7 ways to efficiently use the views from Explorer (in all Windows versions)

One of the strengths of File Explorer (in Windows 10 and Windows 8.1) and of Windows Explorer (in Windows 7) is the number of different ways the user can see the contents of their PC. Whether it is a bare-bones listing of file names or a view that shows graphics in large sized thumbnails, this app makes it easy for everyone to see the data in a form that best suits their content. Both File Explorer and Windows Explorer try to tailor the view automatically to the most prevalent type of files in a given folder. In this article, we show you how to browse File Explorer/Windows Explorer using all the available views and explain the differences between them so that you can be more productive when browsing the files on your Windows PC:

A few starting notes

Windows Explorer, the built-in file manager from Windows 7, has been part of Microsoft's operating systems for a long time. In Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, the name was changed to File Explorer and the app was upgraded in several ways. But, when it comes to Views, the new apps work in the same way as their predecessor from Windows 7.

In this article we talk about the Windows/File Explorer that is part of Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. To keep things simple, we use screenshots taken mostly in Windows 10, but where it is necessary, we also include screenshots from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Before we get to see how to use the Views from Windows/ File Explorer more efficiently, let's see first how to get to them:

How to access the Views in the File Explorer from Windows 10 and Windows 8.1

Both in Windows 10 and in Windows 8.1, the easiest way to launch File Explorer is to click or tap on its icon from the taskbar.

When File Explorer opens, you can see that it has a Ribbon and a lot more options than the old Windows Explorer did in Windows 7. However, for this tutorial, we are only concerned with the View tab on the ribbon and how to use it efficiently.

Click or tap on the View tab at the top, and look at the section called Layout. Here you can see the View options available: Icons (extra large, large, medium, small), List, Details, Tiles, and Content.

Another way to get to the Views is to right-click or tap and hold somewhere in a blank space from within the File Explorer window. Then, in the contextual menu, click/tap on Views and you should see the same options as above: Icons (extra large, large, medium, small), List, Details, Tiles, and Content.

How to access the Views in the Windows Explorer from Windows 7

The fastest way to open Windows Explorer is to click on the small file folder icon in the taskbar, which is there by default.

If for some reason you do not see this icon in your taskbar, see our tutorial The complete guide to personalizing the taskbar in Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.

There are three ways to see the available views, and the default view is Medium Icons.

Once Windows Explorer is open, look in the upper right corner of the window. You should see a small drop-down menu with an icon next to it that looks different depending on the chosen view.

Click on the downward facing arrow, and you can see a list of options: Icons (extra large, large, medium, small), List, Details, Tiles, and Content.

Another way to get to the Views is to right-click in any space on the right side of the Windows Explorer window. Then, from the menu that appears, click View. You should be given the same list of choices as above. Your menu might look slightly different depending on what you have installed on your computer.

The third way to get to the Views is to open Windows Explorer and then press the Alt key on your keyboard. This brings up a toolbar at the top of your screen. Choose the View menu, and you should see the same list of choices. Your menu might look slightly different depending on what you have installed on your computer.

Now let's see what each view does and how to use it more efficiently. The following explanations apply to Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Illustrations are from Windows 10.

1. Quickly find information about the author or content of your files, with the Content view

In the Content view, each file and folder is displayed on a separate row, on which you can see detailed information about each file and folder: the date when it was last modified, size, author of the file, length (for audio and video files) and so on. For pictures and video, you see a small preview of the content instead of the file icon.

This view is useful when you need to browse through documents and quickly find information about the author or content of each item.

2. Get basic information about your files, with the Tiles view

The Tiles view displays a medium-sized icon representing each file and folder, along with information about their types and sizes. This view combines the information you find in the Icon view and the List view, so you get more than with either of those views individually, but it is not as detailed as the information you would get with the Content or Details view.

3. See everything about your files, with the Details view

In the Details view, File Explorer and Windows Explorer show several columns of information: Name, Date Modified, Type, and Size. Each file has its own small icon representing the file type. As you can see in the next screenshot, these icons are standardized and do not show a preview of the actual content.

Each column can be sorted by clicking or tapping on the column heading to arrange each list in ascending or descending order. This is helpful when viewing many files at once since they can be sorted by name, date, file type or size. To learn more about the ways a Details view list can be sorted, see our tutorial How to filter, group and search files & folders in Windows/File Explorer.

4. View your files in a list, with the List view

The List view is the least detailed view of all. As its name indicates, all you see is a list of folders and files, each with an identifying icon. This would mainly be useful if you are browsing a folder with only a few files or subfolders in it, or the opposite, a folder with a considerable number of files and subfolders in it.

5. Use classic-style icons and do not worry about details, with the Small Icons view

The Icons views differ only, as you can tell, in the size of the icons that are displayed for each file. The Small Icons view displays icons that are only representative of the contents (Word document, PDF, executable, graphic file, etc.). It does not show a preview or thumbnail of the file's contents. This view is handy if you just want to browse through a list of a folder's contents (much like the List view). The difference is that in any of the icon views, the files are displayed tiled across the screen, rather than in a single-file list. In this example, the files are all photographs, but many of them retain the generic file names from the camera, and the small-icon view is not much use.

6. Work with many documents easily, with the Medium Icons view

The Medium view gives you a better idea of the file contents, but it might not be a large enough thumbnail to tell which is which among several similar graphics files. It would work fine for folders that contain mainly non-graphics files.

7. View your pictures without having to open them, with the Extra Large Icons view

The Large and Extra Large icons views show much bigger icons that give you a better view of graphics and video files. Enlarging the generic icons for PDF files and executables does not tell you any more than the smaller icons do.

NOTE: If for some reason, you prefer one view more than any other and you want to use it as default for all the folders you open, this tutorial will help you get in the right direction: Set a default view template in Windows Explorer for any folder.


As you can see, both File Explorer and Windows Explorer give you plenty of options to browse and easily identify your files and folders. For every folder, the Explorer program tries to set the most useful view, but you can change to the one you prefer at any time.

Do you have any tips you have discovered about File Explorer or Windows Explorer? We would love to hear about them. If you have found annoyances or issues, we would like to hear about those, too. Leave a comment and let's discuss.