In Windows XP, Common Tasks pane in Windows Explorer lists typical actions related to selected file(s) or folder(s) and less common tasks are accessible via menus.
In Windows Vista and 7, however, Common Tasks pane is gone. Some actions appear under Organize menu and toolbar, all other tasks are accessible via menus that are hidden by default. As in all newer Microsoft programs, you can display full menus by pressing ALT key once.
In Windows 8, menus and toolbars are replaced by Ribbon - a content-sensitive selection of tabs and buttons. Ribbon can also be activated by pressing Alt key once - it then displays letters that can be pressed to access displayed commands; and it can be minimized or maximized using keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F1.
Touch screen owners should remember that touch and hold simulates right-clicking with mouse.
You can almost always undo your last actions (copy, move, rename, delete) just by pressing CTRL+Z on your keyboard or by opening Edit or Organize menu and selecting Undo.
You can select one item by clicking on it once. You can also navigate using arrow keys on keyboard and select/deselect items holding down Ctrl key and pressing Space.
To make selecting multiple items easier on touch screens in Windows 8, open View tab on Ribbon and enable the Item check boxes option.
If you want to select multiple consecutive items, click on the first item, then press and hold down SHIFT key on your keyboard and click on the last item. When finished, release the SHIFT key.
You can also select multiple consecutive items by holding down mouse's left button, moving mouse pointer over items and then releasing mouse button. During selecting, a transparent box for selection area is being displayed.
If you want to select multiple items that are not consecutive, click on the first item, then press and hold down CTRL key on your keyboard and click on other items you want to select. If you selected a wrong item, click on it again to deselect it. When finished, release the CTRL key.
In case you have only keyboard available, hold down Ctrl key, navigate with arrow keys and use Space to select/deselect items.
If you want to select all items in folder contents, press CTRL+A on your keyboard or open Edit or Organize menu and click Select All. In Windows 8, make sure the Home tab is open in Ribbon and click Select all.
If you want to select almost all items, excluding only a few in a folder, select those few items you want to be excluded. In Windows Vista and 7, press Alt key once to display full menus. Then open Edit menu and click Invert Selection. In Windows 8, just click the Invert selection button in Home tab of Ribbon.
Changing folder views and selecting, arranging and sizing columns in Details view in Windows Explorer
If you want to change folder view type, click on View button in folder toolbar (Windows XP, Vista and 7 only) and select the view you want.
In Windows 8, open View tab on Ribbon and select the one you need. You can also use keyboard shortcuts Ctrl+Alt+1 through Ctrl+Alt+8 to switch between different folder views.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 8, you can also change views by holding down CTRL key on your keyboard and scrolling mouse wheel.
In Windows 8, Status Bar in Windows Explorer has buttons in the lower right corner for quickly activating Details or Large Thumbnails views.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 8, there is also Preview Pane available that displays previews of documents, photos and videos on the right side of Windows Explorer window.
In Windows Vista, click the Organize button on Toolbar, select Layout and click Preview Pane to show or hide it; in Windows 7 and 8 use keyboard shortcut ALT+P.
To select columns shown, right-click (or touch and hold) any column title and click an item to show or hide it. If an check mark is displayed to the left of an item, this column is available in the view.
In case the list of columns is too long to fit and you do not see the needed one, click More...:
Activate or deactivate any column using its check box. Note that you can also change the order and size of columns here by using the Move Up and Move Down buttons and the Width of selected column (in pixels) field, but it is easier to do this using your mouse (described later in this article).
After making changes, click OK.
You can always rearrange columns in Details view by clicking and holding on a column title. Then drag the column to the right or to the left by moving your mouse. Accept changes by releasing mouse button.
Similar touch, hold and drag technique works with touch screens.
If using Details View, you can quickly resize all columns to fit contents using keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Plus Sign on Keypad. Using normal "+" key won't work here.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 8, you can right-click any column title and select Size Column to Fit or Size All Columns to Fit.
To change the width of any column, stop mouse pointer on the right side of a column so that the pointer changes to a cross with arrowheads pointing to the right and to the left. Now click and hold mouse button and move mouse to the direction you like. Release mouse button to confirm changes.
If you are using Details view for folders, all you have to do is click on a column name (e.g. Name, Size, Type, etc). The column that the folder is sorted by is indicated with a small arrowhead above column name. If the arrowhead points up, the column is sorted in ascending order, if the arrowhead points down, the column is sorted in descending order. You can toggle it just by clicking on the column name again.
If you are using some other view, right-click on an empty area (not on files or folders) of the folder, select Arrange Icons By (Windows XP) or Sort By (Windows Vista, 7 and 8) and then click on the sorting basis you like - Name, Size, etc.
Windows XP allows sorting in ascending order only (except when in Details view). Windows Vista, 7 and 8 allow selecting sort order.
In Windows XP, you can choose the Auto Arrange option to keep items aligned to grid automatically. Newer versions of Windows do this by default.
In Windows 7, there is Arrange by: button available for easy sorting. This allows only ascending sort order, but it is readily available in the right corner of Explorer window.
In Windows 8, you can also specify sort order by clicking the Sort by button in View tab of Ribbon.
In case a folder contains very many items, it might make sense to use grouping for better overview and quicker finding of items.
In Windows XP, right-click on an empty area of folder, select Arrange Icons By and click Show In Groups. Sorting is not available.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 8, right-click on an empty area of folder, select Group by and then click the grouping basis you need. You can also choose to sort the grouped items in Ascending or Descending order.
To remove grouping, click Show In Groups again (Windows XP) or select (None) from the Group by list (Windows Vista, 7 and 8).
In Windows 8, you can also click the Group by button in View tab of Ribbon.
Here is a folder with items grouped by name:
Filtering is available in Windows Vista, 7 and 8 only; and it makes finding items even quicker - you select the criterion or criteria for displaying only the items you need to see. You can use filtering only when column names are visible.
A small arrowhead pointing down appears on the right of a column name while you're hovering mouse pointer over it. Click the arrowhead and use check boxes to select the criteria you need. The items will be filtered right away. Click elsewhere in folder window to hide filtering check boxes.
A check mark appears on the right side of each column with filter in effect. To clear or change a filter, click the check mark and clear or change check boxes.
To create a file or folder, right-click on an empty area of the window, select New and choose what you want to create. In this example, I'll create a new folder.
A new folder, first called just "New Folder" appears. Type in the name you want and then press ENTER key on your keyboard.
In Windows 7 and 8, you can use keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+N to create new folders. In Windows 7, there is the New folder button available in Toolbar; same button is available in Windows 8 Ribbon, Home tab.
In Windows 8, you can also create new items by clicking the New item button in Home tab.
If you want to rename a file or folder, click it once and press F2 key on your keyboard, or open File or Organize menu and select Rename (press Alt key first in Windows Vista and 7).
In Windows XP, you can also click Rename this file or Rename this folder in Common Tasks pane.
In Windows 8, the Rename button is located in Home tab of Ribbon.
Alternatively, just right-click (or touch and hold) an item and select Rename from the menu.
There is a very important step about renaming files (not folders) - every file has an extension that defines its type. This extension usually consists of a dot and three or more letters. Extension is always the very last part of a file name. So ".jpg" indicates a JPEG image file, ".doc" indicates a Microsoft Word document, etc.
In Windows XP, full name (including extension) is selected; Windows Vista, 7 and 8 select only file name without its extension.
Please do not change the file extension unless you really know what you are doing!
As folders do not have extensions, just type in the new name and press ENTER key on your keyboard.
In Windows XP, click before the dot, hold down BACKSPACE key on your keyboard to delete the file name without changing its extension, type in the new name and press ENTER on your keyboard.
In Windows Vista and 7, just type a new name and press Enter.
To rename multiple consequtive files using keyboard, use TAB key without pressing ENTER. First press F2, type a new name for the file and then press TAB to move on to the next file; SHIFT+TAB will move back to previous file. You should press ENTER only after you've finished renaming the last file.
If you accidentally deleted or changed file's extension, Windows will notify you about it. Click No and try again.
Remember, you can always undo your last action by pressing CTRL+Z on your keyboard!
The most common way for copying files and folders is to select these, press Ctrl+C to copy the items, go to the destination folder and press Ctrl+V to paste the items. To move items, use keyboard shortcut Ctrl+X to cut the items and then, in destination folder, press Ctrl+V to paste the items.
Copy, Cut and Paste commands are also available in right-click (or touch and hold) menu.
In Windows XP, Common Tasks pane on the left side of a folder has Copy this file, Move this file, Copy this folder and Move this folder commands for single items and Copy the selected items and Move the selected items command for multiple selected items.
In Windows Vista and 7 (and Windows XP without Common Tasks pane), open Edit menu (press Alt key first in Windows Vista and 7) and click Copy To Folder or Move To Folder.
In Windows 8, Home tab of Ribbon contains Copy to and Move to buttons. Both list common folders and libraries, and a custom folder can be selected using the Choose location... option.
In the dialog, select the folder you want to copy or move selected item(s) to and then click the Copy or Move button accordingly.
You can also make a new folder for the items by clicking the Make New Folder button, typing in a name for the new folder and pressing ENTER key on your keyboard. Then click Copy or Move.
In case a file or folder with that name already exists in the destination folder, you will be prompted about replacing it.
In Windows XP, the Confirm File Replace dialog appears for every item that already exists in the destination folder. There is size and modification date for the file already existing in the destination folder and also size and modification date for the file you want to copy or move. Make sure you are replacing a correct file or folder!
Click Yes to replace, No to keep the existing file or folder.
In Windows Vista and 7, there are details for the file already present in the destination folder under Don't copy button and details for the file you want to copy or move under Copy and Replace button. Make sure you are replacing a correct file!
Click Copy and Replace to replace the item, Don't copy to keep the existing file or Copy, but keep both files to create a file with the same name, but with " (1)" added to the end of its name for later comparison.
In Windows 8, Replace or Skip Files dialog opens. Click Replace the file in the destination if you are sure about it; click Skip this file to cancel copying or moving; or use Compare info for both files to see a comparison of file details.
File conflict resolution dialog displays details and check boxes for source and destination files and folders. Use check boxes to select the item to keep and then click Continue.
If there are multiple file name conflicts in Windows Vista and 7, there is also an option to repeat the selected action for every conflict. Click to check the Do this for the next <number> conflicts check box and then click the desired action button.
You can stop the copying or moving process completely by clicking the Cancel button.
In Windows 8, Replace or Skip Files dialog offers to replace or skip all destination files. To select different actions for different items, or to compare source and destination files, click Let me decide for each file.
File conflict resolution dialog displays details and check boxes for source and destination files and folders. Use check boxes to select the items to keep and then click Continue. You can also use the Skip <number> files with the same date and size option to skip copying or moving all conflicting items.
In case a folder with that name already exists in the destination folder, you will be prompted about merging folder contents. There are details for both folders.
Click Yes to merge folders and see prompts for overwriting files, or No to skip the folder contents completely.
Please note that Windows 8 does not ask for confirmation if a folder with the same name exists in the destination location - folder contents are merged by default if Hide folder merge conflicts option is turned on in Advanced Folder Options.
You can always undo your last copy or move action by pressing CTRL+Z on your keyboard or by opening Edit menu and clicking Undo Copy or Undo Move.
To delete a file or folder, click to select it and press DELETE (or DEL) key on your keyboard; or use another keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+D.
You can also open File (in Windows XP) or Organize (in Windows Vista and 7) menu and click Delete.
In Windows 8, the Delete button is in Home tab of Ribbon.
In Windows XP, you can also click Delete this file or Delete this folder in Common Tasks pane.
As usual, you can also right-click (or touch and hold) any item and select Delete from the menu.
In Windows XP, Vista and 7, a warning dialog appears, click Yes to send the selected items to Recycle Bin.
Please note that in Windows 8, there is no confirmation for sending items to Recycle Bin by default. To enable the warning dialog, click the arrowhead pointing down on the bottom of Delete button and turn on the Show recycle confirmation option.
If you want to delete multiple items at once, select them and press DELETE key on your keyboard.
You can also open File menu and click Delete.
In Windows XP, the Delete the selected items command is available in Common Tasks pane.
Again, click Yes to confirm the action.
You can use keyboard shortcut CTRL+Z to undo the item removal or open Recycle Bin to restore the deleted items.
In case you want to permanently delete something (without moving it to Recycle Bin first), press SHIFT+DELETE on your keyboard. But be very careful with that - you cannot recover the item(s) easily!
In Windows 8, there is also the Permanently delete command available by clicking the arrowhead pointing down on the Delete button.
See this article about Recuva if you need to restore files and folders you removed permanently.
Recycle Bin is a place where deleted items reside for a while (for days or even months, depending on your hard disk size and free space on it) for easy restoration. The files in Recycle Bin are kept safe from overwriting although the disk space used by them is marked as free (so that you can see the correct amount of free disk space in My Computer).
When Recycle Bin gets full and new items are deleted, the oldest items in Recycle Bin will be permanently deleted to make enough room for the new ones and there is no easy way of restoring these items.
To open Recycle Bin, double-click its icon on Desktop.
You can also access Recycle Bin from any open Windows Explorer window.
In Windows XP, click on the down arrow on the right side of Address Bar and find Recycle Bin in the bottom of the list. You can also click Folders button to open folder hierarchy and select Recycle Bin from there, but this action hides Common Tasks pane.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 8, click on the down arrowhead after the first icon in Address Bar and click Recycle Bin in the jump list.
Recycle Bin acts as any other folder, so you can select items, change views, grouping and sorting. You can also undo the last action by pressing CTRL+Z on your keyboard or by opening File or Organize menu and clicking Undo.
You cannot modify items in Recycle Bin, though - this is to remind you that it is not a good place for hiding or storing items.
To restore items, select these, right-click on a selected item and click Restore. The items will be restored to the location they were deleted from and they will disappear from Recycle Bin.
To restore all items, click Restore all items in Common Tasks pane (Windows XP), on Toolbar (Windows Vista and 7) or Manage tab of Ribbon (Windows 8). This command is visible only if no items are selected.
Alternatively, use keyboard shortcut CTRL+A to select all items. In Windows XP, open File menu and click Restore. In Windows Vista and 7, click the Restore the selected items button on Toolbar. In Windows 8, the command is available on Manage tab of Ribbon.
To permanently delete all items from Recycle Bin and your computer, click Empty the Recycle Bin in Common Tasks Pane (Windows XP), on Toolbar (Windows Vista and 7) or on Manage tab of Ribbon (Windows 8).
The command is also available in File / Organize menu - but make sure no items are selected!
You can also right-click on Recycle Bin icon on Desktop and select Empty Recycle Bin.
Compressing files or folders can save disk space or allow sending multiple items by e-mail. Additionally, most e-mail servers do not accept executable files (programs with extensions .exe or .com or scripts with extensions .bat, .vbs, .cmd) as e-mail attachments, so it is necessary to compress these first.
To compress files or folders, select them first. Then right-click (or touch and hold) on a selected item, open Send To and click Compressed (zipped) Folder.
In Windows 8, you can also click the Zip command in Share tab of Ribbon.
Although the feature is called Compressed Folder, a file with .zip extension will be created. The name of the compressed file will be the first selected item name plus .zip extension - for example, if you select a file named My Pet.jpg, the compressed file name will be My Pet.zip; if you select folders named My Pictures and My Downloads, the compressed file name will be My Pictures.zip.
Windows Vista, 7 and 8 offer file renaming right after creating the compressed folder is complete in case you used the Send To command. You can type in a new name and press ENTER key to confirm; or you can accept the default name by clicking elsewhere. Do not change or delete the file extension (.zip)!
Please note that in Windows XP, Compressed Folder feature does not compress empty folders. In that case, a warning will be displayed. Click OK, deselect the empty folder by holding down CTRL key on keyboard and clicking on the empty folder. Then try compressing again.
To extract whole Compressed Folders contents, right-click/touch and hold on the compressed folder and click Extract All.
In Windows 8, you can also click the same command in Extract tab of Ribbon.
In Windows Vista, 7 and 8, the Extract Compressed (Zipped) Folders Wizard appears. Defaults are normally fine, so in most cases just click Extract.
To change destination folder, click Browse....
If you do not want to see a folder with uncompressed files, you can clear the Show extracted files when complete check box.
In Windows XP, the Extraction Wizard appears. Click Next.
Usually the default destination folder is fine, but you can also browse for a different folder if you want to by clicking the Browse... button.
After extraction is complete, you can click Finish. If you do not want to see the extracted files in a new window, clear the Show extracted files check box first.
After you've extracted all files and folders from a compressed folder, it is safe to delete the compressed folder - the file with .zip extension.
If you don't want to extract all files, double-click on the compressed folder to open its contents. Then select the items you want to extract, open Edit menu (press Alt key first in Windows Vista and 7 to reveal the Menu Bar) and click the Copy To Folder... command.
In Windows 8, open the Extract tab on Ribbon. Then click a common folder/library in the list, or click the down arrowhead button and select Choose location.
In Windows XP, you can also click Copy the selected items in Common Tasks pane.
Select the folder you want to extract the files to and click Copy.
As usual, you can also create a new destination folder using the Make New Folder button.
That's it! Close the Compressed Folder and you're done.
After you've extracted all required files and folders from a compressed folder, it is safe to delete the compressed folder - the file with .zip extension.