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How to use Windows Explorer


Windows Explorer is one key application with which you should familiarize yourself. This article will briefly describe how to use Windows Explorer. If you are new to the Windows Operating system or to computers in general, it is strongly suggested that you purchase a 'How to' book at your local bookstore. This material will more than likely explain the software in greater detail.

What is Windows Explorer?

Windows Explorer offers you a fast, easy way to view, copy, delete, move, etc., the folders and files found on all of your disk drives. Think of it as one really big filing cabinet. It is important to note that the Windows Explorer application is different from Internet Explorer. Windows Explorer lets you play with the files on your computer, while Internet Explorer allows you to connect to other computers via the World Wide Web.

How to open Windows Explorer

For Windows 95, 98, and ME:

  1. Click the Windows Start button, and then select the Programs button.
  2. Click on Windows Explorer.

For Windows 2000 and XP:

  1. Click the Windows Start button, and then select the Programs button.

  2. Select the Accessories button.

  3. Click on Windows Explorer.

For Windows Vista and 7:

  1. Click the Windows logo in the task bar at the lower left.

  2. Click Computer from the menu that appears.

What are Drives, Folders and Files?

For organizational purposes, everything on your computer is reduced or segmented into very specific parts and locations. Your PC also consists of drives which are further broken down into Hard Drive(s), CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, ZIP drives (if applicable) and so forth. Within each Drive, there are hundreds, and potentially thousands of Folders and Files. Again, each of these files and folders are of great assistance in keeping things orderly.

A Folder is very similar to a folder in a file cabinet. Inside each of the Folders, there may very well be more sub-folders, or Files. Folders are a great way to keep you organized on different projects that you may be involved with. For example, you might have a Folder for all of your documents, and another for all of your spreadsheets. Furthermore, you may have sub-folders within these to keep those documents even more organized.

Each individual document and spreadsheet within is known as a File. Files are the items that you are able to view and to work on if desired. Examples include images you download from your digital camera, or Word documents you've created.

What's inside all these folders?

When you open Windows Explorer, you will see two sections, a left 'pane' and right 'pane'. The left pane shows you your drives and folders. This layout is called a tree, as it closely resembles a tree with all of the 'branches'. To the left of each of the drives is a small [+] symbol. Using the mouse and clicking on this symbol will show you all the folders that are stored on that particular drive. Some of these folders themselves will also have a [+] symbol next to them. Again, this means that there are more sub-folders contained within that particular folder. If you click on the [+], it will open the folder list to reveal the contents and change the [+] to a minus [-] symbol. This simply means that the folder has been opened accordingly. If you click the [-] then it will close the folder and return it to the [+] symbol.

The right pane shows all the files and sub-folders that are contained within the folder that you are currently viewing with Explorer. For example, let's view the contents of the My Documents folder. Generally speaking, this folder is contained on the 'C:' drive of your PC. As such, locate your 'C:' drive in the left pane, click the [+] next to this drive- remember, if it's already opened, it will have a [-] next to it. From the folders listed in the 'C:' drive, locate the My Documents folder. Click on the Folder itself, not the [+] symbol next to it. This will change the contents of the right pane to display all of the sub-folders and files in My Documents.

Opening a file

It is important to note that your computer contains two vastly different types of files. There are Program files and Data files. Program files are the applications that you run on your computer. Examples of Program files include RealFlight and Windows Explorer itself. Data files, on the other hand, contain information that was created by the Program files. These might include text documents, photos or images and music. To open a Program file, simply point the mouse cursor on the file, and click twice (double-click) with the left mouse button. As an example we'll open RealFlight using Windows Explorer:

ScreenShot of Windows Explorer Showing the RealFlight folder selected in the left panel and the folders contents listed in the right panel.

On the left pane, locate the hard drive that contains the RealFlight program. Generally, this is the 'C:' drive. Click the [+] symbol next to this drive. Again, if it shows the [-] symbol there is no need to click on it as the drive is open.

On the left pane below your hard drive, search for a folder labeled Program Files and click the [+] next to it. This will reveal the contents of the Program Files. Looking at the left pane below the Program Files listing locate a folder that has been designated as RealFlight. To open the RealFlight files, simply click the folder to access its contents. There is no need to click the [+]. The right pane will now display everything that is located in the RealFlight folder. Look for a file titled RealFlight that includes the same icon as the one that appears on your desktop. If you wish to start the RealFlight software, double-click this folder.

Data files are opened in exactly the same way. The only difference is that Windows will first open the application that is needed to view the data file. That is, you do not need to do this yourself. Again using RealFlight as an example, let's open the readme file that appears in the RealFlight folder.

Move or Copy a File

The simplest and most efficient way to move or copy a file is to use your mouse to drag it to the desired location. Moving a file is defined as taking the file out of one folder and placing it into a different folder. Copying, on the other hand, keeps the original file in its current or existing folder and makes an additional 'copy' in the new or target folder.

To move a file:

Locate the file you wish to move on the right pane.

Scroll the left pane so that the target folder or desired location appears. In other words, you are able to see the folder in which you wish to move the file. Click and hold down the left mouse button on the file you wish to move. With the mouse button still held down, move the mouse cursor to the target folder. While you are doing so, a faint image of the icon should now appear with the mouse cursor. When the target folder is highlighted, release the mouse button. This will move the file from its current location to the new desired location. Holding down the mouse button while moving the cursor is called 'dragging the mouse'.

Windows Explorer with the My Documents folder selected in the left panel.
The image above shows the "readme" file from the RealFlight folder being moved to the My Documents folder.

The file you moved should now appear in the new folder.

To copy a file:

To copy a file, follow the same steps as above for moving a file, but this time, hold down the Ctrl key on the keyboard while you are dragging the file.

The same steps can also be used for copying and moving folders themselves. When you copy or move a folder, everything in the folder, including files and sub-folders, are also transferred as well.

This article only briefly discusses what you can do with Windows Explorer. There are many, many additional features and functions offered by this application. If you are new to computers, or to Windows, or if you would simply like to investigate the functionality of this program, it is highly recommended that you check out your local bookstore for more reference.

Creating a new Folder

On the Menu bar, click File, then select New and finally click Folder and the folder will be created in the right hand pane. At this point, the new folder will be created and the name will be highlighted.  Type in the name you wish to call the new folder.  Make sure prior to making the new folder that you are located at the proper place in the hierarchical view in the left pane. The new folder will always be created as a subfolder of whatever location you have selected.

Windows Explorer window showing the ColorSchemes folder name being edited in the right panel.

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