View tab and then Details pane in the Panes section.

Navigation Pane
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The Navigation Pane is where you will find the hierarchical directory of locations on your system.

You use this pane to get around and access favorite locations, drives, and network shares. If you click on a location, you can see its contents in the file list and if you click on the arrow, you can expand it in the Navigation Pane. For example, if you want to see the drives and folders on your computer, you would click and expand the arrow next to Computer.

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The Preview Pane allows you to view a file’s contents without actually opening it. If the Preview Pane is not visible, you can show it by clicking the View tab and then Preview pane.

Copy and move
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When it comes to ferrying data from one place to another, Windows 8 introduces notable changes and welcome improvements to its copy and move dialogs. The progress indicators have been cleaned up, simplified, and now feature a pause/play button in addition to cancel.

Clicking on the pause button will halt all copy/move activity until you click play and resume. When a copy or move operation is paused, the progress indicator will show yellow and the dialog title bar will read Paused - xx% complete

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If there are any file conflicts, a dialog will appear giving you three options:

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  • Replace the files in the destination
    If you choose this, all files in the destination location will be overwritten - regardless of whether they’re newer, older, larger or smaller - if they have the same name, the operation will automatically replace anything in the destination folder.
  • Skip these files
    This option will skip any conflicts. Conflicted files in the destination will remain intact and won’t be affected. Files in the source folder will remain.
  • Let me decide for each file
    This last option lets you decide what you want to do for each file conflict. As the following image demonstrates, when conflicts arise, you can choose to overwrite the destination file(s), keep them, or you can elect to add the new files to the destination folder and append the end of each file name with a number.

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Additionally, at the bottom of the dialog, you can check a box and skip destination files with the same date and size.