With Metro on the scene, Explorer is no longer the default interface for Windows, but it does still remain an integral part when you click on the Desktop tile.
Importantly, Explorer is still the main tool most everyone uses to manage files, folders and devices on their system. As a result it's received a significant focus in Windows 8, with Microsoft aiming to improve its most common usage scenarios (such as copy, move and delete) while adding something that not everyone will be happy about: the Ribbon interface.
Microsoft's Ribbon interface, which first debuted with Office 2007, split users: on the one hand it makes it easier find and use functions; but on the other it's bulky, cluttered to look at, and requires users to learn a new tool.
Fortunately, Microsoft has listened. While the Ribbon is standard with Explorer, you can 'hide' it with a keyboard toggle. Undoubtedly once Windows 8 is released, the range of popular third-party tweak tools for Windows will find the right registry value and make a minimised Ribbon the default if you so choose.
The Explorer Ribbon toolbar and Quick Access buttons for the most commonly used functions. The Ribbon can be optionally hidden.
In addition to the Ribbon, the look has changed too with the bottom bar removed and a new Quick Access toolbar in the top left, providing shortcuts to some genuinely useful functions such as Delete, Rename, New Folder and Properties. You don't need to right-click any more, just select the file and click on a Quick Access button.
Also new to the interface is an 'Up' button that takes you one level up no matter where you are in the tree, apparently one of the most asked-for features in feedback to Microsoft.
But some of the more refreshing changes are completely renovated file copy and collision dialogs. Finally, multiple copy procedures are displayed in a single window with a progress bar for each, something Linux users will be used to seeing, and you can pause any copy in progress. Additionally, clicking ‘More details’ now shows a throughput graph for each copy operation.
The file collision dialog – when you copy files to a destination where they already exist – is much more informative and easier to control, with the multi-tiered annoying 'Are you really sure you want to do this?' prompts now removed. Most importantly, copy and move functions are now multi-threaded to improve performance and – though we've yet to test this – after all these years will now more accurately estimate time to completion (yes, really!).
In the 'what took you so long?' department, Windows 8 integrates ISO and VHD file support. You can now simply double-click on an ISO image to open it, and it will appear as a virtual CD-ROM under devices. Similarly, you can also open VHD files (hard disk images generated by virtualisation software) to directly read and write files, and these appear as another local hard drive to your system.
And before I completely wear the word out, yet another new feature is File History (called History Vault in earlier leaked Windows 8 releases). The short description is Apple's Time Machine for Windows, allowing you to designate an external USB disk or network resource as a backup location and set a time period (from every 10 minutes to daily) to incrementally back up specified folders, defaulting to Desktop, Contacts, Favourites and all your Libraries. It's a fire and forget solution to recovering old versions of documents and deleted files, and a great addition.