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Customizing Windows Explorer in Windows 7

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Michael Miller shows some of the many ways to make Windows Explorer look and feel your way.
This chapter is from the book

Working with Windows, more often than not, means working with files and folders. And working with files and folders in Windows means working with Windows Explorer.

As often as you use Windows Explorer, wouldn't it be nice to personalize it just a tad, make it a little easier to work with? Well, your wish is granted, as there are lots of ways to make Windows Explorer look and feel your way.

Read on to learn more.

Understanding Windows Explorer

Windows Explorer is an application that displays the contents of hard drives and folders. You use it to navigate all the folders and files on your computer.

This makes Windows Explorer a file manager application. In fact, Explorer replaced Windows' self-named File Manager application, which ruled the roost from Windows 3.0 (1990) to Windows 95. Since that 1995 introduction, Windows Explorer has gone through quite a few permutations. In fact, there was time when it really wasn't called Windows Explorer.

That time was 2001, and the release of Windows XP. With XP, Microsoft decided to make Explorer more "discoverable" and task based. So instead of launching Windows Explorer as a separate folder, you opened the My Documents or My Music or My Whatever folder. Each of these folders was really Windows Explorer, pointing to a distinct folder on your hard drive, even if it wasn't called that.

So when you opened the Start menu and clicked My Documents, you launched Windows Explorer pointing to the My Documents folder.

With Windows 7, the name Windows Explorer is back in vogue. Yes, you can still open the Documents folder, but you can also launch Windows Explorer in and of itself. In fact, Windows Explorer is one of the default icons in the new taskbar, as you can see in Figure 6.1; click the taskbar icon to open Windows Explorer. (You can also launch Explorer by opening the Start menu and selecting All Programs, Accessories, Windows Explorer.)

Figure 6.1

Figure 6.1 Open Windows Explorer from the Windows 7 taskbar.

When you launch Windows Explorer, it opens to the new Library view—that is, a view of Windows 7's four default libraries (Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos). As you can see in Figure 6.2, the Win7 version of Explorer also features a revamped navigation pane on the left, with five major sections: Favorites, Libraries, Homegroup, Computer, and Network.

Figure 6.2

Figure 6.2 Welcome to Windows Explorer.

The easiest ways to navigate with Windows Explorer are to use the Favorites and Computer sections in the navigation pane. The Favorites section lets you go directly to your favorite folders (by default, these include Recently Changed, Public, Desktop, Downloads, Network, and Recent Places, although you can customize this favorites list), while the Computer section lets you drill down through all the drives and folders and subfolders on your computer system. Click an arrow next to a selection to expand that selection in the navigation pane; click any item to display the contents of that device or folder in the details pane of the Explorer window.

Above the navigation and details panes is a context-sensitive toolbar. The contents of the toolbar change depending on what you have selected in the navigation pane. For example, select Computer in the navigation pane and the toolbar displays options for Organize, System Properties, Uninstall or Change a Program, Map Network Drive, and Open Control Panel; select the Documents item and the toolbar displays options for Organize, Share With, Burn, and New Folder.

The one constant in the toolbar is the Organize button. Click this button to display the Organize menu, shown in Figure 6.3. This menu features all manner of file-related operations, such as Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, and so on.

Figure 6.3

Figure 6.3 Windows Explorer's Organize menu.

At the very top of the Explorer window are back and forward buttons and two boxes. The bigger box is the address box, although Microsoft likes to call it the breadcrumbs bar. This box displays the folder path, but you can go backward through the path (like following a trail of breadcrumbs) by clicking any folder in the path; click a right arrow next to a folder and you see all the subfolders branching out from that folder. It's really a nice way to navigate, once you get the hang of it.

The second box at the top of the Explorer window is the search box. As you might suspect, you use this box to search for files and folders on your system; just enter the file or folder name (or part thereof) and press Enter; Explorer then returns a list of items that match your search, as shown in Figure 6.4. It works pretty well.

Figure 6.4

Figure 6.4 The results of a Windows Explorer search.

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