4 Useful Features of Windows 8 File Explorer

In this Ask the Admin, I’ll show you some of the most useful features in Windows 8 File Explorer, which is the updated version of Windows Explorer in Windows 8. The ribbon UI has been a part of Microsoft’s Office suite for some years now, and after some initial resistance, it now seems to have won favor with most users. Windows 7 introduced the Office style ribbon to the Wordpad and Paint applications, but stopped short of adding it to Windows Explorer.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven years, you have probably used the ribbon UI that was introduced as part of Office 2007. The ribbon has since crept into parts of Windows 7 and is now featured in the Windows 8 File Explorer.

The Windows 8 File Explorer Ribbon UI

With traditional menus that are seen in most Windows applications before 2007, many features are hidden out of view most of the time. The ribbon UI aims to put that right and exposes useful functionality.

1. Windows 8 Home Tab

Open File Explorer in Windows 8, either by pressing WINDOWS+E or using the folder icon on the desktop taskbar, and you’ll see the default Home tab in the ribbon. Most of the buttons on the Home tab are unavailable until you select a file or folder in the main File Explorer window. Once a file is selected, you’ll see many functions that were previously only accessible either via keyboard shortcuts or by right-clicking for a context menu.

The Home tab in Windows 8 File Explorer

The Home tab in Windows 8 File Explorer. (Image: Russell Smith)

The Home tab is divided into sections, including Clipboard and Organize. One of the buttons I use in the Clipboard section most frequently is Copy path, a function usually only available by holding SHIFT and right clicking.

Another nice touch are the arrows at the bottom of the Move to and Copy to buttons, which allow you to select recently accessed locations. In the Open section, you can click the History button and be taken straight to any previous versions stored by Windows 8’s File History feature.

2. Windows 8 File Menu

It may not be immediately obvious, but File in the top left corner of the File Explorer window is actually a menu. Click on it and you get access to a list of frequently accessed files, the ability to open a command prompt window at the current location and delete File Explorer browsing history.

The File menu and list of frequently accessed files in File Explorer

The File menu and list of frequently accessed files in File Explorer. (Image: Russell Smith)

3. Windows 8 Share Tab

The Share tab gives quick access to what’s usually found in the Send to context menu, such as printing files in the current selection, compressing to a zip file or sending as an email attachment. You’ve also got options to share files with OneDrive or a HomeGroup. For expert users, access control lists (ACLs) can be changed via the Advanced security button.

The View tab in Windows 8 File Explorer

The View tab in Windows 8 File Explorer (Image: Russell Smith)

The look and feel of File Explorer can be modified on the View tab, including how file icons are displayed in the main window, the ability to toggle the Preview pane on and off, and advanced features like showing file extensions and hidden files. File and folder grouping, which was first introduced in Windows 7, can now be enabled from the View tab. Filtering remains accessible from column headers in Details view. For more information on file grouping and filtering, see my article Grouping and Filtering Files in Windows 7 Explorer in the “Related Articles” listing at the end of this post. Finally, the ribbon can be collapsed using the arrow in the top right of File Explorer if you need to free up more screen real estate.

4.  Windows 8 Manage Tab

Much like you would see in some of Microsoft’s applications, such as Windows Live Essentials Photo Gallery, if you select certain file types in the main File Explorer window, a new context-sensitive tab appears called Manage that allows you to perform common tasks, such as Rotate or Set as background, in the case of image files.