In Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, Microsoft rebranded the Windows Explorer file manager that we all know and love to File Explorer. This makes sense to me because Windows Explorer is also the name of the Windows shell; the shell consists of the desktop, the Start menu/Start screen, the taskbar, and the Control Panel.
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To provide us with a bit of nostalgia as we get started, check out the first official version of the Windows Explorer file manager in Windows 95:

Windows 95 Explorer. Those were the days!

Windows 95 Explorer. Those were the days!

Yes, we had the File Manager in Windows 3.1 and MS-DOS, but we have to draw the line somewhere. J

Today, we’re concerned with comparing the new and changed File Explorer features in Windows 10 Technical Preview with the same tool in Windows 8.1.

Taskbar icon and jump lists

Windows 10 sports a new File Explorer icon, but, as you can see below, the jump list functionality (which you’ll recall you can invoke by right-clicking the File Explorer taskbar icon) is unchanged between Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 Technical Preview.

Windows 8.1 on the left, Windows 10 Tech Preview on right.

Windows 8.1 is on the left; Windows 10 Technical Preview is on the right.

I suppose the new icons in the jump list itself constitute a modified feature, right?

Primary user interface

Take a look at the following two screenshots. If you look carefully, you’ll see some changes between the two OS versions immediately.

Windows 8.1 File Explorer interface

Windows 8.1 File Explorer interface

Windows 10 Tech Preview File Explorer interface

Windows 10 Technical Preview File Explorer interface

First, the view in Windows 10 File Explorer (at least in my Technical Preview build 9841) defaults to my home folder. By contrast, Windows 8.1 File Explorer defaults to the “My PC” view. I saw an online discussion thread at that discussed using the Windows Registry to restore the My PC view in Windows 10; try this procedure at your own risk.

Second, we see how Microsoft restructured the ribbon navigation in Windows 10. As it turns out, it’s quite minimal, with one important exception that we’ll discuss momentarily.

In both operating system versions, when you select “This PC” from the shortcut list, you see these ribbon tabs:

  • File: This is the “backstage” area from which you can open a new window, Cmd.exe session, Windows PowerShell session, and so forth.
  • Computer: This tab allows you to check drive properties, map a network drive, open Control Panel, and so on.
  • View: This tab allows you to switch views and access folder and file options.

However, if you select a folder in File Explorer, you see a slightly different collection of ribbon tabs, as follows:

  • File: This is the backstage area previously discussed.
  • Home: This tab provides the traditional cut, copy, paste, properties, and the like.
  • Share: This tab allows you to control NTFS and shared folder permissions, as well as auditing options.
  • View: This tab allows you to switch views and access folder and file options, as usual.

New feature: the Sharing contract

One of the features of Apple products that I enjoy and use the most is its app contract architecture. For example, I can easily select a photo and send a copy of the file to a number of destinations, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Dropbox
  • Reader app
  • Remote computer
  • Editing app

Windows 8/8.1 attempted to introduce the app contract, but, as you know, the Charms interface worked pretty clunkily and inconsistently (to say the least) in desktop Windows 8. However, in Windows 10, we have a change.

In File Explorer, select a file, such as an image file, and then navigate to the Share ribbon tab. Next, click the big Share button. Do you see what happens? Here’s ocular proof for you skeptics in our audience:

Windows 10 Tech Preview makes app contracts easier to access.

Windows 10 Technical Preview makes app contracts easier to access.

Because I work with a completely “vanilla” installation of Windows 10, I have only one option in my Share list. However, any compatible apps that you install on your system, including apps such as Facebook, OneDrive, and Dropbox, will appear dynamically in the list. Pretty cool!

Three quick File Explorer tips and tricks

What I’m about to show you works the same way in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 Technical Preview, but you may not be aware of these tips and therefore may find them useful.

First, select a folder in File Explorer, navigate to the Home tab, and click Copy path. Historically, I’ve found it tedious to grab directory paths from the “breadcrumb”-style path used in File Explorer. I show you what this looks like in the following screenshot:

The Copy path button makes it easier to nab directory paths for later use.

The Copy Path button makes it easier to nab directory paths for later use.

My second File Explorer tip is making the interface more aligned with what Windows veterans remember as “Windows Explorer.” In other words, you want to see all directories in a tree view at left, and the details in a separate pane.

This is easily accomplished. Navigate to the View ribbon tab, open the Navigation pane drop-down, and enable Show all folders. You should consider disabling Show libraries and Show favorites if you’re an old-school Windows power user like I am.

As you can see in the following screenshot, you should also have the right-hand pane set to Details view so you can quickly sort, see object metadata, and so forth.

We can make File Explorer look more like traditional Windows Explorer

We can make File Explorer look more like traditional Windows Explorer.

Finally, I want to show you (or remind you, as the case may be) how you can set your File Explorer view to Details by default. First, open an instance of File Explorer and set the view to Details. Second, open the Folder Options Control Panel item and navigate to the View tab. Third, click Apply to Folders and then click OK to confirm. Done and done!

  1. Vitor Melo 9 years ago

    Thanks for post.

  2. Chris 7 years ago

    I just upgraded to Windows 10.  Is there any way to make the small icons sort go top to bottom like it used to.  Mine is defaulting for files to read right to left across columns and then go down a row.  I would prefer it to go back to the old way of going down the rows of the column and then go to the next column.

    Why did they change it?

  3. Aadarsh 6 years ago

    Windows Technical Preview File Explorer icon looks strange!

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