The ribbon interface has now made it on to Windows Explorer, allowing quick access to all your tools. We explain the ribbon in Windows 8.

When the ribbon interface was first introduced in Office 2007 there were, from some quarters, howls of pain. A few years on and it's been introduced to Windows Explorer. Microsoft is, however, mindful that its new operating system is designed as much for finger-friendly tablets as it is for mainstream computers. Small icons on a ribbon don't really lend themselves to finger-based computing, and the ribbon is fairly tall, so that when it is visible smaller-screened tablets might suffer from having a reduced viewing area in Windows Explorer. See also: How to install Windows 8.

With those two things in mind, Microsoft has made the Explorer ribbon optional in Windows 8. By default, it's hidden away, but you can easily call it up when needed. In this way Microsoft hopes to satisfy everyone. Those who don't like the interface don't have to use it, but if you are a fan it's ready to be called upon.

Calling up the ribbon in Windows Explorer is easy. When first opened, you won't see a ribbon. There is, however, a small downward pointing arrow in the top right of the application window. Tap this and down drops the ribbon. You can also toggle the ribbon with Ctrl-F1 on the keyboard. (See also: Windows 8: the complete guide.)

Windows 8: Basic ribbons

The ribbon might seem a little bit complex at first, because what's available by way of ribbons varies depending on what you are actually looking at. The default view has four tabs – File, Home, Share and View.

The first of these gives you a range of useful options. As well as letting you get quickly to places you've visited often before, and giving the option to pin items to it so that they always show, File allows you to open a new window, delete your history and get to the Command prompt and PowerShell (this lets you create automated tasks). The Home ribbon provides access to the range of common commands like copy, paste, move, rename and selection options that you'll use for file management.

Windows 8 Home ribbon

Options on the Home ribbon will be greyed out if they are not appropriate for the task at hand

Next up is the Share ribbon, which gives you access to a range of options for sharing files and folders with others. The final tab lets you customise how you view data. You can, for example, change between thumbnail and details views, change the sort order, and more.

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Windows 8: Additional ribbons

In addition to these basic ribbons there are a number of extra ones that become available if you are accessing specific file types. These are easy to spot as they have a colour highlighted header sitting above them.

For example, when you select photos in the Picture ribbon, a Picture Tools tab will appear. Choose this and you‘ll get a range of image specific options for rotating images, creating a slideshow and using the current photo as the background image.

Windows 8 Picture Tools tab

The Picture Tools Tab appears when you choose an image in the Picture ribbon. It offers a number of options such as creating a slideshow

Another option is the music ribbon. Select some music and up pops a ribbon with some tools specific to audio, making it easy to play music.

In addition, you'll find that there are new ribbons that become available at specific times. Again this happens because there are certain activities that can only be performed when particular items in Windows Explorer have been selected. So, if you select Computer from the left-hand Windows Explorer pane, a new tab labelled Computer appears. Select this and you'll have access to hard drive level features, as well as an option that takes you straight into the Control Panel. And if you select a particular disk drive, then you'll find several relevant options including BitLocker, format, clean up and optimise.

Windows 8 Computer ribbon

If you require access to hard drive level options or fast access to the Control Panel, you should click on the Computer ribbon

Windows 8: The ribbon and the keyboard

Not everyone will want to use a mouse or their finger to take advantage of the ribbon. But you can use the keyboard too, just as you can within Microsoft Office. When any particular ribbon is in view, simply press the Alt key to see which keyboard shortcuts apply to which options.

Windows 8 the ribbon and the keyboard