Introducing Windows 8.1: How To Use The View Tab In File Explorer

The new version of File Explorer that is used in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 has a ribbon interface with lots of tabs and options. Since we detailed the Home and Share tabs in other articles, we would like to show you the View tab and everything you can do with it. There are a lot of tools to cover, but read on and we'll show how they all work.

How To Access the View Tab In File Explorer

We know that you want to see what the View tab has to offer, but you'll need to get into File Explorer before you can do that. This is easily accomplished from the Desktop by clicking the folder icon on the taskbar. From the Start screen, you'll need to either search for File Explorer or click or tap its shortcut, if you have it on the Start screen.

Once you're in, expand the ribbon (if minimized) and click or tap the View tab.

The first thing you'll notice is that the View tab sorts all of its many tools into logical groups. This make it easier to find what you're looking for.

  • Panes - This sections lets you choose what panes (columns) to show or hide in the File Explorer window.
  • Layout - This section provides options for changing the way your files and folders are displayed.
  • Current View - Go here for tools to change the way your data is sorted and displayed.
  • Show/Hide - This section lets you show or hide certain folders, files and features in File Explorer.
  • Options - This section simply provides a link to more folder options.

How To Use The Tools In The Panes Section

The Panes section provides three tools for your use:

  • Navigation Pane - A click or tap on it opens a list of options that you can use to change how the navigation pane works in File Explorer:
    • Navigation Pane - Deselect this option to hide the navigation pane from view. Reselect it to bring the pane back.
    • Expand to open folder - Select this option to have your folders expand as you click through them in the right pane. Deselect to have the navigation pane folders remain compressed unless you click them specifically.
    • Show all folders - Select this option to display all folders on your computer in a single group on the Navigation pane. Deselect this option to have a more concise folder view sorted into helpful sections like Libraries, Computer and Network.
    • Show libraries - Select this option to display all your libraries in a separate section in File Explorer. Deselect to have them hidden.
    • Show favorites - This option allows you to show or hide the Favorites that are displayed at the top of the Navigation pane.
  • Preview Pane - Clicking or tapping this button opens an optional column on the right side of the File Explorer window. This pane will show a preview of any media files you select.
  • Details Pane - If the Preview pane doesn't have enough information for you, click or tap "Details pane." This creates a pane that displays a preview of the file you select along with all of the file's metadata. You can even edit the metadata right from this pane by clicking a data field and typing.

NOTE: You cannot have both the Preview and Details panes open at the same time. You must choose one, the other or neither.

How To Use The Layout Section Of The View Tab

The Layout tab provides a number of options for the way your files and folders are displayed in the window:

  • Extra large/large/medium/small icons - Select one of these options to display files and folders as icons of variable size with the file names shown below. The smallest option only shows generic icons, while any of the larger options provide thumbnails of any photos or videos you have in your active window.
  • List - This option simply provides a list of the files and folders in your active window with a generic icon next to it. The list wraps into multiple columns.
  • Details - This option creates a list of files and folders in a single column and provides multiple additional columns to display more data about each file such as the date the file was last modified, the file size and the file type.
  • Tile - This option shows icons the same as you'd see with the Medium icon option, but it displays the full filename and file type to the right of the icon.
  • Content - This final option lists your files with medium icons, but also provides a line of information about each file. It's technically all displayed in a single column, but each different type of file displays different information about the file. For example, a video file displays the frame height and width of the file in it's column while a music file displays the album title, genre and length of the song.

How To Use The Current View Section Of The View Tab

The current view section provides four different buttons to change the way your files and folders are organized on the screen.

  • Sort by - Use it to display a list of options as to how your files and folders are listed in File Explorer. Select an option such as Name or Type to reorder the list based on your chosen criteria. You can also select Descendingem> or Ascending to reverse the order your files are listed in.
  • Group by - Displays a list of options you can choose to group your files. By default, no grouping option is selected and your files are all displayed in a single list. Selecting a group option breaks it up into logical sections.

    For example, here is a folder grouped by Type. You'll notice the list is broken into sections, depending on the types of files and folders that are found in the current folder.

  • Add columns - This button will only be available if you have the Details layout selected. It displays a list of optional columns you can select to display more information about your files. Click or tap a column name to add or remove it from view.

    This list displays only the most commonly used columns, but there are tons more to choose from that can display any metadata tag supported by Windows. Click or tap "Choose columns..." from the bottom of the list to open a dialog that contains all of these options. From this dialog you can also change the default width at which columns are displayed.

  • Size all columns to fit - This button does exactly what it says. It resizes the columns active for the current view so that they fit into the File Explorer window, without having to scroll. This button will only be available if you have the Details layout selected.

How To Use The Show/Hide Section Of The View Tab

The Show/Hide section allows you to show or hide files, folders or features of File Explorer.

You have four options to select:

  • Item checkboxes - Enabling "Item check boxes" displays a checkbox next to each file or folder. On a keyboard and mouse setup you'll see the checkboxes when you hover over a file or folder; on a touchscreen the boxes are displayed next to each file. There will also be a box displayed above the file list that allows you to select all files in the current window with a single click. This option allows users to select multiple files without having to hold down additional keys or clicking and dragging.
  • File name extensions - Selecting "File name extensions" toggles whether or not file extensions are displayed at the end of file names. Our team tends to have this option enabled as it allows us to see exactly what format each file is at a glance.
  • Hidden items - Selecting "Hidden items" toggles whether or not hidden files and folders will be displayed by File Explorer. Hidden files and folders are displayed with washed out icons to alert you that they were once hidden from view.
  • Hide selected items - Finally, you can select multiple files and folders and then click or tap "Hide selected items" to mark files and folders of your choosing as hidden. This is great for folders or files that contain sensitive information that you wouldn't want someone casually browsing your computer to find.

How To Access Folder Options From The View Tab

Your last section of the View tab provides a single button named Options, that has a single purpose. It allows you to access the Folder Options dialog that gives you more finite control over the way your folders are displayed in File Explorer.

Whether you hit the button, or select the down arrow and then "Change folder and search options", you'll end up at the same place.

For more information about what you can do with this dialog, check out our article on the subject: How To Improve Windows & File Explorer Using Folder Options.


The View tab in File Explorer certainly has a lot to offer, but despite the large number of buttons, they're laid out so logically that everything is easy to find. You no longer have to sift through various menus to find the tools you need to change the way your files are displayed, just select this tab and everything you need is one click away.