Getting the Most out of Windows Explorer

December 9, 2010, By Christian Cawley

Windows Explorer is just a tool for having a look around your PC or laptop, and occasionally creating files.

Or is it?

There is much more you can do with Windows Explorer than just finding a hard drive partition or mapping a network drive. You might format a drive, activate BitLocker on it, change folder options or change the extension of a single file.

Similarly you can use Windows Explorer to search your PC and create shortcuts, drag data from one partition to another and in Windows 7 you can even use it to preview documents before you open them!

Get ready to try each of the steps below by going to Start > Computer or typing explore in Start > Search.

Using Windows Explorer in Windows 7

Disk Tools

Basic disk tools are available through Explorer in Windows 7. You can access hard disk drives, floppy drives, CD and DVD writers and even removable drives like USB flash devices. To format a drive, right-click the drive and select Format… – you will then be asked to name the drive and choose between a standard and Quick format. This method isn’t recommended for hard disk drive or partition, where you would probably prefer to use the more effective disk manager.

You can also find the Format… option by selecting the drive, pressing ALT to reveal the Menu bar and going to File. Here you can also find a variety of other options such as activating BitLocker encryption on a drive, view the drive Properties and even share the folder. Pretty much everything you would find by right-clicking an item in Windows Explorer can be found in the File menu.

File and Folder Options

Various functions can be used to help you organise your data. To begin with the View option – available in the top right or via the Menu bar when you tap the ALT key – gives you a choice of views between tiles, thumbnails, full details and more.

Meanwhile you can control how Windows Explorer appears by using the Organize drop down button on the left. Layout offers the opportunity to toggle the Menu bar, the Details pane (the section at the bottom of the window displaying file and folder information), the Preview pane (the right-most side of the Explorer window where documents are previewed) and the Navigation pane (the folder tree view on the left).

Also available via Organize is the Folder and search options box, where on the General tab you can set folders to open in the same or a new window, choose how many mouse clicks opens an item, and determine how the Navigation pane displays folders. Also in Folder and search options you can determine how files and folders display in the View tab – the most commonly used options here are to Show hidden files, folders and drives and Hide extensions for known file types, although there are many other view options available on this tab.

Finally on the Search tab you can determine how the search function finds files, choosing between searching file names and file contents, including subfolders and displaying partial matches as well as deciding whether to search compressed files and system directories.

Find and Preview Documents

Finally, Windows Explorer in Windows 7 can be used to find and preview documents. As we’ve seen already there are search settings available via the Explorer window, just as there is a search box in the upper right. This box can be used to search your computer for files and folders, with the results appearing in the main pane.

Once your results are displayed, you can save a lot of time opening them to find the right item by single-clicking and waiting for a preview to appear. If the preview doesn’t appear, you must have the preview pane disabled – enable this via the Show the preview pane button in the upper right.

Additionally, information about the file you have currently selected and previewed will be displayed across the bottom of the window in the Details pane.

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