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Mastering Windows Explorer (part 1) - Navigating in Windows Explorer

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3/19/2011 9:48:31 PM
You can't become a Windows expert without mastering Windows Explorer. This general-purpose tool is used throughout Windows, for general file-management tasks, for opening and saving files in Windows programs, and even in parts of the Windows shell such as Control Panel. The more you understand about how Windows Explorer works, the more effective you'll be at speeding through tasks without unnecessary delays.

The design of Windows Explorer in Windows 7 is significantly refined from its Windows Vista predecessor, and it's practically unrecognizable compared to its ancestor in Windows XP. To give you the lay of the land, we'll start by introducing the individual elements that allow you to navigate through Windows and display and arrange data.

Windows Explorer is extremely customizable. You can show or hide some navigation and display elements and choose from a dizzying array of views and column layouts. Figure 1 shows Windows Explorer with all of its basic elements visible. The contents of a single folder within the Pictures library are shown in Medium Icons view.

Figure 1. Windows Explorer includes the navigation and display elements shown here, some of which can be hidden.

The important landmarks, optional and otherwise, are as follows.

Navigation pane The default view of the navigation pane, which appears at the left side of Windows Explorer, shows four or five nodes: Favorites, Libraries, Homegroup (visible only if the network location is set to Home), Computer, and Network. You can hide the navigation pane, adjust its width, or change its content to include only the Favorites node and a hierarchical folders list. We discuss the navigation pane and its customization options later in this section.

Details pane Running across the bottom of the window, the details pane displays properties for the current selection. You can adjust its height by dragging the top border up or down. The details pane is shown by default but can be hidden.

Preview pane A button on the toolbar allows you to show or hide the preview pane with a single click. If the currently selected file has a preview handler, the file's contents are displayed in the preview pane. Default preview handlers allow you to view the contents of most graphics file formats, plain text files, and those saved in Rich Text Format (RTF). Select a media file, such as an MP3 music track or a video clip, and a compact media player appears in the preview pane. Programs that you install after setting up Windows, such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader, can add custom preview handlers as part of their program setup, allowing you to preview files created in the formats supported by those programs. Figure 2 shows the preview pane displaying the contents of a PDF file on a computer where Adobe Reader 9 has been installed.
Figure 2. With the help of custom preview handlers like the one provided by Adobe Reader, you can preview the contents of documents that are not supported by default in Windows Explorer.

Toolbar The toolbar (known as the command bar in Windows Vista) is not optional, nor can it be customized. A few elements on the toolbar are always available, including the Organize menu on the left and the three buttons on the far right, which (going from left to right) change views, show or hide the preview pane, and open a help window. Other buttons on the toolbar vary depending on the current selection; available commands are relevant to the selected file type or folder location.

Menu bar Sitting directly above the toolbar shown in Figure 1 on Section 1 is the menu bar, which is normally hidden. You shouldn't need this relic from Windows XP in everyday use, as most of its offerings are now available in the Organize menu and the Change Your View button (or, in some cases, on the shortcut menu that appears when you right-click in Windows Explorer). Nevertheless, some Windows XP veterans prefer to keep the menu bar visible because it takes up little space and leaves frequently needed functionality (such as a command to open the Folder Options dialog box) in familiar places. (Expert network users might be accustomed to using an option on the Tools menu to map a shared network folder to a local drive letter; in Windows 7, this option appears on the toolbar but is only visible when you click Computer in the navigation pane.)

Inside Out: Get faster access to Folder Options

The fastest way to get to the Folder Options dialog box is to type folder in the Start menu's search box. Folder Options should pop to the top of the search results list, under the Control Panel heading.

If the menu bar isn't displayed, you can make it appear temporarily by pressing Alt or F10; the menu bar disappears after you open a menu and execute a command, or if you click anywhere else in Windows Explorer, or if you tap Alt again.

Library pane This navigation aid appears by default above the file list when a library is selected. It can be hidden.

Address bar Like its counterpart in a web browser, the address bar shows you where you are and helps you get where you want to go. (You can even type a URL here and launch your web browser, although that's hardly its principal function.) Back and Forward buttons allow you to navigate between destinations you've visited in the current session, and the drop-down history list lets you revisit addresses you entered in previous sessions. Like its Windows Vista predecessor, this version of Windows Explorer uses a breadcrumb trail feature to help you navigate in the address bar. Figure 3 shows this feature in action. The Class Notes folder is open, and each parent folder is represented with a name separated by a small arrow. Click any folder name to move straight to that location; click the down arrow, as shown, to display other subfolders at the same level.

Figure 3. The breadcrumb trail allows you to jump to parent folders or subfolders in the path of the current folder.

We regularly hear from experienced Windows XP users who are perplexed by the absence of the familiar Up button. A design change in the Windows 7 address bar should help ease the transition; the address bar is designed to always show the link for the parent folder (sliding the name of the current folder to the right if necessary), allowing you to go up a level by clicking that link.

Inside Out: Get the full path for a folder or a file

If you're moving from Windows XP to Windows 7, you'll notice that the address bar no longer shows you the full path of the current folder in the traditional manner, with backslash characters separating folder names. If you need to see the full path displayed that way, click anywhere to the right of the path in the address bar or right-click any part of the address bar and choose Edit Address. This shortcut menu also includes two additional options that allow you to copy the current address to the Clipboard. Click Copy Address to save the location in a format that is optimized for copying and pasting folders in Windows Explorer; use Copy Address As Text if you plan to paste the folder path into a document.

To copy the full path for an individual file, hold down the Shift key as you right-click the file, and then choose Copy As Path. This option is especially useful if you've found a file in Windows Explorer and you want to upload it to a website or open it in another program without browsing to the same location in an Open dialog box. Copy the full path for the file, then paste it into the File Name box in the target program.

Search box Typing in the search box begins a search whose scope is restricted to the current location and displays the search results immediately in the contents pane. The width of the search box can be adjusted by dragging its left edge in either direction.

As we noted in the preceding list, you can show or hide some of the navigation and display elements in Windows Explorer. To toggle the show/hide setting for any of these items, click Organize, click Layout, and then select from the fly-out menu shown here. A check mark indicates that the element in question is visible in the current view.

1. Navigating in Windows Explorer

In its default arrangement, Windows Explorer offers four or five starting points for navigating through files on your computer and on your network. The most prominent jumping-off point is the new Libraries feature, , but older, more traditional organizational structures are still there in the background. If you're a Windows veteran and you prefer working directly with the subfolders in your user profile folders or navigating through the hierarchy of drives and folders, you can do that.

In fact, if you prefer the Windows XP–style folder tree, you can replace the default navigation pane layout with a single flat tree. On the General tab of the Folder Options dialog box, under the Navigation Pane heading, select Show All Folders. If you want the folders tree in the navigation pane to automatically open to show the contents of the current folder, select Automatically Expand To Current Folder. (Both options are available on a shortcut menu when you right-click any empty space in the navigation pane.)

Figure 4 shows these two views of the navigation pane side by side. On the left is the default, Windows 7–style view; on the right is the Show All Folders view.

Figure 4. If you prefer navigating with a folder tree, customize the default navigation pane (left) using the Show All Folders option (right).

Interestingly, how you start Windows Explorer also dictates where you start. Here's a quick cheat sheet of what each option does:

  • Press Windows logo key+E to open Windows Explorer with Computer selected in the navigation pane. This has the same effect as clicking Computer on the Start menu.

  • Click the Windows Explorer button on the taskbar to open Windows Explorer with Libraries selected in the navigation pane. This displays all available libraries (default and custom) for the logged-on user.

  • Click the user name at the top of the Start menu's right column to open the user profile folder for the currently logged-on user. This option does not correspond to a top-level entry in the default navigation pane.

The Favorites list that appears at the top of the navigation pane provides direct transport to folders that might or might not be located somewhere along the current path. Windows Explorer populates this list with three links by default: the Desktop and Downloads folders from your user profile, and Recent Places. The third one is a shortcut that displays a filtered view of the Recent Items list, showing only folders and hiding files.

You can add as many shortcuts as you want to the Favorites list. If you continually need to return to the same folder (say, for a project that you'll be working with for the next few weeks or months), you can add a link to that folder. To do this, display the folder's parent in Windows Explorer, drag the folder to the navigation pane, and then drop it on the Favorites heading. Initially, your new link will have the same name as the folder you dragged, but you can right-click and rename it.

Inside Out: Use Windows Explorer techniques with dialog boxes

If you're opening or saving files in a Windows program that uses the Windows 7 common dialog boxes (a set of dialog boxes provided by the Windows application programming interface to give applications a consistent appearance and behavior), you will find essentially the same navigation tools provided by Windows Explorer. In fact, these dialog boxes use the same program code as Windows Explorer, with minor modifications to make them useful for opening and saving files.

Every trick you can use in a standalone Windows Explorer window will work in an Open or Save As dialog box. You can filter the contents of a window using the search box. The dialog boxes are resizable as well, unlike their predecessors in Windows XP. That option is especially useful in combination with the preview pane. Click the toolbar button to make the preview pane visible, and then double-click the dialog box title bar so that it expands to use the full screen. In that fully expanded view, you should be able to find the file you're looking for with relative ease.

Other -----------------
- Windows 7 : Advanced Search Tools and Techniques (part 3)
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- Windows 7 : Advanced Search Tools and Techniques (part 1) - Searching by Item Type or Kind & Changing the Scope of a Search
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- Configuring Search and Indexing Options (part 3) - Basic Search Techniques & Searching from the Start Menu
- Configuring Search and Indexing Options (part 2) - Monitoring the Index, and Tuning Indexer Performance & Other Index Maintenance Tasks
- Configuring Search and Indexing Options (part 1) - Which Files and Folders Are in the Index?
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- Using Advanced System Management Tools : Editing the Registry (part 2) - Backing Up Before You Edit & Browsing and Editing with Registry Editor
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