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12 Tricks for Managing Your Files With Windows File Explorer

Looking for a lost picture or document? Trying to make it easier to view and manage all your files? These tips will help you master File Explorer in Windows 10 and 11.

By Lance Whitney

File Explorer in Windows has changed in look, feel, and functionality over the years, but its basic goal has always been to help you manage, view, and launch the array of documents, photos, and files nestled on your PC. Even if you’ve been using Windows for a long time, there are likely features in File Explorer that you may not know about or haven’t used in awhile. And that’s even more true in Windows 11, which has tweaked File Explorer visually and functionally.

Within File Explorer, you’ll see a Quick Access section that displays your most frequently used folders and recently used files. A dedicated Share button allows you to quickly share files from File Explorer. If you’re a OneDrive user, the file storage service is embedded inside File Explorer so you can easily store and sync files in the cloud. Read on for other useful features that will ease your use of file management in Windows.

1) Customize Quick Access View

The Quick Access section of File Explorer appears at the top of the left pane and displays your most frequently used folders as well as recent files. As this section is home to the folders you want to access most often, you can customize the Quick Access view to make it more useful.

To add any folder in File Explorer to Quick Access, right-click the folder and select Pin to Quick Access from the pop-up menu, or drag and drop the folder to the entry for Quick Access. Note that you can pin local folders as well as folders from network drives and those from integrated cloud services such as OneDrive or Dropbox.

To remove a folder from Quick Access, right-click it and select Unpin from Quick Access from the pop-up.

You can change the order of the folders in Quick Access. Simply drag and drop one folder higher or lower in the list until you’ve organized them all according to your preferences.

Quick Access even plays a role in the Windows taskbar. Right-click on the File Explorer icon on the taskbar, and your pinned folders for Quick Access appear in the menu.

Not crazy about Quick Access? You can stop it from automatically adding frequently used files and folders.

In Windows 10 File Explorer, click the View tab at the top to display the View ribbon. Click the Options icon just above its down arrow. In the Privacy section of the General tab, click the checkboxes for Show recently used files in Quick access and Show frequently used folders in Quick access to turn them off. Click OK.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, click the “See more” ellipsis icon at the top and select Options from the menu. In the Privacy section of the General tab, click the checkboxes for Show recently used files in Quick access and Show frequently used folders in Quick access to turn them off. Click OK.

Recently used files will disappear and no longer populate. Your frequently used folders will still appear but stop populating.

2) Launch File Explorer to Show ‘This PC’ By Default

In Windows 10 and 11, File Explorer launches in Quick Access view by default. But you can tweak this and revert to the “This PC” view instead.

In Windows 10 File Explorer, click the View menu and then click the Options icon. From the Folder Options window, click the Open File Explorer to: setting and use the drop-down menu to change it from Quick Access to “This PC.” Click OK and then close File Explorer.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, click the “See more” ellipsis icon at the top and select Options from the menu. From the Folder Options window, click the Open File Explorer to: setting and use the drop-down menu to change it from Quick Access to “This PC.” Click OK and then close File Explorer.Looking for a lost picture or document? Trying to make it easier to view and manage all your files? These tips will help you master File Explorer in Windows 10 and 11.

By Lance Whitney

The next time you open File Explorer, you’ll be taken to the “This PC” view.

3) Turn the Ribbon On or Off in Windows 10

Windows 10 File Explorer displays a ribbon full of commands for the Home, Share, and View categories. By default, you have to select each tab to display the ribbon, then click another part of the screen to make it disappear. This saves space since the ribbon appears only when you need it. However, you can tweak it so that you always see the commands available for the current ribbon.

At the very top of the File Explorer window, click the Customize Quick Access Toolbar arrow to the right of the folder icon. You’ll see a menu with different commands, including one to minimize the ribbon, which will likely sport a checkmark in front of it. Select this option to change the size of the ribbon. Maximizing the ribbon will display it in full view all the time. Minimizing the ribbon will restore the default functionality to disappear when not in use.

4) Show or Hide File Extensions

File extensions are a key way of revealing the types of files displayed in File Explorer. A file with a .DOCX extension is a Word document, a file with a .JPG extension is a JPEG image file, and a file with a .PDF extension is obviously an Adobe PDF file. But sometimes you may not want or need to see the extension, especially if you already know the file type based on its name or location. You can turn file extensions on or off easily enough.

In Windows 10 File Explorer, click the View tab at the top to display the View ribbon. Click the box next to File name extensions to turn on the checkmark and reveal the extensions. Click off the box to remove the checkmark and hide the extensions.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, click the View menu at the top and move your mouse to Show. Uncheck the option for File name extensions to turn them off. Check it again to turn them back on.

5) Display Your Libraries

Windows offers a Libraries feature in which you can house your most often-used folders, but it doesn’t show your libraries by default. If you like to use libraries and want them easily accessible, you first have to set them to display in File Explorer.

To do this in Windows 10 File Explorer, click the View tab and then click the icon for Navigation pane. From the pop-up menu, click Show libraries. Your libraries then appear toward the bottom of the left pane in File Explorer.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, click the “See more” ellipsis icon and select Options. At the Options window, click the View tab. Scroll down the list of items and check the box for Show libraries. Click OK.

6) View Different Panes in File Explorer

File Explorer offers various panes to display certain information about folders and files. You can turn those panes on or off to see or hide specific details.

To start, the Navigation pane on the left side of the window displays all the drives and folders on your PC, so you can easily explore them. You’ll likely want to leave this pane alone, but you can turn it off to create more space for the other pane.

In Windows 10 File Explorer, select the View tab in the ribbon, click the Navigation pane icon, and uncheck the checkmark next to Navigation pane. To re-enable the pane, click the icon and click the command back on again.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, select the View menu, move to Show, and uncheck the option for Navigation pane.

The Preview pane lets you see the contents of certain types of files without actually opening them, such as photos, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, and more. It’s a handy way to peek at a file without having to launch its associated program.

To enable the Preview pane in Windows 10 File Explorer, click the View tab and then click the option for Preview pane. Now select a particular file, such as an image or PDF, and you’ll see it previewed in the right pane of File Explorer.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, select the View menu, move to Show, and check the option for Preview pane.

The Details pane shows you key data on individual folders and files, such as the name, size, and last modified date. To turn enable this pane in Windows 10 File Explorer, click the Details pane option on the View tab of the ribbon. Note that you can display the Preview pane or the Details pane, but not both together.

In Windows 11 File Explorer, select the View menu, move to Show, and check the option for Details pane.

7) Use and Customize the Quick Access Toolbar in Windows 10

In Windows 10, File Explorer offers a Quick Access Toolbar at the top with icons for certain default commands and feature. You can easily customize this toolbar to add or remove icons. Right-click the down arrow at the end of the Quick Access Toolbar. Check any items you want to add; uncheck any you wish to remove. You can also reposition the toolbar below the ribbon.

8) Use the Context Sensitive Menu

Right-clicking a folder, file, or other object in File Explorer triggers a menu with a series of commands that vary depending on what you’ve selected. At a minimum, the menu features commands for Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, Send to, Share, and Properties. Additional commands appear not just based on what you’ve selected but on what applications you’ve installed that hook into this menu. In Windows 10, just right-click on any object to see and use the menu.

The problem with the context menu is that the more applications you install, the more lengthy and cluttered the menu becomes. To deal with this problem in Windows 11, Microsoft pared down the menu to display certain core commands as icons and removed other commands considered extraneous. Seeing all the commands requires an extra step. Right-click on an object in Windows 11 File Explorer. The commands for Cut, Copy, Paste, Rename, Share, and Delete appear as icons at the top. To see all the commands, click the entry for Show more options.

In Windows 11, you can restore the classic context menu by default via a Registry hack. Open the Registry editor by click the Search icon and typing regedit. Open the result for Registry Editor.

Navigate to the following folder: HKEY CURRENT USER\SOFTWARE\CLASSES\CLSID. Right-click the CLSID folder, select New and then Key. Name the new key {86ca1aa0–34aa-4e8b-a509–50c905bae2a2}.

Right-click the new key, select New and then Key. Name that new key InprocServer32. Double-click the key named Default inside the InprocServer32 key. Make sure the value data for the Default key is blank.

Restart Windows. Reopen File Explorer, right-click on an object, and you should see the full legacy context menu back in place. To revert back to the new menu, reopen the Registry Editor and delete the {86ca1aa0–34aa-4e8b-a509–50c905bae2a2} key you created.

9) Zip and Unzip Files

In Windows 10 and 11, File Explorer includes built-in functionality to compress and decompress files as zip archives. To compress a series of files in Windows 10, select and then right-click the files. From the menu, move to Send to and select Compressed (zipped) folder. The zipped file is created, which you can then rename.

In Windows 11, select and right-click the files you wish to compress. From the menu, select the command for Compress to ZIP file. Rename the resulting zip file if you wish.

To decompress a zipped file in Windows 10 or 11, right-click the file and select Extract All. Confirm the destination and click the Extract button.

10) Share Folders or Files

You can share a folder or file with a person or application of your choosing, another handy option that saves you time and effort.

In Windows 10, select the folder or file you wish to share. Click the Share tab at the top of the screen to display the Share ribbon. Click the Share icon to open a small window with a list of people and apps with which you can share that file. The number of apps listed will depend on the type of file and which apps are already installed. Select the person or app you want to receive that item.

In Windows 11, select the folder or file and click the Share icon on the top toolbar. Again, select the person or app with which you want to share the item.

11) Manage Your Photos and Images

To some extent, you can tweak your photos and other image files in File Explorer. Right-click a photo in File Explorer and use the Rotate right or Rotate left commands to change the orientation of the image. To turn a photo into your Windows wallpaper, right-click on it and select Set as desktop background from the menu.

In Windows 10, you can also watch a slideshow of all the photos in a particular folder. After selecting an image, click the Picture Tools tab and then select Slide Show. Now just sit back and enjoy the show. Each image appears for about five seconds, but you can click an image to advance to the next one. Right-click on any image in the slideshow to display a pop-up menu that will let you change the speed, go forward or backward, pause the show, or exit.

For some reason, Microsoft removed the slide show feature in Windows 11 File Explorer. You’ll have to open the Photos app if you want to see a slide show of all your photos.

12) Search for Files and Documents

You can search for specific files by name, extension, or other attributes. You can also use the always popular “?” or “*” wildcard characters to seek out files with certain names or extensions. In File Explorer, click the folder that contains the file you wish to find. In the upper-right corner, you’ll see a search field with a magnifying-glass icon.

Let’s say you’re looking for a file with the word “business” in the title or contents. In the search field, type the word and then click the right arrow to run the search.

Now, let’s say you want to narrow the search to only Word documents with “business” as part of the filename. In the search field, type business.docx, and File Explorer returns only Word documents in the results.

You can further expand your search to include every file of a specific type. Maybe you’re looking for all PNG files. Simply type *.png in the search field.

You’ll notice the Search menu or ribbon contains a host of other ways to refine the search. You can search by kind, size, modified date, and other properties and even save your search to use it again in the future.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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