If the Start menu is the soul of Windows, then File Explorer can be the “lifeblood” of Windows – after all, File Explorer has been on Windows for much longer than the Start menu. The next generation of Windows 11, which suddenly appeared in 2021 after the peak functionality of Windows 10, completely changed the intuitive and functional design of the file explorer, taking into account both visual and systemic aspects.
And this also brings some huge adjustments in using habits, if it is simply to achieve the file/folder open, browse, view outside, Windows 11 File Explorer is fully meet the needs, but if you need to deal with file management every day, then the current Windows 11 File Explorer will certainly make you overwhelmed! The powerful “Library” seems to have disappeared, so how can we better find a more convenient file manipulation flow?
From “Library” to “Home Folder”: Back to tree directory structure
Since Windows 7, Windows File Explorer has introduced the concept of “libraries”, which simply means that libraries can be aggregated in different directories, so that files of a certain type can be found directly through a certain type of library.
However, this different type of relationship between “libraries” is not so convenient in the later stages of Windows 10 and Windows 11. First of all, WSL was introduced from Windows 10, and we can run Linux applications directly on Windows through the Linux subsystem, which means that we can access Linux subsystem directories directly through Windows File Explorer, and how to place the entries in File Explorer is a big problem.
Secondly, the essence of “library” management is to create “virtual folders” of certain types of files and then add the mapped folders to the library. In practice, it is much less convenient than fixing a folder to “Quick Access”.
This is why Windows 11 has a new and more convenient way to gather files: Home Folders. Strictly speaking, Home Folder is not a complete replacement for the previous Library, but the advantage of Home Folder is that it brings together in one portal many of the folders that were previously added to the Favorites bar and fixed to Quick Access in Windows 10.
By default, the first thing we open in File Explorer on Windows 11 is the Home Folder, and without any settings, six default folder types will be displayed, namely Desktop, Downloads, Documents, Pictures, Videos and Music – doesn’t that look familiar? look familiar? Yes, these folders are the same as the previous default type libraries, and these default folders are mapped to the corresponding folders under your current user. Whereas in “Library” we could add folders to different type libraries to enable aggregated access, in Home Folder, these types of folders can optionally be mapped directly to a new folder.
In actual use, “Library”, which allows multiple folders of a certain type of library to be presented, is not suitable for management. Although it is convenient to view files of the same type (no need to open multiple folders at the same time), when copying or editing files, if you choose to manage files in the library, it will still cause confusion in file management, for example, when you copy a file from another folder to the library, you don’t actually know which real folder the file is placed in.
The default folder in the “Home” folder does not support multiple folders like the library, which makes file management easier, and more importantly, by moving the “location” of a certain type of folder, it is possible to map directly to a folder that is dedicated to that type of folder. In particular, if there is a separate large-capacity data storage disk on the current system, you can set the “Download” folder to a directory below the storage disk, thus further reducing the storage space occupied by the current system disk.
In addition to the default folders, the “Home Folder” will also categorize the folders that are currently fixed in the “Quick Open”, such as the directory that I often use to store manuscript documents, and some of the directories that I open every day at work, I will select these directories, and then “Right Mouse Click” – “Fixed to Quick Access”, so that every time File Explorer, you only need to find the “Home Folder” in the left sidebar to find the folder directly in the next level directory to access.
For individual files in a directory that you want to access quickly in File Explorer, an easier way is to “Add to Favorites”, so that these manually added files will be listed in “Favorites” below the “Home Folder”.
In addition to these manually fixed “Quick Access” and “Favorite” files and folders, Windows 11 File Explorer also displays “Recently Used Files”. In fact, the logic of this display is very understandable, because when we use File Explorer, we tend to open some recently used files again rather than looking for a file that we haven’t used for a long time.
Native multi-tabbed Explorer
If there is one biggest change that Windows 11 File Explorer brings, it is naturally the introduction of native multi-tabbed pages. As the most requested new feature, Windows 11’s multi-tabbed File Explorer is the best in terms of compatibility and performance compared to third-party implementations, and is highly integrated with the system.
In terms of usage, the multi-tabbed File Explorer is similar to the Edge browser. The default opening of a file explorer is one tab, and clicking “+” on the right side will open another tab of file explorer by default.
Right mouse click on the tab, you can see the corresponding tab control menu, whether you choose to close the current tab, close other tabs or fix the left or right tab.
If we are using File Explorer to select a folder, we can right-click on it and choose in the context menu whether to open it in a new tab under the current window or in another under a separate new window.
Of course, it must be said that the multi-tab feature of Windows 11 File Explorer is still very rudimentary. For example, it doesn’t include a group tab like the Edge browser, so there’s no way to open a group of tabs for multiple folders at once. There is no way to merge a single window file explorer into a tab under another file explorer window by dragging and dropping it, like the browser does. For example, if you insert a USB stick that allows auto-open, if you already have a File Explorer window, the USB stick will still open a new File Explorer window instead of a new tab. Overall, File Explorer still has a lot of problems in the logical handling of “new window” and “new tab”, so I hope it can be improved in future versions.
Preview pane “plug-in”
I have to say that some third-party file explorers are more comprehensive than Windows’ native File Explorer, especially in terms of file preview, which allows you to preview the contents of a file without having to call the application to open it, so you can manage and view it at a glance. Windows 11 is actually not much of an improvement in preview, for example, we still need to open a specific “preview pane” in File Explorer before we can preview on a selected file, compared to macOS, where you only need to select the file and press the space to preview the experience is still huge.
But from the preview format alone, Windows 11 can be enhanced with “official plug-ins”, for example, the official must-have “plug-in” – PowerToys has a special function “File Explorer Add-in”, after activating it, you can preview more file formats in File Explorer and thumbnails.
Take the basic thumbnails, even without the preview pane open, you can see svg, pdf, stl, and gcode files with embedded thumbnails when viewed directly under the medium icon.
If you open the preview pane, you can directly see the preview of svg, Markdown, pdf, gcode with embedded thumbnails and various source code files, especially pdf and various source code files can be directly previewed, so you don’t have to open a specific software to view the contents of the file separately.
Revamped the right-click menu of Windows 11
The right-click menu in Windows 11 has been redesigned to be more modern visually, but the structure has changed so much that some of the most frequently used functions need to be opened by clicking “Show more options” again.
For example, when I select a file and want it to be opened with a certain software, on Windows 10 I just need to right click and select “Open with xxx” in the mail menu, but if the app is not compatible with the new right-click menu of Windows 11, then in Windows 11 it cannot be opened in the first level of the right-click menu, resulting in repeated secondary operations.
In this case, one way is to restore the Windows 10 style to the Windows 11 context menu by means of a registry edit, and another way is to use a third-party tool to manually add a new open option to the Windows 11 menu.
Custom Context Menu is a useful (and intuitive) Windows 11 context menu editing tool that adds an “Open from” option to the Windows 11 context menu.
For example, if I want to add an Open in Sublime option to my Windows 11 context menu, then open the Custom Context Menu, click the Add button in the upper left corner, enter the name of the menu item in Title, for example “Open in Sublime”, and then enter the path to the executable in Exe. Param remains the same here, and finally, enter the path of the application icon file in icon.
Finally, click Save in the upper-right corner and restart the current File Explorer manually, then select a file and right-click on it. After you click it, you can open the current file in Sublime. In fact, not only editors, but also other software that does not support Windows 11 right-click menu yet can use this manual method to achieve indirect support.
Finding a more efficient and ‘modern’ alternative
The changes brought by Windows 11’s File Explorer are huge. After the Ribbon interface was exhausted, Microsoft went back to the beginning with Windows File Explorer: bringing back a lot of functionality to the menus and giving it a fresh and modern design. Once I got used to this design, the overly functional design of Windows 10 File Explorer was never used again.
So, while Windows 11 still looks like a “sore thumb” in some features, choosing a third-party alternative still requires a balance of modern design and easy-to-use functionality, so the interface design of the former Tablacus Explorer or Total Commander has long been outdated. I finally found a third-party alternative that is visually and functionally excellent – OneCommander 3.
Similar to many file explorers that support side-by-side windows, OneCommander 3 also uses a side-by-side column layout, which is familiar to users who are used to TC or FTP software. The simple column display clearly shows the current system file directory structure, such as individual hard drive information, Linux subsystems and the current main system directory structure.
And the file management uses a detailed list view layout, you can clearly see whether the current file or folder, the time of update or modification, permission and size.
In the file preview, the most convenient thing is that text or multimedia files can be directly used similar to macOS file preview, which is also far more convenient than using the preview pane or thumbnails to fast. Even the thumbnail view preview, you can also customize the thumbnails of ai and PDF.
The most important thing is of course its beautiful interface, the theme mode supports the use of system themes and supports the mica window effect on modern Windows, presenting a translucent window effect.
As Windows officially enters the Windows 11 era, the oldest component of Windows: File Explorer also gets a new start. With the new minimalist design, the “Home Folder” home directory structure, and the addition of multiple tabs, Windows Explorer is a little different than before. Do you have any tips that make a difference? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.