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Sorting Out Your Files, Folders, and Storage

Windows 10 provides the file-management app called File Explorer to help you keep your files and folders in order. To get the most out of your computer, you will want to navigate File Explorer like a pro and customize it so that it works the way you prefer. To manage your files efficiently, you must exploit the powerful file libraries Windows provides instead of merely creating folders. And to give yourself space in which to keep your files, you will likely need to manage your storage tightly, perhaps using the Storage Spaces feature if your computer is suitable for it.

Navigating File Explorer Quickly and Efficiently

Chances are you'll do a lot of work in File Explorer windows, so learning to navigate quickly and efficiently in File Explorer can save you time, effort, and frustration.

Opening a File Explorer Window

You can open a File Explorer window in several ways. These are usually the most convenient ways:

  • Taskbar:
    Click the File Explorer button to open a window to your default location. To open another frequently used location, right-click or long-press the File Explorer button, and then click the location on the shortcut menu.
    If you already have multiple File Explorer windows open, hold the pointer over the File Explorer button on the taskbar to display thumbnails of the windows, and then click the thumbnail for the window you want.
  • Start menu: Choose Start, File Explorer. You can click the Show Jump List button (the → button) to the right of File Explorer and then click the frequently used location you want.
  • File Explorer:
    You can open a new window by choosing File, Open New Window or by simply pressing Ctrl+N.

After you've opened a window, you can customize File Explorer extensively.

Putting Useful Buttons on the Quick Access Toolbar

By default, the Quick Access Toolbar appears at the left end of the title bar in File Explorer windows and contains only the Properties button and the New Folder button. You can change the buttons displayed on the Quick Access Toolbar and move it to appear below the Ribbon. Many of the figures in this tutorial show the Quick Access Toolbar customized with several extra buttons for additional functionality.

To customize the Quick Access Toolbar, click the drop-down button at its right end to display the Customize Quick Access Toolbar drop-down menu. You can then click a button to check it (putting it on the Quick Access Toolbar) or uncheck it (removing the button).

You can control the order in which the buttons appear on the Quick Access Toolbar. Uncheck each check box to remove all the buttons, and then check the boxes in the order you want the buttons displayed.

Click the Show Below the Ribbon command on the drop-down menu if you want the Quick Access Toolbar displayed below the Ribbon rather than in the title bar. This takes up more space but puts the Quick Access Toolbar closer to the files and folders, which you may find helpful.

Using the File Menu

The File menu, at the left end of the Ribbon, gives you access to essential commands and frequent places.

From the File menu, you can open a new window, a command prompt, or Windows PowerShell; change folder and search options; or go to a frequently visited place.

Here's what you can do from the File menu:

  • Open a new window:
    Click the main part of the Open New Window button to open a new window in the same process. Point to the arrow button to the right of Open New Window and then click Open New Window in New Process if you want to open the new window in a separate process (see the nearby tip).
    Opening a window in a new process gives you better protection against crashes. If errors occur in File Explorer and it crashes (or you force it to close), all windows in the affected process close. If all your File Explorer windows are running in the same process, that means all of them close. If the windows are running in separate processes, only the process that suffered the error crashes; the other processes are-or at least should be-unaffected. The disadvantage to opening windows in new processes is that doing so takes up more memory.
  • Open Command Prompt:
    Click the main part of the Open Command Prompt button to open a regular command prompt, one that has the same level of permissions as your user account. If you need to give commands as an administrator, click the arrow button to the right of Open Command Prompt and then click Open Command Prompt as Administrator.
    If the Open Command Prompt button and the Open Windows PowerShell button are dimmed and unavailable, select another folder or location in the Navigation pane and open the File menu again.
  • Open Windows PowerShell:
    Click the main part of the Open Windows PowerShell button to launch a Windows PowerShell session. If you need to issue Windows PowerShell commands as an administrator, click the arrow button to the right of Open Windows PowerShell and then click Open Windows PowerShell as Administrator.
  • Change Folder and Search Options:
    Click this button to display the Folder Options dialog box. Depending on your selection in the Navigation pane, you might see Options as the button name instead of Change Folder and Search Options. Both versions display the Folder Options dialog box.
  • Help:
    Click this button to open a Help window.
  • Close:
    Click this button to close the File Explorer window. It's usually easier to click the Close button at the right end of the window's title bar.
  • Frequent Places:
    You can click one of these places to display it in the File Explorer window.
You can unpin a place from the Frequent Places list by clicking the pushpin to the right of its name.

Finding Your Way Around the Ribbon

To the right of the File menu, the Ribbon in File Explorer windows contains three static tabs-the Home tab, the Share tab, and the View tab-plus various context-sensitive tabs that appear only when needed. For example, the context-sensitive Library Tools tab appears only when you have selected a library.

The Home tab of the Ribbon contains the following five groups of controls:

  • Clipboard group:
    This group contains the Pin to Quick Access button; the Copy, Cut, and Paste buttons; and the Copy Path and Paste Shortcut buttons.
  • Organize group:
    This group contains the Move To drop-down menu, the Copy To drop-down menu, the Delete button and Delete drop-down menu, and the Rename button.
  • New group:
    This group contains the New Folder button for creating a new folder; the New Item drop-down menu for creating new items including shortcuts, contacts, text documents, and compressed (zipped folders); and the Easy Access drop-down menu, which provides ways to give yourself easy access to a particular file or folder.
  • Open group:
    This group contains the Properties button and Properties drop-down menu; the Open button and Open drop-down menu; the Edit button; and the History button, which takes you to the File History feature (more on this later in this tutorial).
  • Select group:
    This group contains the Select All button for selecting all the items in the current location; the Select None button for deselecting all the selected items; and the Invert Selection button for inverting the selection-deselecting all selected items and selecting all deselected items.

We'll look at Pin to Quick Access, Easy Access, and File History later in this tutorial.

The Share tab of the Ribbon contains the Send group and the Share With group.

The View tab of the Ribbon contains commands for customizing the layout and the view. We'll look at these commands in the next section.