Windows Explorer is the Desktop Manager, File Browser, and Internet Browser all rolled into one package. Explorer is so integrated into the Windows framework that it was once a subject of controversy from competing internet Browsers, who claimed that Microsoft was involved in unfair business practices. That being said, if you want to be able to use Windows well, you will need to learn the details of this program.
The Task Pane
The Task Pane is an advent of Windows XP, and is very useful to those who do not know keyboard shortcuts for completing certain tasks or jumping to certain special locations within your computer. You can minimize/maximize any of the Tasks by simply clicking on the arrow to the right of the heading.
File/Folder Specific Tasks
These tasks appear when you have entered a folder which has a defined type other than "Documents". The tasks that will appear here are suited for completing tasks on the given type; such as:
- View a slide show for a picture folder
- Shop for music online for a music folder
- Play all for a video folder
You can customize your folder types by right-clicking on the folder and selecting the Customize tab. In this tab there is a drop down menu which will allow you to change the type of files this folder contains. Many other options may appear here when you are in special locations such as the Control Panel, the root of your Windows Volume, the Program Files directory, and the Windows directory.
File and Folder Tasks
These tasks are those for which you would want to perform on any file or folder such as: sharing, renaming, moving, copying, and deleting. This is also where you would want to go if you needed to create a new folder.
If you need to jump to a place quickly in the Windows Infrastructure you could do so quickly by using these shortcuts. The shortcuts that appear here are: My Computer, My Documents, and My Network Places.
This is less a group of tasks, and more a tool for displaying file/folder specific information. When displayed this part of the Task Pane will display file details similar to those found in the Details view mode. The information displayed here consists of File Name, File Type, Size, Date Modified, Document Specific Information, and, if available, Preview Information in the format of a thumbnail.
The Status Bar, by default, has been turned off in Windows XP, and in Microsoft fashion, I fully expect it to disappear by the next rollout of the Windows Operating System. However, we should always take advantage of things while they are still around; one can turn on the Status Bar by going to View -> Status Bar. This bar is useful to Windows users no only in Windows Explorer, but in Internet Explorer as well. In Windows Explorer it shows you rudimentary file details which are specific for you file type. In Internet Explorer the status bar shows you useful messages such as: page load progress, page messages, and page errors.
The address bar allows the user to type in a URL or directory and move straight there without any further navigation as well as letting the user know where they are currently on the internet/file system. The wonderful thing about the address bar is that it allows you to seamlessly go between the two flavors of explorer; if you are on the internet type in "c:\", or type in "www.washington.edu" to go to the UW home page.
The standard buttons operate the same way in both Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer. The common buttons are:
- Back - Navigates to the last page/folder that you were viewing.
- Forward - If you have browsed backwards using the back button you may use this button to move forward through the views you backed out of
- Home - Only available on Internet Explorer; takes the user to their home page as specified in the Internet Options. If this button is used in Windows Explorer, it will still take the user to the homepage.
- Refresh - Allows you to refresh the current web page with the latest versions from the server, or in Windows Explorer refreshes the file list that is currently displayed.
- Search - Lets you search either the internet for web sites or your file system for certain files.
- Stop - This button stops your browser from continuing to load the current page if it is in the process of doing so. This button has no function in Windows Explorer, even though it is present.
- Up - Only available in Windows Explorer; this button allows you to move one directory up into the file system. For instance: If you were at C:\Windows\, pressing the Up Button would take you to C:\.
You can, of course, customize this feature by going to View -> Toolbars -> Customize. Other buttons you can add include: Copy, Paste, Cut, Copy To, Move To, Map Drive, and Properties.
Windows offers its users a variety of methods to view their files. Each method has its own benefits/disadvantages when compared to the others, but most choose their viewing method simply based on their personal preference. Each folder is unique, Windows will remember the view mode settings for every folder, and thus it will appear the same every time you visit the folder. Click on View in the toolbar and select your desired view to change your current view mode.
The Details View disseminates the most information about multiple files than any other view mode. All the information is tightly displayed, which makes this view the favorite for viewing files which contain no extra information such as pictures or movies. You can add or delete the information topics displayed by right clicking on the bar with the topic names on them, and then checking, or unchecking, the items you want displayed. Another useful feature of this display is the ability to sort the files in the view simply by clicking on one of these topics.
List ViewThe List View is similar to the Details View, in that it lists the filename, and associated program icon, but no preview information. Unlike the Details View, this view does not list any of the extra information such as: Date Modified, Size, or Type. This would be the ideal option to choose if you had many files you needed to see all at once, but did not need the preview or extra information that other views provide.
The Icons View displays icons, which are based on their associated program, and the file name. Some file types will display preview information; this, however, is a function of its associated program, and not Windows. Windows, by default, only shows preview information in the Thumbnail and Filmstrip View. An example of a program that displays preview information is Adobe Photoshop, which displays preview information for pictures as well as Photoshop Document (PSD) Files, an example of such is displayed below.
The Tiles View is the same as the Icons View with the exception that it displays some extra information along with the file name such as: File Type, Size, Picture Dimensions, and Music Author and Title.
The Thumbnails View is the first view which Windows decides to display preview information of its own. This information is usually only displayed on files which contain multimedia content such as: Pictures (BMP, GIF, JPG, and PNG), and Movies (MPG, ASF, and AVI), but sometimes other documents such as Office Documents (DOC, XLS, and PPT) will display preview information as well.
The Filmstrip View is excellent for browsing through multiple pictures at once. The biggest difference between this view and the other views which show you preview information is that a large preview is generated above the thumbnails of the file currently selected. Also, this view gives the user primitive picture manipulation features below the large preview. Currently you are only allowed to rotate the image, but there will likely be more options in the next version of windows.
You can change all of the folders in you computer to conform to the same viewing method by settings them all in the Folder Options control panel, or by going to Tools -> Folder Options -> View, and then clicking on the Apply to All Folders button. This will make every single folder display exactly as the one you are currently viewing.