Windows Explorer: Navigating Through Windows’ Evolution to File Explorer

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Windows Explorer, known as File Explorer in Windows 10, stands as a cornerstone of user interaction within the Windows operating system. Serving as the primary file management tool, it provides users with a graphical interface to access, manage, and manipulate files and folders. From its humble beginnings to its evolution into a more refined and feature-rich application, Windows/File Explorer has continually adapted to meet the needs of users in navigating the complexities of digital storage.

This article delves into the essence of Windows Explorer, exploring its functionality, historical evolution, and its rebranding in Windows 10, offering insights into its enduring significance in the Windows ecosystem.

In this article:

  1. What is Windows Explorer?
  2. Historical Evolution of Windows Explorer
  3. How Windows Explorer Works
  4. From Windows Explorer to File Explorer: The Name Change
  5. The Significance of Windows/File Explorer in Everyday Computing
  6. References

1. What is Windows Explorer?

Windows Explorer is the primary tool for accessing file systems in Microsoft Windows Operating System after Windows 3.1. Included on Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8. You can use Windows Explorer (or Windows NT Explorer, as it is called in the Windows NT operating system) to:

  • Create, move, copy, open, edit, and delete files or folders
  • Search for files using complex queries
  • Map and disconnect network drives to shared folders on network servers
  • View and manipulate properties of files and other file system objects
  • Share folders and printers for use on the network
  • Configure NTFS permissions, auditing, and ownership (Windows NT and Windows 2000 and above)

Windows Explorer displays a hierarchical window-based view of file system and network resources in two panes. The left pane shows a hierarchical view of all available file system resources, including the desktop, local drives, mapped network drives, printers, and Network Neighborhood (in Windows NT, Windows 95, and Windows 98) or My Network Places (in Windows 2000). In Windows 2000, the left pane can also show search tools or a history of recently accessed resources. The right pane shows the files and folders or other objects within the currently selected drive or folder in the left pane.

Windows Explorer
Windows Explorer

2. Historical Evolution of Windows Explorer

Introduced in Windows 95, Windows Explorer replaced the File Manager from earlier versions of Windows, offering a more integrated and comprehensive solution for file navigation. Over the years, each version of Windows brought enhancements to Windows Explorer, such as the task pane in Windows XP, breadcrumb navigation in Windows Vista, and libraries in Windows 7, continually improving its functionality and user experience.

3. How Windows Explorer Works

The Process of Displaying Files and Folders

Windows Explorer, and subsequently File Explorer, operates by interfacing directly with the Windows operating system’s file system—NTFS (New Technology File System) or FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32) on older systems. When a user navigates to a directory, Explorer sends a request to the file system to retrieve the directory’s contents.

The file system responds with a list of files and folders, which Explorer then displays in the user interface. This process involves reading metadata associated with each file or folder, such as its name, size, type, and modification date, allowing users to see a comprehensive overview of their files at a glance.

Integration with the Windows Operating System

Explorer is deeply integrated into Windows, serving not just as a file management tool but also as a component of the graphical user interface (GUI). For instance, the desktop, taskbar, and Start menu are part of Explorer in various versions of Windows. This integration ensures a seamless user experience, allowing for drag-and-drop functionality between the desktop or other applications and Explorer, context menu extensions, and the ability to launch files with their associated applications directly from Explorer.

Customization Options: Views, Sorting, and Grouping

Windows/File Explorer offers extensive customization options to cater to different user preferences and needs. Users can choose from several views, including details, list, small icons, large icons, and tiles, to display their files and folders. Additionally, files can be sorted by various criteria such as name, date modified, type, and size. Grouping further enhances navigability, allowing users to group files by similar attributes, making it easier to manage large quantities of data. These customization features empower users to organize their digital workspace efficiently.

Windows Explorer in Windows 10

In Windows 10 Windows Explorer has a new name. It’s called File Explorer. Here are three ways to open it:

  • Select the Start button and find it on the Start menu.
  • Press the Windows logo key + E.
  • Select the folder icon on the taskbar.

4. From Windows Explorer to File Explorer: The Name Change

Reasons Behind the Rebranding in Windows 8

The transition from Windows Explorer to File Explorer in Windows 8 was part of a broader effort by Microsoft to modernize the operating system with a focus on touch-friendly interfaces and cloud integration. The rebranding signified a departure from the traditional desktop-centric model towards a more versatile and user-centric experience, aligning with the introduction of the Metro/Modern UI. This change was aimed at unifying the user experience across devices and making navigation more intuitive in a landscape increasingly dominated by touch-based interactions and cloud computing.

New Features and Improvements in File Explorer

File Explorer introduced several new features and improvements to enhance user productivity and file management capabilities. The Ribbon interface, borrowed from Microsoft Office, offered quick access to common tasks and tools, making file operations more efficient. Enhanced file operation dialogs provided users with more detailed feedback during copy/move operations, including real-time transfer speed and the ability to pause/resume transfers.

The Introduction of Quick Access, OneDrive Integration, and the Enhanced Search Experience

One of the most notable additions in File Explorer was Quick Access, which replaced the traditional Favorites system. Quick Access automatically pins frequently used folders and recent files, offering users faster access to their most important data. Integration with OneDrive allowed for seamless access to cloud storage, enabling users to manage their local and cloud files in one place. Moreover, the search experience was significantly improved, with the ability to perform more complex queries and filter results based on various criteria, enhancing users’ ability to find files quickly.

These enhancements, part of the transition from Windows Explorer to File Explorer, reflect Microsoft’s commitment to evolving its file management solutions to meet the changing needs of its users, emphasizing efficiency, integration, and a more intuitive user experience.

5. The Significance of Windows/File Explorer in Everyday Computing

Windows/File Explorer is fundamental to the Windows user experience, offering an essential interface for accessing and managing files. Its evolution from Windows Explorer to File Explorer in Windows 10 signifies Microsoft’s commitment to adapting its software to meet the changing needs and preferences of its user base, ensuring that file management remains intuitive, efficient, and integrated within the Windows ecosystem.

6. References


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