Even certified Windows masters can learn a trick or two from Ed Bott's series of how-to articles. This edition covers tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts for using File Explorer.
For the past few months, I've been working with my two longtime partners, Carl Siechert and Craig Stinson, on a new book, Windows 10 Inside Out. It's off to the printer this week and should be available in about a month.
Putting a book of this size together is always a learning
experience, and that's especially true with Windows 10, which mixes
classic elements that have been part of Windows for many editions with
Over the next few weeks, I want
to share some of that learning here, in a series of how-to posts.
Today's edition covers tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts for using
File Explorer. Even if you're a certified Windows master, I bet I can
show you a trick or two you didn't know before.
1. Open a File Explorer windows fast
Get to know the classic shortcut combination for File
Explorer, Windows key+E. For opening a single window, it's only a few
microseconds faster than clicking the taskbar icon, but it's a huge
time-saver when you're trying to open a second window.
Knowing that shortcut is especially handy when you plan
to move or copy files between two folders. To open a second window
using the mouse, you have to Shift+click. Instead, press Windows key+E
twice to open two windows, which you can then snap left and right for
easy dragging and dropping.
2. Customize the Quick Access list
The signature feature of Windows 10's
revamped File Explorer is the new Quick Access list. You can pin your
favorite folders to the top of the list for quick, one-click access.
Folders you've used recently show up below the pinned items, which is
handy when you're working with a group of files as part of a short-term
Anything in the Quick
Access list is a drop target, which means you can move files to that
location by dragging them from the main window (or even from another
File Explorer window) and dropping them on the pinned folder.
To pin the current folder, click the
big Pin to Quick Access button on the ribbon's Home tab.
3. Change File Explorer's opening folder
In Windows 10, File Explorer
opens with Quick Access selected. Old-school Windows users might prefer
to start in This PC (previously known as My Computer), which includes
the six standard data folders in your user profile as well as any local
drives and removable media such as USB drives.
No problem. On the ribbon, open the View tab, click Options, Change folder and search options, and then choose one of these two options.
4. Use the expanded Send To menu
Yes, you can right-click
a file or folder (or multiple items, for that matter) and use the Send
To menu to do a few interesting things, like move or copy the selection
to your Documents folder, create a compressed file (in .zip format), or
send the selection as an email attachment. But the selection is pretty
weak and, frankly, weird. Fax recipient? Really?
But the Send To menu
gets much more interesting if you hold down the Shift key before you
right-click. The menu you get after doing that is just filled with
interesting stuff, including every folder in your user profile. Here,
see for yourself.
5. Customize the Send To menu
Speaking of the
Send To menu, you can make it much more useful by adding and removing
the options on the default (short) menu. They're just shortcuts, but
good luck finding them, because they're buried in a folder hidden deep
within your user profile.
To get to that folder, open the Run box (Windows key+R), type shell:sendto, and then press Enter.
order of business: delete the Fax Recipient shortcut. After that, you
can add shortcuts to favorite folders (local and network). You can also
add shortcuts to programs. Adding a shortcut to Notepad or another text
editor makes it much easier to quickly edit any file, for example. Ditto
for pictures and your favorite image editor.
6. Customize the Quick Access toolbar
you've jumped straight from Windows 7 to Windows 10, the addition of an
Office-style ribbon is probably the biggest change in File Explorer.
Its companion, the Quick
Access Toolbar, is equally noteworthy and arguably more useful. It
appears in the title bar, above the ribbon. Customize that toolbar with
the commands you use most often and you can bypass the ribbon completely
for many tasks.
Some obvious customization options are available on the menu that
appears when you click the arrow to the right of the toolbar. Not so
obvious and much more useful is the option to add any individual command
from any tab on the ribbon. Just right-click the command and then click
Add to Quick Access Toolbar.
But even most Windows experts don't know you can right-click an
entire group of commands and add the group as a menu on the Quick Access
Toolbar. Right-click the name under the group to see the option. I use
this trick to add the Panes group from the View tab, so I can easily
show or hide the Preview pane or Details pane on the right.
7. Master advanced search
See that search box in the upper right corner of the File
Explorer window? Type a word or two in there and you can find any file
in the current folder that contains your search term, either in the file
name or (for file types that are fully indexed) in the body of the
But there's an entire advanced search syntax, complete with
Boolean operators, parameters, and operators. My favorite is the datemodified:
operator, which accepts actual dates but also understands relative
dates, like today, this week, last week, this month, and last month.
If you want to see all the Excel spreadsheets you've worked on so far
this month, for example, just enter this in the search box:
type:excel datemodified:this month
The search syntax assumes you want to find files
that match both criteria, treating the query as if you had added the
AND operator between the two terms.
8. Pin saved searches to Start
So maybe you didn't like that last tip,
because the idea of typing commands in a box seems too retro. Fair
But what if you could save those
searches, so you could just click a shortcut to show only files that you
worked with in the past week or two? You can, and the search results
will always be relative to the current date.
Start in the folder or library you want to use as the search
scope - that could be your synced OneDrive or Dropbox files, your local
Documents folder, or a network store, for example.
Enter datemodified:(this week OR last week)
in the search box. Be sure to include the parentheses and capitalize
the Boolean OR.
you've just run a search, File Explorer politely switches the ribbon to
the Search tab, where you can click Save Search and give those
parameters a name. The search gets saved, logically enough, in the
Searches folder in your user profile. Right-click that saved search to
pin it to the Start menu, or drag it onto the File Explorer icon on the
taskbar to add it to the jump list.
9. Use filters to find files faster
Typing in the search box
is one way to narrow a large group of files to a more manageable one,
but it's not the only way. Filters are an even easier way to point and
click your way to search success.
Start in the folder or library you want to search,
and then use the button in the lower right corner of a File Explorer
window to switch to Details view, which arranges your files into
columns. Now look to the right of each heading, where you'll find a
small arrow. Click that arrow to show a filter list for the data in that
column. By clicking a check box or two (or three), you can cut a very
large list of files down to size.
The date navigator is much more powerful than
it looks at first glance. Use the calendar to zoom in or out and narrow
or expand your view of the contents of a folder or a search. Initially,
the calendar shows the current month, with today's date highlighted.
Click the month heading to zoom out to a display showing the current
year as a heading with the current month highlighted. You can then drag
or hold down Ctrl and click to select multiple months.
10. Group files
knows how to sort files--just click a column heading to sort by that
value, and click again to reverse the sort order.
But you can
also group files by date, size, or type, making it much easier to see
similar files in a folder or a set of search results. The Group command
is on the View tab of the ribbon. It's also available when you
right-click in the File Explorer window.
Each group gets
its own heading in File Explorer, with a count of how many items are in
that group. You can right-click a heading to expand or collapse it. You
can also collapse all groups to produce a neat breakdown of groups, with
the number shown beside each one.