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Three Tricks to Make the Windows 7 Explorer More Useful

When it introduced Windows Vista, Microsoft changed the appearance and functions of Windows Explorer quite a bit and in Windows 7 even more changes were made. Here are three tips to help you make better use of  some of the  features for accessing and viewing folders in Windows 7.

Opening the Folder Options dialog

One place for configuring the settings for the display of folders is the dialog “Folder Options”. There are numerous ways to open this dialog but here is a quick route.

  1. Open the Start menu.
  2. In the Start Search bar, enter “folder” (without quotes).
  3. Choose “Folder Options” from the list.
  4. The “Folder Options” dialog will open (figure below). 

Show the active folder in the navigation pane

One useful change that can be made in Folder Options is to re-enable the display of the active folder in the navigation pane. By default, the Windows 7 version of Explorer doesn't show the currently active folder in the left pane.  You can get a Windows XP style of folder tree by putting checks by the entries shown outlined in red in the figure below. If you do not want the sub-folders displayed, place a check by “Show all folders” only. Don't forget to click "Apply" after any changes you make.

Folder options dialog in Windows 7

Add or remove links from the Favorites section of the Navigation Pane

In the top of the left side or navigation pane in an Explorer window is a section called “Favorites”.  (These are not to be confused with Internet Explorer Favorites.) This is a convenient list of shortcuts to folders or links that you use frequently and are provided for easy access. By default, Desktop, Downloads, and Recent Places are listed. 

Adding your own shortcuts to the list is very easy. One way is to drag a folder and drop it into the list. Another is to open the Links folder and add the shortcuts there. 

The Links folder is opened this way:

  1. Open the Start menu
  2. In the Start Search bar, enter “shell:links” (without quotes,
  3. Choose “shell:links” from the list.
  4. A folder containing the shortcuts for the navigation pane favorite links will open. 

Removing shortcuts from the Favorites list is also very easy. Either delete them from the Links folder directly or right-click on a link in the navigation pane and choose “Remove” in the context menu. 

More information—Fellow editor Jojoyee has written a comprehensive article on Favorite Links, which can be found here.  

Get your own favorite tip published!  Know a neat tech tip or trick?  Then why not have it published here and receive full credit?  Click here to tell us your tip.

This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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by Tennessee (not verified) on 8. September 2011 - 17:43  (79232)

Dragging a folder onto the start button DOES NOT WORK in Windows 7!

by v.laurie on 8. September 2011 - 18:04  (79233)

I don't know why you say that. People do it this way all the time (add folders to the Start menu).

by bradhayashi on 26. June 2011 - 1:02  (74338)

Thanks, J_L, that's even quicker!

by recklessmaverick (not verified) on 25. June 2011 - 13:34  (74324)

Is there a button to subscribe to alerts when a new comment is posted to a thread?

by MidnightCowboy on 25. June 2011 - 13:56  (74325)

This facility is available to registered members and applies to posts in forum threads only.

by recklessmaverick (not verified) on 25. June 2011 - 13:31  (74323)

I have my settings as described the first time I open explorer after a new install. But I still have problems with the navigation pane. Perhapes someone here can help.

When I click the expand folder icon to the left of the folder the folder expands to show all subfolders. That is good, but it also causes the folder tree to shift, usually moving the just expanded folder to the bottom of the tree which requires scrolling the tree to get the subfolders visible.

When dragging and dropping from the preview pane to a folder in the folder tree just as I mouse over the drop location and release the mouse button the folder opens, expands and shifts position as described above so the drop goes in the wrong folder. In previous versions of Windows it required a moment or two of hover before it expanded or required hovering over the expand folder button to get the folder to expand.

Any ideas?

Thanks, Don

by gpc111 on 24. June 2011 - 17:34  (74297)

Thank you for the tip. I like how you have an image to show how to choose the option. Maybe you can include images that show what the results are of choosing the option. As i read the article I am not certain how this will benefit me. I use XP at home, Win 7 at work.

@AlanWade. Believe it or not some people, myself included, would rather use the mouse than the keyboard. It has nothing to do with typing speed, it's just more convenient.

by AlanWade (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 15:40  (74292)

Are you really so slow at typing that you find the mouse quicker?

by Da3vid (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 23:32  (74307)


by MrWednesday7 on 24. June 2011 - 18:37  (74301)

No, many of us find the mouse more "convenient".

by gene_mtl (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 15:29  (74289)

Great tips. Thanks for sharing

(Mind you I've re-read this article several times and only see two (2) tips: 1 - Opening File Options dialog to show active folder in the navigation pane and 2 - Add or remove links from the Favorites section of the Navigation Pane)

by v.laurie on 24. June 2011 - 17:37  (74298)


OK, so I am a little optimistic by counting the method for opening Folder Options in Start Search as a tip.

by DaveS (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 14:42  (74287)

Great tip, thank you. The static 'folder' navigation (rather than showing where I have navigated to) has always been a Windows 7 irritation, great to have it working properly now!

by BNC (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 13:16  (74283)

Being retired and a Microsoft flightsim of several million addicts in the world.....todays FOLDER TIPS
was particularly I can see and compare more info at the same time.

It's a pity really there are not more 'Vic Laurie's' who are now experts in FlightSim X.

Actually, there are, but they ALL talk to each other in language at their level, and I believe, designed to discourage the rather slow learning retired of no use what-so-ever....although a percentage of these pensioners hold a pilots license as I do, and as such would outshine these experts if given a real aircraft to fly.

Many Thanks again

by Da3vid (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 13:11  (74282)

To get to Folder Options, why not just click on the Windows Explorer icon on the taskbar, then on Tools, Folder Options? Clicking is faster than typing words; you don't have to take your hand off of the mouse.

by v.laurie on 24. June 2011 - 18:31  (74299)


Thanks for mentioning an alternate method for opening Folder Options. There are always multiple ways to do things in Windows. Different people have different preferences for which one to choose. The method I have shown is fast and is not as well known as some others so I think it is worth pointing it out. There is no single "best" method.

Here is yet another way to open Folder Options. In any open Explorer window, click the "Organize" drop-down menu and choose "Folder and Search Options".

by JMW (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 15:09  (74288)

Actually, in Vic's defense, the keyboard is widely regarded as the fastest UI by most application developers, documentation specialists, and others for whom the computer IS their job, not just a tool or toy for their job.

by Sue (not verified) on 24. June 2011 - 17:10  (74296)

I agree for many things the keyboard is king; alt+f+p is way easier than using the mouse to click on the little icon. If you don't know what that does, give it a try :)

by bradhayashi on 26. June 2011 - 1:05  (74339)

Why not just press Ctrl + p?

by J_L on 24. June 2011 - 4:50  (74275)

Another way to add folders is right-clicking Favorites, and choosing Add current location to Favorites.