3 Easy Ways to Improve the Windows 7 Explorer

Tina Sieber 01-02-2012

Windows Explorer is the file manager application that handles the Windows desktop and taskbar and lets you access your files. Without its nice graphical interface, controlling your computer would be a lot more complicated. It’s probably the Windows application that you interact with the most, and hence it’s worth looking into improvements that make it even more useful and efficient.


1. Customize Folder Options

Using the folder options you can tweak the appearance and behavior of your folders. You can reveal hidden files, edit the display of icons and thumbnails, or control how searches are performed.

You can access the Windows 7 folder options in several different ways. When you presently have a folder open, click Organize in the top left and then select Folder and search options from the menu. Another way is to search for the term ‘folder options‘ in the Start menu search and open the respective result under the Control Panel header. Finally, you can access the folder options via the Control Panel under Appearance and Personalization (screenshot below).

improve windows 7 explorer

Clicking on Folder Options will launch the window displayed below. Within the General tab you can adjust basic things, such as the behavior of the Explorer navigation pane. I highly recommend to check both boxes. Before you do that, open a folder and see how it behaves after you hit Apply.

better windows 7 explorer


Switching over to the View tab, you can get into some more juicy details, such as enabling the folder menu pane, enabling the restoring of previous folder windows at logon, or enabling the use of check boxes to select items. An example of a customized folder is shown in the screenshot below.

better windows 7 explorer

2. Optimize File View & Preview

How do you prefer to view your files inside a folder? Do you like to view a list with details or just icons? You can set a different view for each folder, which is very convenient as folders contain different things that each demand a custom setting. To cycle through the different view options, simply click the respective button (red).

better windows 7 explorer


In the screenshot above you can see a preview of the selected image on the right. You can enable or disable the preview pane, as well as other panes, under > Organize > Layout.

change explorer folder panes

3. Pin Favorite Folders To Explorer Jump List

The jump list is the list of options that come up when you right-click any item in the taskbar. To access specific folders faster, you can pin them to the Explorer jump list. This can help with un-cluttering the desktop. Simply right-click a folder icon inside Explorer and drag the folder to the taskbar (black). It will automatically be added to the Explorer jump list.

improve windows 7 explorer


By the way, if your Windows Explorer is not currently pinned to the taskbar (icon with red frame in screenshot above), simply open any folder, e.g. your computer, right-click its icon in the taskbar and select Pin this program to taskbar from the menu.

Were these improvements not quite good enough? You might want to look into alternative file managers to replace Windows Explorer, for example these:

If replacing Windows Explorer is a bit too radical for you, maybe you’re happy with simply editing it a little. The following tools can be of great help:

You may also want to stay tuned for a follow-up article on advanced tricks and tips for working with Windows Explorer.


What tips and tricks do you know that improve Windows Explorer?

Related topics: File Management, Windows 7, Windows Explorer.

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  1. Trident1000Y
    February 3, 2012 at 12:25 am

    While people are giving good tips, is there a quick way of getting to the address bar? In XP you could tab and I thing use F5., In Win7 tabbing is impossible and F5 does not work.

    • Tina
      February 3, 2012 at 8:54 am

      For me using [F4] let's the cursor jump directly to the address bar. 

      What also works is using [TAB] or [F6] to move between areas, then hitting [ENTER] when the arrow at the start of the address bar is highlighted. Clicking the down-arrow at this point will open the menu, by the way.

      • Trident1000Y
        February 4, 2012 at 12:42 am

        Thanks Tina!

  2. Victor Ong
    February 2, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    One awesome way to actually PIN a shortcut to the superbar is:
    1. Create a shortcut on the desktop.

    2. When naming it, type "explorer" (without the quotes) then type the location of the folder inside "".

    3. (optional) change the icon of the shortcut.

    4. Drag and pin the shortcut onto the superbar

    That's it!  You get a shortcut onto your superbar!

    • Tina
      February 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Great tip, Victor!

      This is one of two methods to change the default 'home' folder of Windows Explorer. Both will be explained in more detail in the announced follow-up article with advanced tips and tricks for Windows Explorer, to be published next week.

  3. Josh Fox
    February 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    The one feature that Windows Explorer really lacks is tabbed browsing. File browsers in Linux have it, web browsers have it... It's nice to have, especially when you are working with a lot of files in a lot of places at the same time. 

    • Joel Lee
      February 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Oh man. If Windows Explorer had tabbed browsing, my life would be so much easier. I think I purposely avoid opening folders because browsers have spoiled me so badly and I don't like cluttering my taskbar.

      • Tina
        February 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm

        Guess what, an Explorer add-on for tabbed browsing is on my list of articles to write. :)

        • Joel Lee
          February 2, 2012 at 7:11 pm

          Awesome! I can't wait to read it. Now I'm all excited.

    • Michael Lockhart
      February 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      Actually I dislike tabs -- I just use multiple windows, which facilitates drag-n-drop for moves and copies.
      But what I really miss is filters, like old FILEMAN from Windows 3.x, so that you can tell it to only show files of a certain kind.  In Win7 explorer you can put *.docx in the Search box at top right, I suppose, but this will search all subdirectories, which is not always what I want.  If there's a way to bring that back, I'd use Windows explorer more. I wonder if it's something Libraries can do (I have not played with those)? As is, I tend to use Emacs' dired mode (not that I expect anyone else to do that - emacs has a huge learning curve).

      • Andrei
        February 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

        i just sort files by type.

  4. Arun Sengupta
    February 2, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Nice one :) 
    I love the way you wrote about such a small thing which people really don't think about... but it's a nice post :) 
    Thanx :D

    • Tina
      February 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

      Thank you for the comment, Arun! Glad you liked the post.
      I actually don't think that this is a small thing. Windows Explorer is one of the most used Windows programs, so it's pretty essential that it works well.

      • Arun Sengupta
        February 2, 2012 at 8:59 am

        well actually your right :D it is a big thing ... but it's something people don't really think about (that much) from point of view :) But still appreciate the effort and work :D 

  5. jim765
    February 2, 2012 at 3:45 am

    what I want to see is a shortcut to rename files. something like CTRL+R 
    I have to make hundreds of folders at a time for my job and each one has the address for a house and renaming is slow on a laptop with a touchpad.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:40 am

      Hello, you could try the following for both; files and folders:

      -- go to folder where files/folder are
      -- right click on first folder
      -- select rename and name the first folder
      -- press the Tab key ( it should take you to next folder/file to be renamed)

      Hope it helps

    • Michael Lockhart
      February 2, 2012 at 5:06 am

      Use F2, type new name, enter, down arrow, repeat.

      More advanced: if you have a list of house names to make directories for, you might consider this:

      1. using Notepad to create a list with each house name on it's own line (don't put spaces in the names, or this won't work without a lot of trouble)
      2. save the list as a text file called "houses.txt" in a new folder called "JimsNewHouses" under your Documents folder.
      3. Open a Command prompt (Win+R, cmd, enter)
      4 Type these two commands (do one, press Enter, do second):

      CD DocumentsJimsNewHouses

      FOR /F %FOLDER IN (houses.txt) DO MKDIR %FOLDER

      5. After this you'll have a new folder "JimsNewHouses" with a bunch of empty folders created inside it, one for each house name you listed in houses.txt. Now you can move/rename JimsNewHouses to whatever you want but keep all the sub-folders it's created for you

      • Tina
        February 2, 2012 at 7:23 am

        Thanks for sharing this hack, Michael!

    • Bhavik_jazzy
      February 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

      USE F2

    • Josh Fox
      February 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm

       F2 is the keyboard shortcut to rename files and folders.

    • andrei
      February 5, 2012 at 7:58 am

      In a Windows environment you can use a VBA macro. Open whatever MsOffice program, open the macro editor and start writing. Run the macro.

      The command is mkdir, look it up :).

    • Joe Bowers
      March 15, 2012 at 4:49 am

      The shortcut to rename is F2

  6. Mohamed Tair
    February 2, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Thanks for this interesting post ;)