Windows Explorer

By Walton Dell
December 28, 1998

Before you can begin to use Windows Explorer, you must first understand the basic file system used by most computers (including all Windows systems)...

The Hierarchical File System

On a modern PC there will be at least 2 drives.   Every modern computer has a DVD-ROM drive for access to high capacity discs.  Since you can not save data on ordinary compact discs, you will also have a floppy disk drive.  Floppy disks are an old technology you'll probably only use if you need to transfer data to another computer.  Finally, you will have a hard disk.   The hard disk is the computer's main internal storage.  You can not see the hard disk without opening the computer.

Each drive can store hundreds or thousands of files.   These files are organized into locations called folders since it would be very confusing otherwise.  The top level of a disk is called the root folder.  This is the starting location when you first view the disk.   Every folder can contain sub-folders (a folder within another folder) in addition to files.

Do not get files and folders mixed up.  If a person asks for the "file on Joe" in an office, what they really mean is "folder on Joe".  A file is usually just one specific item.  For example, you may have a file named "Letter to Joe.doc" which would obviously be a letter to Joe.  You would not just have a "file on Joe"; instead, you could create a folder named "Joe" in which you could place all files related to Joe.  This is not necessary, however, if you don't need to keep documents related to Joe separate from other files.  A computer folder can hold thousands of files.

Window Panes

Windows Explorer shows the contents of your computer using two window panes. The left pane shows only folders.  A plus sign will appear to the left of a folder if it contains additional sub-folders.  Click the plus sign to "expand" the view.  Once you have found the folder you want, single-click it to select it.

The right window pane shows the contents of whatever folder you have selected in the left pane.  Right-click on any file listed and you will get a pop-up menu showing options for that file.  Some of the options are delete, rename, send-to floppy disk (this actually means copy-to floppy disk), and open.

Moving Files

To move a file, first find the file you wish to move.   Next, find the destination folder on the left, but do not click it!  Note: it is ok to click the plus sign next to a folder.  (When you click the plus sign, the selected folder does not change.)  Now simply drag the file from the right window pane to the destination folder in the left window pane.   If the file is a program, hold down shift when you drag it to make sure it is moved (otherwise a shortcut is created).

Deleting Files

Find the file you wish to delete.  Click it so that it is selected.   Next, press the delete key on the keyboard (or click the File menu, then choose Delete).

Note: The file will be sent to the "Recycling Bin" in case you delete a file by mistake.  You can go to the recycling bin to either restore the file or delete it permanently.

Renaming Files

Find and single-click the file you wish to rename.  Press the F2 key at the top of the keyboard to start renaming the file.  Type the new name.   Note: Be sure to keep the extension!  For example, if the file is "Old Name.doc" be sure to rename it "New Name.doc" not just "New Name".

Some Common Folders

The number of folders and files on a modern computer can be overwhelming!  Here are some common folders you may want to look at and how to get there:

My Documents This is where many modern programs will save your files.
  1. Start Windows Explorer.
  2. If necessary, expand "My Computer" on the left so that you see "Drive C:" on the left.
  3. If necessary, expand "Drive C:" on the left so that you see "My Documents" on the left.
  4. Click "My Documents" on the left.  You will see the contents on the right side.
Windows Media Start Windows Explorer.  On the left, go to Drive C:, then the Windows folder, then the Media subfolder and click it.  On the right you will see any audio files that were installed with Windows.  Look for MIDI files to hear music.


See also: My tutorial on The Hard Disk.


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