Although Windows 8 has a new user interface, you’ll typically find that you still use the traditional desktop for a good proportion of the time. As well as removing the familiar Start menu, Microsoft has also given File Explorer a makeover, adding new features.

See also: Windows 8 review

File Explorer is where you can access all the content you have stored on your computer, and manipulate it. You can copy it, move it, rename it, delete it and so on.

With each iteration of Windows, File Explorer has become more sophisticated, allowing you to preview files, for example, and - in Windows 7 - to create ‘Libraries’ which collect documents scattered around your hard disk (or disks) in one place for easy access.

In Windows 8 Microsoft has added more functionality to File Explorer, building in a tool – the Ribbon – which anyone familiar with recent versions of Office will immediately understand.

The Ribbon is a ‘like it or loathe’ it feature. Some people say it occupies too much screen space, and certainly if you have a small screen its vertical space does take up a fair bit of the viewing area. Others love the way it provides quick access to lots of features. The good news for those in the former camp is that you can hide the Ribbon in Windows 8’s File Explorer when it’s not needed. We’ll show you how.

For those who are already fans of the Ribbon, the increased access to a range of new features it provides in File Explorer will be welcome, and if you are a convert you ought to find moving around between and manipulating files and folders becomes a whole lot easier.

If you like the look of what you see, but don’t have any plans to upgrade to Windows 8 just yet, don’t despair. There’s a free utility called Better Explorer which provides a lot of very similar features to those you’ll find in File Explorer on Windows 8. It even adds a few extra features like tabs so that you can have a number of Explorer windows opened at the same time – say your Dropbox, downloads and documents folders, for example - and switch easily between them.

Better Explorer works with Windows 7 but not older versions of Windows. You can download it here.

How to use Windows 8’s File Explorer

1, The new Ribbon won’t be to all tastes but you don’t have to have it on show all the time. There’s a small arrow on the far right of the menu bar, and you can use this to hide the Ribbon when you don’t need it.

Windows 8 File Explorer

2. Libraries get a bit easier to manage in Windows 8 via the Ribbon. You can easily add folders to a library. Folders themselves don’t move, nor do their contents, but they are displayed when a library is selected.

Windows 8 File Explorer Library tools

3. There are functions dedicated to music on the Windows 8 File Explorer. You can play single tunes or the contents of a folder, and even manage playlists. Note how the music options are only available when a music file is selected.

Windows 8 File Explorer music tools

4. When you select an image file you can access a range of features from within Windows 8 File Explorer. Rotation is useful for viewing in the Preview Pane, and you can set a photo as the desktop background image or view multiple images in a slide show.

Windows 8 File Explorer picture tools

5. Video files also get their own controls in Windows 8 File Explorer. You can play a single video, play all videos in a folder, or add any particular video to a playlist. Note also that there are playback controls in the Preview Pane for preview or Windows Media Player playback.

Windows 8 File Explorer video tools

6. Sophisticated searching has become easy with a comprehensive set of options available on the Ribbon as soon as you start tapping in the search box to the right of the screen. You can refine finds by type, date and size, for example.

Windows 8 File Explorer search tools

7. Folders are easily managed from the Home menu. Copy, Move and Rename options are here, and you can create new folders too. The delete option allows you to either send items to the Recycle Bin or delete permanently.

Windows 8 File Explorer

8. There are some very useful file sharing options on the Ribbon allowing you to email, print and even fax files as well as burning them to disc and sharing them wirelessly with selected people or groups.

Windows 8 File Explorer Sharing tools

9. The Preview Pane has been joined by the ‘Details Pane’. Access these in the View Menu. Use the Details pane to see file information. What you get varies depending on the file format. For example for videos you get frame rate, bitrate, frame size, video length and more.

 Windows 8 File Explorer preview and details panes

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