Microsoft Windows Explorer

Microsoft Windows Explorer is a graphical file management utility for the Windows operating system (OS). Windows Explorer was introduced with Windows 95 and later renamed File Explorer. Each time that a computer user accesses a disk or opens a folder containing files, they are using the Windows/File Explorer utility.  

The goal of the file management utility is to allow users to conveniently work with the files and directories located on any connected disk. When a file is selected within the Windows/File Explorer interface, users can select from a variety of context-sensitive actions such as renaming, moving, copying, publishing, emailing, printing or deleting the file. Entire folders can also be opened, explored, shared, copied, cut, pasted, moved or deleted. Files can be searched or dragged and dropped between folders, and folders can be moved into other folders and disk drives as desired. 

Windows/File Explorer can present files and folders in several different formats such as thumbnail image arrays, icons, lists and details (including name, size, type, date, time and other information). The choice of display format depends on the user’s preferences and the type of content being explored. For example, a folder with an extensive library of image files, videos, or music may be displayed in thumbnail format, while a folder of documents might be better viewed as a detailed list.

The Windows 10 version of File Explorer is divided into three main sections. The top portion of the interface contains a graphical toolbar. This toolbar is divided into three separate tabs. By default, Windows displays the toolbar’s Home tab which contains general purpose icons for functions such as Copy, Paste, Move To, Rename and Properties.

The toolbar’s share tab contains icons corresponding to options for sharing the selected item with others. Using the icons found on this tab, it is possible to e-mail, print, or fax an item, or even burn it to disk.

The toolbar’s View tab can be used to customize File Explorer’s appearance. This is where you can find the option to display items using extra large icons, large icons, medium icons, small icons, list, details, tiles, or content. Furthermore, the View tab can be used to either display or hide filename extensions, item checkboxes, and hidden items. Additionally, the View tab contains options for viewing or hiding the navigation pane, the preview pane, and the details pane.

The second of Windows Explorer’s three areas is the navigation pane. The navigation pane is displayed along the left side of the interface in a tree like view. It exposes network drives and their folders, libraries (Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos). The navigation pane can also contain quick access shortcuts to commonly used folders.

The third area of the Windows Explorer interface displays the files and folders within the currently selected location. From here, a user can navigate the file system, double click on a file to open it, or right click on a file to access a context sensitive menu containing options such as Share, Open With, Send To, or Properties.

The Windows Explorer interface can appear differently depending on what item is currently selected. Clicking on the This PC icon (found in the navigation pane) for example, causes Windows Explorer to display the computer’s libraries, devices and drives, and network locations. For each local drive and mapped network drive, File Explorer displays a graphical view of the drive’s total capacity and space remaining. This view also replaces the toolbar’s Home tab with a Computer tab, which provides options to access media, map network drives, add a network location, open settings, or even uninstall or change programs. Incidentally, the Share tab does not exist when This PC is selected.

The Windows/File Explorer has evolved with Windows operating system versions, and later releases of Windows added advanced functionality. For example, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 add support for libraries that aggregate content from various locations like shared folders and network drives. Those OSes also include support for federated search of external databases accessed over the Internet.

Windows Explorer replaced File Manager in versions of Windows prior to Windows 95. In Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, File Explorer received a revamped toolbar. Unneeded capabilities have also been removed from Windows/File Explorer in successive versions of Windows.



This was last updated in February 2019

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