How-To Geek

Best Windows 7 Explorer Tips and Tricks

Windows Explorer in Windows 7 has been significantly changed and improved since the days of Vista and XP. This article provides some of the more useful tips and tricks for getting the most out of Explorer.

NOTE: Some of these tips require you to tweak the registry. Before doing so, be sure you back up the registry. We also recommend creating a restore point you can use to restore your system if something goes wrong.

Use the Backspace Key to Go Up Like Windows XP Did


Windows Explorer in Windows XP allowed you to move up a folder using the Backspace key. If you got used to that feature, you’re probably frustrated that it was removed in Windows 7. The Backspace key in Windows 7 moves you Back in the folder browsing history, not to the parent folder of the current folder.

Here’s a small program that allows you to use the Backspace key to go up a folder.

Make Backspace in Windows 7 or Vista Explorer Go Up like XP Did

If you would rather not change the behavior of the Backspace key, there is also a keyboard shortcut you can use to go up a folder: Alt + Up.

View Details and Previews for Files

When browsing through your folders and files in Explorer, it might be helpful to be able to view the contents of the files without opening the files and to view details about the files. The Preview pane and the Details pane allow you to do this. To turn on one or both of these panes, click Organize on the Explorer window and select Layout to display a submenu. If a pane on the submenu has a check mark next to it, it is currently being shown in Explorer. Turn the panes on and off by selecting them on the submenu. You can also press Alt + P to turn the Preview pane on and off.


03_turning_on_always_show_iconsDisable Thumbnail Previews

If Windows Explorer seems to be operating slower than usual, you can speed it up by disabling the thumbnail previews.

This can be done by turning on the Always show icons, never thumbnails option on the Folder Options dialog box, as we have previously shown:

Disable Thumbnail Previews in Windows 7 or Vista Explorer

NOTE: This tip works in Vista, as well.

Choose a Different Startup Folder

04_libraries_viewBy default, Windows Explorer opens to the Libraries view. If you use a specific folder often, such as My Documents, you can change a setting to open that folder when you open Windows Explorer.

We explain how to do this in the following article:

Set the Windows Explorer Startup Folder in Windows 7

You can also set the startup folder to other locations if you know the GUID (Globally Unique Identifiers) for the object or location you want it to default to. The following article provides more information on GUIDs:

Stupid Geek Tricks: Enable the Secret “How-To Geek” Mode in Windows 7

Easily Take Ownership of Folders Using the Right-Click Menu

05_take_ownership_optionIf you need to replace or edit system folders or files in Windows 7, you need to take ownership of them. This may occur during the installation or usage of some programs, among other times.

Taking ownership of a file or a folder is a complicated task, requiring many steps. However, there is an easy method of taking ownership of files and folders using the right-click context menu. The following article provides a downloadable registry hack you can apply that adds a Take Ownership option to the right-click menu.

Add “Take Ownership” to Explorer Right-Click Menu in Win 7 or Vista

NOTE: Remember, it’s a good idea to back up your registry before making any changes to it.

06_turning_off_start_navigation_soundPrevent Explorer from Making Click Sounds

If you have your sound turned on for various reasons, such as watching a movie or listening to music, and you need to do something in Windows Explorer, a click sound may interrupt your movie or music. However, you can turn off this click sound.

The following

article describes how to silence Explorer.

Turn Off Windows Explorer Click Sounds in Windows 7 or Vista

You can use this method for turning off other sounds in Windows, as well.

07_programs_added_to_favoritesAdd Applications to the Favorites List in Explorer

Windows 7 allows you to add your own folders to the list of Favorites in Explorer. What if you work in Explorer often and would like to start applications directly from the Explorer window? If you try to drag an application to the Favorites list, you get an error. However, there is an easy way around this.

The following article provides an easy method for adding applications to the Favorites list:

Stupid Geek Tricks: Add Apps to the Windows 7 Explorer Favorites List

Access Hidden Options on the Right-Click Send To Menu in Explorer

08_expanded_send_to_menuWhen you right-click on a file in Explorer, the Send to submenu on the popup menu provides options for taking action on the selected file. You can send the file to a compressed folder, create a shortcut to the file on your desktop, fax or email the file, or send it to another folder.

However, there are additional options available on the Send to menu that are not visible by default. There is an easy way to view these extra options. Simply press the Shift key while right-clicking on the file.

See our article about this trick for information about adding your own options to the Send to submenu.

Stupid Geek Tricks: Secret Items on the Windows 7 Send To Menu

Open a Command Prompt Window from a Windows Explorer Folder

09_open_command_window_hereIf you use the command prompt often to manage your files, there is an easy way to open a command prompt in the working directory you want from within Explorer. This is accomplished the same way as accessing additional options on the Send to menu, as mentioned above.

To open a command prompt at a specific directory, hold the Shift key down when you right-click on a folder and select the Open Command Window Here option. We wrote about this tip in the following article:

Use “Command Prompt Here” in Windows Vista

You can also go the other direction. If you have a command prompt window open to a specific directory, you can open the same directory automatically in a Windows Explorer window. The following article explains how to do this:

Stupid Geek Tricks: Open an Explorer Window from the Command Prompt’s Current Directory

Add the Copy To and Move To Commands to the Right-Click Menu

10_copy_to_folder_optionIf you transfer a lot of files among different folders, there are a couple of useful options you can add to the context menu in Windows Explorer to make this task easier.

We provided a downloadable registry hack that adds a Copy To folder option and a Move To folder option to the context menu in Explorer. Selecting one of these options displays a handy dialog box allowing you to select a folder to which you want to copy or move the selected file or folder. See the following article to download the registry hack:

Add Copy To / Move To on Windows 7 or Vista Right-Click Menu

NOTE: We highly recommend that you back up the registry before making any changes to it.

We also described how to add this hack to the registry manually in the following article:

Add Copy To / Move To to the Windows Explorer Right Click Menu

NOTE: The article above about adding this registry hack manually shows this being done in Windows XP. This trick works in Windows XP, Vista, and 7.


11_change_size_of_iconsQuickly Resize Icons and Change the View in Explorer

Do you change the view in Windows Explorer among the different sizes of icons or to details or list view often? If so, there is a shortcut that allows you to do this quickly and easily using the keyboard and mouse.

Simply hold down the Ctrl key while scrolling the mouse wheel in any folder in Explorer. We previously showed you this trick in the following article:

Resize Icons Quickly in Windows 7 or Vista Explorer

If you keep scrolling down, the icons get smaller until they switch to List, Details, Tiles, and then Content. This trick essentially scrolls through the options on the Change your view button in Explorer.

NOTE: This trick also works to change the size of the icons on the desktop icons.

Stay tuned for more useful tips on using Windows Explorer in Windows 7 next week!

Lori Kaufman is a writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 10/8/11

Comments (28)

  1. Robert

    Ohh Man!! I can’t believe I missed that copy to/move to article!! Also that take ownership has been a lifesaver transferring files for pc/laptop upgrades. Awesome article again!!

  2. Rusty

    One trick I learned the other day is if you right click on an office document and choose new. It opens the same document but with a different file name so that you can easily edit the new document and save it as a different name.

  3. elazar55

    What about explorer++?
    I find it very useful.

  4. MJ

    @Rusty You are indeed using the document as a template for a new document. This way you can even open .pps and .ppsx files in PowerPoint instead of starting directly the slideshow.

  5. Steve

    Love it! Thanks for the tweaks. Many I’ve used before, but over time forgotten as I reconfigure different machines. Good to recall and re-install.

  6. MAK

    very awesome stuff…
    nice tips and tricks…

  7. Robert

    @Rusty an MJ Both of these are very helpful finds. Thanks.

  8. tiago :D

    So cool and usefull! thx :D

  9. JK

    you can also just type “cmd” in the address bar of any folder your in to start comand promt in that spesific folder

  10. Jeimoi

    Is there any way to “unsort” the order of files displayed in Explorer? Like dragging and dropping files and whatnot inbetween other files.

  11. Stewart J. Miller

    Because Microsoft did this “update,” is that why Explorer keeps crashing for no reason? I do regular virus scans, run MalewareBytes regularly and I have done a complete scrub with Kaspersky’s Rescue disk, so tht cannot be the “dafault” reason I am finding when I search for “reasons” for the crash.

    Please enlighten me, seeing that Microsoft seems not to be up to the task.

  12. KB Prez

    Great Tips! I use the “copy to/move to” all the time. One of the best tips ever. Rusty’s tip about office documents also looks very useful!

  13. Jay Williams

    @S.J. Miller: I too have been having this problem for well over 2 months. [fyi folks: we are talking about WINDOWS EXPLORER file manager, NOT Internet Explorer here, I spent 20 minutes on the phone before realizing the extremely hard to understand ‘outsourced person’ was telling me how to stop IE from crashing … dur!] It started for me immediately after a MS issued ‘Tuesday’ update. And from what I read, so it has for a large number of people. I have tried every ‘remedy’ and ‘sure cure’ I could find on the internet, some quite elaborate, to no avail. I have gone to some very extreme measures (a special MS issued system integrity scan app that took over an hour to run), etc. etc. … ad nauseum. Finally MS assistance said I had a ‘conflicting 2nd-party program’. So I quite literally either uninstalled or disabled every single non-MS application or program on my computer [no easy or fun task!], I even disabled every Firefox add-on and plug-in just to be sure. As we used to say in the Air Force, NO JOY, when a mission objective was unsuccessful. I feel I am computer savvy, having repaired hardware and software problems and built-from-scratch probably a hundred computers in the past 18 years as a hobby. I’m no ‘noob’ at this. This problem is on a brand new, high-end Intel i-5 processor-based laptop. The only thing I haven’t done is a total ‘clean’ re-install of Win 7, which I would love to do at this point. So here’s the rub; I can only do a ‘back-up’ re-install because 99% of manufacturers, for the past several years, do not supply a physical, disc hard-copy of the OS with new machines. I have tried a ton of ‘forums’ to no avail, if any one reading this [shout out to fellow How-toGeek fans and friends!], then PLEEEEZ reply. Admittedly, the wrong place to ask this. If the HTG admin will allow this, contact me at quagmire[dot]longshanks@gmail[dot]com … and thanks if ya lasted through my long-winded gripe session! – Jay

  14. Kevalin

    @Jay and JS: Join the party! “Windows Explorer had stopped working/is not responding” had been my bosom buddy for the last several MONTHS, especially with Windows x32. It did get better on the x64 side after scanning with Avira Rescue disk (which, unlike Kaspersky and Bit Defender, updates at least daily and found a number of questionable files), but I’m still having issues with x32 if I try to work with more than three open folders at a time.

    My plan at this point is to strip and reload the OSes on both computers and AVOID adding Updates for awhile, since it seems to me that that’s when things really started going South with both computers. It’s time-consuming, but you can find sites where it’s possible to add Updates a few at a time; I’ll give that a try and see what there is to see. Wish me luck.

  15. adasd

    is this all windows explorer have? i’ve been using this for years on other operating systems and desktop environments. this windows thing is from the 90’s right? right?

  16. Ricardo Garcia Ramírez

    I’ve never lost track of a file using ME, 2000, or XP, and I keep track of thousands of files in hundreds of folders.

    With 7 I have to search through confusing layers of libraries and folders trying to find what I want and often going around in circles.

    Is there a way to force 7 to work like XP? I hate to lose the money I paid for 7, but I may have to.

  17. philalethes

    xplorer2 lite is free and full of features left out or never in Windoz Xplorer.

  18. awsaf

    Here is a easier way to open a folder with windows explorer by default:

    In the “Target:” of the windows explorer properties type the following:
    %windir%\explorer.exe /n,/e,c:\windows

    This will open the windows folder when you click on windows explorer.

  19. Donald Miller

    To: Jay Williams
    I had issues with Windows 7 and Sony/Viao laptop.

    Using Viao software I made a recovery disk and backed up my Documents to CD’s. An hour later my Windows 7 was humming. It was back in the shape it was when it left the store.

    So, try whatever restore software you have for your unit. Viao was superb, but obviously it has to be on the HD to begin with.

  20. Udosed

    Sure MS would do an update to the search. I loved the search in XP. This one is 7 is scappy and useless…..Anybody hear rather or not they are going to do something about the search. I use SEARCH alot.

  21. What?

    “Windows Explorer in Windows XP allowed you to move up a folder using the Backspace key. If you got used to that feature, you’re probably frustrated that it was removed in Windows 7.”

    I have no problem using the backspace key to go up a folder and I certainly haven’t changed any settings.

  22. Ivydapple

    Here’s another trick–hold down the shift key while right-clicking any folder (in Win7 of course) and you’ll have an expanded “send to” menu.

  23. James Walker

    Yet another fabolous article from How to Geek! Love the Windows 7 tips!

  24. Howie

    Ricardo and Udosed

    Windows 7 search sucks, but download free software FileLocator Lite and find files more easily than with Windows XP.

  25. Lyn Valentine

    how do I locate the windows key for windows products

  26. Brian

    How do you use the keyboard to get to the address line within Windows Explorer. I see that tab gets me there , but I can’t type free text. In WinXP, I could tab to the address line, type “c:\Program Files” and press enter — explorer would then move to that folder.

  27. Tony

    This stuff has been standard fare in Linux for quite some time, the difference being that Linux users don’t pay the Microsoft tax. I’m just sayin’…

  28. john clas

    yeah geeks, nice tips…i moved from xp to 7 and like 7 a lot…except for explorer…just way too many cliks for me to move around in it.. but like another poster mentioned, explorer ++ … its great and i took to it in a couple minutes…now have it pinned to the task bar and have never used explorer since. and i use q-dir when i have lots of files to move around…the multiple panes work so easy. keep up the good work geeks!!

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