How To Improve Windows & File Explorer Using Folder Options

Windows 7 introduced a brand new Windows Explorer that is very different from the version found in Windows XP or Windows Vista. Windows 8 continues this trend and not only renames the product to File Explorer but also introduces a ribbon based interface. Even though these products have lots of new features, as with any piece of software, you can customize and improve their functioning, using the Folder Options window - the place where all the important settings are found, related to how Windows Explorer and File Explorer work. Let's see which settings are worth improving and where to find them.

How to Open the Folder Options Window in Windows 7 & Windows 8

Opening the Folder Options window can be done in many ways. A method that works in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 is to open the Control Panel and go to "Appearance and Personalization -> Folder Options".

In Windows 8, open File Explorer and go to the View tab. Click or tap the Options button found on the ribbon.

In Windows 7, open Windows Explorer and go to "Organize -> Folder and search options".

An alternative is to press the Alt key, so that Windows Explorer displays the hidden menu on the top (named Status bar for some weird reason).

Then, click Tools and then Folder options.

One last method that works in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 is to use search. In Windows 7, type "folder options" in the Start Menu search box. In Windows 8, type "folder options" while on the Start screen and filter the results by Settings. Folder Options will be amongst the search results displayed. Click or tap on it.

When you open Folder Options in Windows 8, it looks similar to the window below.

When you open Folder Options in Windows 7, it looks similar to the window below.

As you can see, they look pretty much the same. However, there are one or two settings that are different between Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Which Settings are Worth Improving for Windows & File Explorer

The General tab displays limited set of configuration options:

First, you can set Windows Explorer or File Explorer to open each folder in the same window or each folder in its own window.

Then, you can set whether you want to open items such as files and folder with a single-click or a double-click.

The most interesting options are found in the section named Navigation pane. In Windows 8, this section allows you to enable or disable the Favorites section, set whether you want File Explorer to show all folders when you use it or whether you want it to automatically expand to current folder. This setting may be very useful to some users, as it helps them navigate faster through folders.

In Windows 7, you have the same settings, except Show Favorites. You cannot enable or disable the Favorites section from Folder Options.

The View tab has lots of configuration options. Going through all of them and setting things the way you want to can go a long way in improving how Windows/File Explorer works. I recommend checking at least these important settings:

  • Always show icons, never thumbnails - this can be useful when you are working with a large number of files and folders. If Windows is rather slow at loading thumbnails, you should enable this setting. Windows/File Explorer will stop loading thumbnails, which leads to speed improvements when browsing through your files and folders.
  • Hide empty drives in the Computer folder - when checked, if you insert a USB memory stick or another empty removable drive, it will not be shown in the Computer folder. This can sometimes lead to confusion. Unchecking this option is highly recommended.
  • Hide extensions for known file types - disabling this setting allows you to see the file extensions together with the name of every file. This is a good way to ensure that files are not viruses or other malicious software disguised as documents, pictures and other common files. There are many viruses which try to trick users by apparently using two file extensions for one file. They are named something like filename.doc.exe. If this setting is enabled, you see only filename.doc as the file name and you might believe it is file that can be safely opened. Unchecking this setting is highly recommended.
  • Use check boxes to select items - if enabled, when you place the mouse cursor over a file or folder, you see a small check box on the left of its name. You can check that box to select the file/folder. These check boxes are the equivalent of holding down the CTRL key, while clicking on multiple items to select them. They can be useful when you have to select lots of different items.
  • When typing into list view - by default, when you type a letter, Windows/File Explorer selects the first file or folder which has a name that starts with that letter. When found, the item is automatically selected. If you want to change this behavior and you want to automatically search in the upper-right search box, select the first option which says 'Automatically type into the Search Box'.

The Search tab includes configuration options about searching for files or folders in Windows/File Explorer.

The default configuration works very well. However, if you are not satisfied, you can experiment with the available options and see if they improve your experience.


Experimenting with these configuration options will go a long way in improving how Windows Explorer and File Explorer work. Hopefully, after you go through this configuration exercise, you will reach the same conclusion. If you have other good tips you would like to share, don't hesitate to leave a comment.