Starting with these techniques and tools, do a good job of file management on Windows 11

If the Start menu is the soul of the Windows system, then File Explorer can be the lifeblood of Windows – after all, File Explorer has a much longer history on Windows than the Start menu. After experiencing the peak functionality of Windows 10, the sudden emergence of the next-generation Windows 11 version in 2021 completely changed the previous focus on intuitive functionality in file explorer design. While balancing visual and system aspects, the minimalist design instantly brings people back to the elegant and fresh file management design of Windows 7.

And this has also brought about some huge adjustments in usage habits. If you only focus on opening, browsing, and viewing files/folders, Windows 11 File Explorer is completely sufficient. However, if you need to deal with file management every day, the current Windows 11 File Explorer will inevitably leave you at a loss – the powerful “library” seems to have disappeared. How can you better find a more convenient file operation flow?

From “Library” to “Home Folder”: Regression to Tree like Directory Structure
Since Windows 7, the concept of “libraries” has been introduced in Windows File Explorer. Simply put, libraries are used to aggregate and place files in different directories. Files of a certain type can be directly searched for through a library of a certain type.

However, the different types of relationships like “libraries” became less convenient in the later stages of Windows 10 and Windows 11. Firstly, WSL was introduced starting from Windows 10. Through the Linux subsystem, we can directly run Linux applications on Windows. Correspondingly, we can directly access the Linux subsystem directory through the File Explorer of Windows. However, how to place an entry point in the File Explorer has become a major challenge.

Secondly, the essence of “library” management is to create “virtual folders” for certain types of files, and then add mapped folders to the library. In practical use, it is far less convenient than fixing folders to “quick access”.

Therefore, in Windows 11, a more convenient file aggregation method has been specially added: the “home folder”. Strictly speaking, “home folder” is not a complete replacement for the previous “library”. However, the advantage of home folder is that it can bring together many folders that were added to the favorites bar and pinned to “quick access” in Windows 10 in one entry for viewing.

By default, when we open File Explorer on Windows 11, the first thing we open is “Home Folder”. Without any settings, six default folder types will be displayed, namely “Desktop”, “Download”, “Documents”, “Pictures”, “Video”, and “Music” – do you think they look familiar? That’s right, these folders are just like the default type library in the past, and these default folders are mapped to the corresponding folders under your current user. In the past, in libraries, we could add folders to different types of libraries to achieve aggregated access, while in the main folder, these types of folders can be directly mapped to a new folder.

In practical use, the library, which allows multiple folders of a certain type library to be presented, is not suitable for management. Although it is convenient to view files of the same type (without having to open multiple folders at the same time), when it comes to copying or editing files, because the folders in the library belong to different folders, choosing to manage files in the library can still cause confusion in file management. For example, when you copy a file from another folder to the library, you actually do not know which real folder the file is placed in.

The default folder in the “main folder” does not support multiple folders like a library, which makes file management simpler. More importantly, by moving the “location” of a certain type of folder, it can be directly mapped to a folder specifically for storing this type. Especially when there is an independent high-capacity data storage disk in the current system, the “Download” folder can be set to a directory below a storage disk, further reducing the storage space occupied by the current system disk.

In addition to the default folder, the “Home Folder” also categorizes and displays the folders that are currently fixed to “Quick Access”, such as the directory I often use to store manuscript documents. Some directories that are opened every day in my work will select these directories, and then right-click – “Pin to Quick Access”. This way, every time the File Explorer finds “Home Folder” in the left sidebar, it can be directly accessed in the lower level directory.

For a single file in a certain directory, if you want to quickly access it in File Explorer, a simpler way is to “add to favorites”, so that these manually added files will be listed in the “favorites” section under the “main folder”.

In addition to manually pinning these files and folders to Quick Access and Favorites, Windows 11 File Explorer also displays “Recently Used Files”. In fact, this kind of presentation logic is also very easy to understand. Compared to searching for a file that has not been used for a long time, when using File Explorer, we often open some recently used files again.

Native multi tab resource manager
If we talk about the biggest change brought by Windows 11 File Explorer, it is naturally the introduction of native multi tab pages. As the most popular new feature, the multi tab file explorer in Windows 11 is the best in terms of compatibility and performance compared to third-party implementations, and is highly integrated with the system.

In terms of usage, the multi tag file explorer is similar to the Edge browser. By default, opening a File Explorer will result in a tab. Clicking the “+” button on the right will open another File Explorer tab by default.

Right click on the tab and you will see the corresponding tab control menu. Choose whether to close the current tab, close other tabs, or fix the left or right tab.

If we are using File Explorer to select a folder, we can right-click and select whether to open it in a new tab under the current window or in a separate new window from the right-click menu.

Of course, it must be said that the multi tab feature of Windows 11 File Explorer is still very basic at present. For example, there is no added feature of group tabs like Edge browser, so it is not possible to open a group of tabs for multiple folders in bulk at once. It is also impossible to merge a single window File Explorer into a tab under another File Explorer window by dragging and dropping it like a browser. For example, if the USB drive you insert allows automatic opening, and you already have a File Explorer window, the USB drive will still create another File Explorer window instead of creating a new tab. Overall, there are still many issues with the logical processing of “new windows” and “new tabs” in File Explorer, and it is hoped that future versions can be improved.

“Plugins” on the preview pane
It has to be said that compared to Windows native file resource managers, some third-party file resource managers do consider certain aspects more comprehensively, especially in file preview, where file content can be previewed without calling the application to open, making both management and viewing clear at a glance. However, Windows 11 actually did not have much improvement in previewing. For example, we still need to open a specific “preview pane” in File Explorer to preview a selected file. Compared to accessing a file on macOS, which only requires selecting a file and pressing a space to preview, the difference in experience is still huge.

However, from the perspective of preview format alone, Windows 11 can use “official plugins” to enhance it. For example, the official must-have “plugin” – PowerToys has a special feature called “File Explorer Add-in”, which can be activated to preview more file formats in File Explorer and thumbnails.

Taking basic thumbnails as an example, even without opening the preview pane, you can view SVG, PDF, stl, and gcode files with embedded thumbnails directly under the medium icon.

If the preview pane is enabled, you can directly see previews of SVG, Markdown, PDF, GCode with embedded thumbnails, and various source code files. Especially, PDFs and various source code files can be previewed directly, so there is no need to open specific software separately to view the file content.

Modify the right-click menu of Windows 11
When it comes to another change that is different from previous versions of Windows, it is necessary to mention the right-click menu. The right-click menu of Windows 11 has been redesigned, although visually more modern, due to significant structural changes, some of the most commonly used features require clicking “Show More Options” again to open.

For example, when I select a file and want it to be opened using a certain software, I only need to right-click on Windows 10 and select “Open with xxx” from the email menu. However, if the application does not have a new right-click menu compatible with Windows 11, it cannot be opened in the first layer right-click menu in Windows 11, resulting in repeated secondary operations.

In this case, one approach is to restore the previous style of Windows 10 to the right-click menu of Windows 11 through registry editing. Another approach is to manually add new open options to the menu of Windows 11 using third-party tools.

Custom Context Menu is a very practical (intuitive) Windows 11 right-click menu editing tool, whose function is to add an option to “Open from…” in the Windows 11 right-click menu.

For example, if I want to add an option to open using Sublime in my Windows 11 right-click menu, then open the Custom Context Menu, click the add button in the upper left corner, fill in the menu item name in the Title, for example, it is called “Open in Sublime”, and then fill in the path to execute the program in Exe. Param remains unchanged here, and finally enter the path of the file for the application icon in the icon.

Finally, click on the save button in the upper right corner and manually restart the current File Explorer. At this time, select another file and right-click. In the pop-up right-click menu, a new menu item for Open With will appear. Below this menu, the previously set “Open With Sublime” will appear. After clicking, you can successfully call Sublime to open the current file. In fact, not only editors, but other software that currently does not support Windows 11 right-click menus can also use this manual method to achieve indirect support.

Searching for more efficient and “modern” alternatives
The changes brought about by Windows 11’s File Explorer can be described as significant. After the ribbon interface reached its limit, Microsoft’s transformation of Windows File Explorer returned to its original state: incorporating a large number of features into menus, presenting a refreshing and modern interface design. And when I adapted to this design, the overly functional design of Windows 10 File Explorer was no longer necessary.

Therefore, although Windows 11 still looks like an “unaffordable dou” in some features, choosing a third-party alternative still requires a balance between modern design and user-friendly and powerful features. Therefore, the former Tablacus Explorer or Total Commander have long fallen behind in interface design. And I eventually found a third-party alternative that was visually and functionally excellent – OneCommander 3.

Similar to many file resource managers that support side by side windows, OneCommander 3 also adopts a side by side column layout, which is quite familiar to users who are accustomed to using TC or FTP software. A concise column display can clearly present the current system file directory structure, such as information on various hard drives, Linux subsystems, and the current main system directory structure.

In terms of file management, a detailed list view layout is adopted, allowing you to clearly see whether it is a file or folder, the update or modification time, permissions, and size.

The most convenient aspect of file preview is that text or multimedia files can be directly previewed using a file preview method similar to macOS, which is much more convenient and efficient than using a preview pane or thumbnail. Even for thumbnail preview, it is possible to customize the thumbnails of AI and PDF.

Of course, the most important thing is its beautiful interface. The theme mode supports the use of system themes and supports the mica window effect on modern Windows, presenting a semi transparent window effect.

epilogue
With Windows officially entering the Windows 11 era, the oldest component in Windows, File Explorer, has also ushered in a new beginning. While incorporating a new minimalist and minimalist design, the addition of multiple tabs to the main directory structure of the “home folder” has made Windows Explorer a little different from before. Are you accustomed to using this completely new file explorer on Windows 11? What unique tips do you have? Welcome to speak freely in the comments section.

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