Microsoft Windows Explorer definition

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Getting up to date with Windows 8 tools and terminology
Contributor(s): Stephen J. Bigelow

Microsoft Windows Explorer is a graphical file management utility for the Windows operating sytem (OS).  

Windows Explorer, which was introduced with Windows 95, was later renamed File Explorer. Each time that a computer user accesses a disk or opens a folder containing files, they are using the Windows/File Explorer utility.  The goal of the file management utility is to allow users to conveniently work with the files and directories located on any connected disk. When a file is selected within the Windows/File Explorer interface, users can select from a variety of context-sensitive actions such as renaming, moving, copying, publishing, emailing, printing or deleting the file. Entire folders can also be opened, explored, shared, copied, cut, pasted, moved or deleted. Files can be searched or dragged and dropped between folders, and folders can be moved into other folders and disk drives as desired. 

Windows/File Explorer can present files and folders in several different formats such as thumbnail image arrays, icons, lists and details (including name, size, type, date, time and other information). The choice of display format depends on the user’s preferences and the type of content being explored. For example, a folder with an extensive library of image files may be displayed in thumbnail format, while a folder of documents might be better viewed as a detailed list.

The Windows/File Explorer has evolved with Windows operating system versions, and later releases of Windows added advanced functionality. For example, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 add support for libraries that aggregate content from various locations like shared folders and network drives. Those OSes also include support for federated search of external databases accessed over the Internet.

Windows Explorer replaced File Manager in versions of Windows prior to Windows 95. In Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, File Explorer received a revamped toolbar. Unneeded capabilities have also been removed from Windows/File Explorer in successive versions of Windows.



This was first published in November 2013

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