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What Microsoft Revealed About Explorer in Windows 8

This week, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky issued another lengthy Building Windows 8 blog post in which he described upcoming changes to file management operations in Windows 8. I discussed this post briefly in my own blog post--I'm on vacation this week, thus the brevity--but an accompanying video actually reveals a few other interesting tidbits, so I'm rolling up my sleeves and getting back to work.

It may be worth noting that a few other Windows bloggers have noticed some interesting new things in this video as well. Without simply belittling those efforts, I'd at least point out that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Windows Explorer shell in Windows 8 will visually resemble the shell we have today in Windows 7; after all, Microsoft changes these things, sometimes dramatically, in each Windows release. So while it's cute to fumble around trying to explain individual pixels, please don't forget that some of this stuff could look weird now only because the look and feel of the shell is going to change. And obviously, Microsoft is cagey enough not to show us too much now, before the BUILD conference (where it will finally reveal a feature-complete, developer preview version of the OS). Point being: We've been here and done this before. Don't get caught up in the look and feel stuff yet.

Still, it's interesting to compare the Explorer version shown in the video with the one that exists today in Windows 7. In the video, the screen is navigated to the Pictures library, so it's easy enough to compare the contents of this window now with the contents of the window in the video.

Pictures Library in Windows 8 (Microsoft video)

Pictures Library in Windows 7 (my laptop)

Here are a few quick observations:

Ribbon. As I previously reported, the Windows 8 Explorer window sports a full ribbon user experience, though it's minimized in the video to avoid clutter (and to not give too much away). However, as with Office 2010, there is a cute little Quick Access Toolbar up in the top left corner of the window, with New Folder, Properties, Undo, and Redo buttons.

Up One Level. The "up one level" button returns to the Explorer toolbar, and can be seen to the right of the Back and Forward buttons.

Podcasts Library. In Windows 7, there is no Podcasts library, though it appears when you install the Zune PC software. Less sophisticated bloggers will deduce that Windows 8 will thus include the Zune software, but it doesn't mean that at all. In fact, it could be there only because that software was installed on the demo PC. And there's some evidence to suggest that's all it is: A screen in the background earlier in the video doesn't show a Podcasts library link. Oops.

No Podcasts library there

(It does, however, show "SharePoint Sites" under "Favorites." Hm.)

Media Servers. See the Media Servers link under Computer? That's new. It's in line with the storage devices attached to the system, too, which is interesting (and not under Network, which would sort of make more sense). And while this may be coincidental, the Homegroup link is missing: Perhaps Microsoft is using this new Media Servers link for media sharing by default? Or maybe a Homegroup simply wasn't configured on the demo PC.

Deemphasized Library view. In Windows 7, Library views have a special header at the top of the view area that says the name of the library ("Picture library"), how many physical folder locations it references ("Includes: 2 locations"), and provides an Arrange By toggle that is unique to Libraries. This area does not appear in the Windows 8 Library window shown in the video. The Library name is not called out, though you can see a nice new dynamic tab, Library Tools, which probably contains the Arrange By stuff and other options. The "Library includes: 2 locations" text appears in the bottom left of the window for some reason.

Folder views and preview pane. In Windows 7, the toolbar contains folder view options and a preview pane toggle (and a Help button), but since this toolbar is gone in Windows 8 (replaced by the ribbon), these options are now available instead in the bottom right of the window.

Start button and taskbar. Much has been made elsewhere about how different the Start button and taskbar look in the video, compared to Windows 7. This is a useless discussion, as they are both still there and in the same exact locations, and selected taskbar buttons highlight just as they do today. As I noted above, it's likely that Microsoft is evolving the Windows default UI. So this is not an area to be concerned with, yet. Of some concern, however, is the complete absence of the tray area: There's no clock, no tray notification icons. This can be explained by the fact that the default shell is now the new Start Screen, I guess. (Or that it was simply hidden, as a few readers have noted.)

Of course, most of this video concerns the new file copy/move operation stuff. This is a worthy area for exploration, and probably deserves a lot more attention. So I'll look at the changes there in more detail in a future article. 

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