Windows Explorer

General Information

Using Windows Explorer is a convenient way to get an overview of the contents of your computer. Although Windows Explorer and My Computer show similar things, their purposes are quite different. My Computer is intended to give you a more comprehensive technical overview, while Windows Explorer is intended for browsing and/or modifying the file structure of your computer, and its layout and functionalities are more conducive to performing these tasks than those of My Computer.

Also, note that Windows Explorer is not the same thing as Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer, as the name suggests, lets you browse on the Internet, whereas Windows Explorer lets you browse your Windows environment (ie the drives, folders and files on your computer).

To launch Windows Explorer, go to the Start menu, then to All Programs, then Accessories, and select Windows Explorer or right-click on the Start menu and select Explore from the contextual menu. Note: at the ETI you can also open Windows Explorer by clicking on the icon located just beside the Start button.

The Windows Explorer window, show in the example below, is similar to a standard window, with one difference - the Windows Explorer window has two panes (sides).

The left pane contains a hierarchical tree that shows all of the drives and folders on your computer. Notice that it only shows folders, and not individual files. Folders that contain sub-folders will have a little + in a box next to them. To see the sub-folders you need to expand that section of the tree by clicking on the little +. When you do this, the + changes to a - and a list of sub-folders, indented slightly from the original parent folder (the parent folder is the folder that contains the sub-folders). To hide the sub-folders again, click on the - symbol.

To see the entire content of a folder (both sub-folders and files), click on the folder in the left pane. The folder is highlighted and its content appears in the pane on the right side. The right pane behaves exactly the same way as any other window view of a folder. You can open a file or see the content of a folder by double-clicking on it. When you open a folder in the right pane, the same folder becomes highlighted in the tree in the left pane.

For efficient file management you should use the left pane to select the folder that you are interested in and the right pane to get an overview of all of the files and folders inside it. In other words, you navigate on the left and look at details on the right.

Rearranging files

By default, files and folders are arranged in alphabetical order. However, you can change the order in which you see the files based on their name, their size, the type of file, or the date on which they were last modified.

The main way to change the sort order is by using the View menu of the window, selecting Arrange Icons by..., and then choosing one of Name, Size, Type and Modified. To change the order (ascending/descending) you need to make the exact same selection a second time.

If you are using the Details view you can use the headings of the columns (Name, Size, Type and Modified) to change the order. A little arrow pointing up (ascending) or down (descending) indicates which of the headings is currently being used to sort the files, and the 'direction' in which they are being sorted. To change the sorting, simply click on one of the headings. If you want to change the order within that heading (ie ascending instead of descending) click on the same heading a second time.


Making any window into an Explorer window

You can make any window that gives you a view of a folder into a Windows Explorer window at any time. To do this, just click on the Folders button in the button bar of the window. Similarly, you can make any Windows Explorer window into a normal window by doing the same thing. When moving from a Windows Explorer window to a regular window the files and folders that will appear in the regular window are those that were in pane on the right hand side of the Windows Explorer window.


Exercise: open Windows Explorer and browse the tree by clicking on different folders and the little + symbol. Don't forget to look in the right pane to see how it changes as you browse.