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10 Windows 8 tips, tricks and hacks

January 31, 2013 06:00 AM ET

7. Bend File Explorer to your will

Windows 8's File Explorer file manager is different from the old Windows Explorer in more than just name. It's gotten a complete makeover, notably by the addition of a Ribbon interface that puts many tasks, features and views in easy reach. Following are my favorite ways to get more out of it.

But first you need to make sure that File Explorer displays the Ribbon, because it might not be turned on. To turn it on, press Ctrl-F1 or click the downward-facing arrow on the upper right of its screen. The Ribbon displays, and the downward-facing arrow turns into an upward-facing arrow. To turn it back off, press Ctrl-F1 again or click the upward-facing arrow.

Turn panes on and off

File Explorer has several useful panes you can turn on and off. Click the View tab to find them. You'll find ways to turn them on and off on the far left-hand side of the Ribbon. Just click the pane you want turned on, and if there are options, select options from the menu that appears when you click the arrow next to the pane's icon.

The first basic choice is whether to use the Navigation pane. That's the pane on the left-hand side of File Explorer, and it's what you use to navigate through your hard disk. Click its icon on the View tab and uncheck "Navigation pane" to turn it off, or check it to turn it on. There are also several other options available, such as whether to show favorite folders such as Desktop, Downloads and Recent Places.

File Explorer with preview pane
The Navigation pane on the left helps you get around your hard drive. The Preview pane on the right displays a large thumbnail of a file you click. Click to view larger image.

There's another choice there: whether to use the Preview pane or the Details pane, or neither. (You can't use both at once.) Either pane lives all the way over on the right-hand side of File Explorer. If you select the Preview pane and then click a file, you'll see a large thumbnail of the file in the pane, or else the actual contents of the file, as long as you have an app that runs or reads the file. (For example, Office for displaying .doc files.)

File Explorer with Details pane
The Details pane shows detailed file information and a small thumbnail.

If you instead choose the Details pane, you'll see details about the file, such as its size, when it was created, its file name and more depending on the file type. (For example, for pictures it displays the dimensions.)

Click the Preview pane or Details pane icon in the Ribbon to turn it on, and click it again to turn it off.

Display hidden files and folders

Microsoft assumes that most people don't want to see the plumbing of Windows, and so hides many system files and folders, as well as file name extensions. But if you want to tweak how Windows 8 works, you'll need to see that plumbing.

It's easy to display it. On the View tab, check the box next to "Hidden items" to display hidden system files and folders, and check the box next to "File name extensions" to display those.

Hide files and folders

To hide those files and folders again, simply uncheck the "Hidden items" checkbox again.

Want to hide more files and folders? Simply select them, then click "Hide selected items" near the right edge of the Ribbon's View tab. Then, when the "Hidden items" checkbox is unchecked, you won't be able to see those items.

Change icon sizes

While you're on the View tab, you can change the size of the icons that represent files and folders. You'll find these options just to the right of the icons for turning panes on and off.

extra large and small icons
Here's what you see when you choose extra large icons (left) or small icons (right).
Add columns

By default, when you open a folder, File Explorer shows three columns of information about each file in the folder: date modified, type and size. But you can add columns that show other information, such as the date it was created, its author, tags and more. Just go to the View tab's "Current view" group and click the down arrow next to "Add columns" to add them.

adding columns to File Explorer
These are your options for adding columns of information about each file in File Explorer.
Click to view larger image.

Near the "Add columns" choice, you get several options to change how those columns display, including how you sort them, group them and make them all fit on a single screen.



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