Microsoft Talks About Windows Explorer Improvements in Windows 8, Addition of Ribbon UI and Up Button

UPDATE: If you want to have Windows 8 style one-click access for turning on/off the Navigation pane, Preview pane, and Details pane, etc in Windows 7, check this tutorial.

Microsoft is really working very hard on Windows 8 development and its now clear with all preview posts made by Microsoft on official Building Windows 8 blog.

Recently Microsoft posted about file management improvements and file name collision (conflict) improvements.

Now Microsoft has posted about improvements in Windows 8 Explorer. Here is what the official announcement says:

Windows Explorer is a foundation of the user experience of the Windows desktop and has undergone several design changes over the years, but has not seen a substantial change in quite some time. Windows 8 is about reimagining Windows, so took on the challenge to improve the most widely desktop used tool (except maybe for Solitaire) in Windows.

The biggest category of feedback was requests to bring back features from Windows XP that were removed in Windows Vista, especially things like bringing back the "Up" button from Windows XP, adding cut, copy, & paste back into the top-level UI, and for providing a more customizable command surface. Also frequently requested is the need for more keyboard shortcuts.

Microsoft set out to accomplish three main goals with this new version of Explorer.

  • Optimize Explorer for file management tasks. Return Explorer to its roots as an efficient file manager and expose some hidden gems, those file management commands already in Explorer that many customers might not even know exist.
  • Create a streamlined command experience. Put the most used commands in the most prominent parts of the UI so they are easy to find, in places that make sense and are reliable. Organize the commands in predictable places and logical groupings according to context, and present relevant information right where you need it.
  • Respect Explorer's heritage. Maintain the power and richness of Explorer and bring back the most relevant and requested features from the Windows XP era when the current architecture and security model of Windows permits.

New Ribbon UI in Windows 8 Explorer:

These strengths fit well with three goals – the ribbon would allow Microsoft to create an optimized file manager where commands would have reliable, logical locations in a streamlined experience. The flexibility of the ribbon with many icon options, tabs, flexible layout and groupings also ensured that Microsoft could respect Explorer's heritage. The ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus and context menus.


Microsoft knew that using a ribbon for Explorer would likely be met with skepticism by a set of power-users, but there are clear benefits in ways that the ribbon:

  • Exposes hidden features that they already use but which require third party add-ons to use in the Explorer UI today.
  • Provides keyboard shortcuts for every command in the ribbon, something many people have been asking for.
  • Provides UI customization with the quick access toolbar, taking us back to a customization level that is basically equivalent to Windows XP.

Microsoft also knew that, similar to when we added the ribbon into Office, there would be concerns about reduced screen real estate. Microsoft worked hard to mitigate this issue.

One of the most common requests Microsoft gets in any redesign is to continue to provide the old user interface along with the new. Sometimes this is suggested as a "transitional" benefit, and other times as a "compatibility mode." The most immediate challenge is that any new commands added to the ribbon then need to be added in the old UI, even if there is no logical place for them.

A ribbon gave Microsoft a lot of layout options and Microsoft explored a number of different approaches to tabs and grouping. Microsoft decided to go with three main tabs: Home, Share, and View, plus a File menu and a variety of contextual tabs.

The Home tab is focused on the core file management tasks, and Microsoft has put all the major file management commands there in prominent locations: Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, Cut, and Properties. Microsoft has also given new prominence to two popular heritage features, Move to and Copy to, along with exposing a hidden gem, Copy path, which is really useful when you need to paste a file path into a file dialog, or when you want to email someone a link to a file on a server.

The Share tab is for sharing files by typical methods like zipping them up and emailing them to a friend, or burning them to optical media. Or you can quickly share files with other people in your home group or your network domain. It also provides one-click access to the ACLs for the currently highlighted file.

The View tab provides access to options for view customization. Microsoft has enabled one-click access for turning on/off the Navigation pane, Preview pane, and Details pane, a live preview gallery for the different icon display sizes, quick access to sorting and grouping by column, the ability to quickly add columns, plus easy access to three hidden features: show file name extensions, show hidden items, and hide selected items.

The customization options for the Navigation pane are also much easier to access – in the drop-down menu, you get one-click access to them, including a new option to show or hide favorites.

The file menu lets you quickly open new Explorer windows, access your shortcuts, and change folder and search options. It also includes a hidden feature Open command prompt, and a really useful new command, Open command prompt as administrator, both of which launch a command prompt with the path set to the currently selected folder.


Microsoft has provided a variety of contextual tabs that activate in the context of specific files and folders, and for tasks like searching, managing libraries, viewing pictures, and playing music. One of the best examples is the new Search Tools contextual tab which launches when you click in the search box.

The Search tab surfaces a bunch of hidden gems that most people are not aware of, but that could solve some common problems for them. You can quickly adjust the scope of any search, filter by common date ranges, file type, file size, and other properties like the author or name. Then you can save these searches for future use.

Designed for Widescreen:

Microsoft investigated a number of options for using widescreen formats more effectively with the goal that the total vertical space available for content was the same after Microsoft added the ribbon as it had been in Windows 7. Microsoft removed the header at the top of the main view and moved the Details pane to the right side (and also did a visual revamp of the pane) while keeping a one-line status bar at the bottom of the window where Microsoft shows you critical information.

This approach gives you a new Details pane that is much easier to read, makes better use of widescreen formats, and preserves screen real estate for the main file/folder pane.

Keyboard Shortcuts:

One of the top requests from more advanced users is for more keyboard shortcuts. All of the existing Windows Explorer shortcuts work in this version of Explorer, but with our new approach, all of the approximately 200 commands in the ribbon now have keyboard shortcuts as well.

Ability to Customize Windows Explorer:

Advanced customers have also traditionally asked for the ability to customize Explorer more. The Explorer in Windows XP was probably the most customizable version to date (you could add or remove a pre-specified set of buttons from the toolbar and customize the layout) but the Explorer UI in Windows 7 and Vista had very limited customization options beyond installing third-party add-ons.

The new Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) in Explorer provides a lot of customization opportunities. Similar to Office, by right-clicking any button in the ribbon, you can add it to the QAT. Additionally, you can choose to have the QAT display above or below the ribbon, and to display the ribbon in an open or minimized state. This is a big increase in the level of customization available in Explorer (you can choose approximately 200 commands to add to the QAT) and returns it to a level equal to or greater than we had in Windows XP.



Finally, as you may have noticed in several of the screen shots, Microsoft just had to bring back the "Up" button.

This is far and away the most requested improvement to Explorer, and a great opportunity to bring back some of Windows Explorer's heritage features.

NOTE: If you want to get similar one-click access for turning on/off the Navigation pane, Preview pane, and Details pane, etc in Windows 7, check out following tutorial:

How to Customize Windows Explorer Command Bar (aka Folder Band or Toolbar) in Windows 7

And if you want to have Windows 8 style Ribbon and Up button in Windows 7 Explorer, check following tutorial:

Transform Windows 7 into Windows 8 without using Customization Pack

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Posted in: Windows 8 / 8.1

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  • I hate the ribbon interface!

  • you guys do know that if you dont like the ribbon interface you can simply just hide it by double-clicking the Ribbon Tabs?

    As long as your netbook has fulfilled the requirement, then you install/run Windows 8.

  • I personally love the Ribbon UI since it first used at Microsoft Office 2007. Then, Ribbon UI in Microsoft Office 2010, 2013 is getting more beautiful and better. Now it's finally come to Windows 8's File Explorer.

    After I watched this "The Story of the Ribbon" presentation, I think I am more loving the Ribbon UI.
    (You can download the video and the slides of the presentation.)

    I agreed with what his said. Menus and toolbars are for applications with less features. Ribbon UI brings out most (if not all) features from a lot of menus to the front, more visible. An improvements to the interface.

    Ribbon UI = result-oriented interface
    Menus and toolbars = command-oriented interface

    Toolbar design in Windows Vista and 7 is bad and not customizable. Ribbon UI in Windows 8 is awesome!

    But one thing I want to see is ability to add custom commands that user created to the Quick Access Toolbar.
    Also executable files like exe, cmd, bat, etc. Or even shortcuts to the folder, file (docx, pptx, xlsx, ...).

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