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Custom Programs
David Marchak

Windows Explorer

At times, you may need to know how to use a Windows utility called "Explorer". This program allows you to do many things, some of which will be described in this topic.

Note: Because Windows Explorer is capable of moving or deleting data files or entire folders, you must be careful when you are using it. This is not one of those times when you can just go ahead and practice your mouse skills. If you would like to learn more about files, folders and explorer, there are entire books and/or night school courses on this subject.

Now that I have frightened you just a bit, let's have a look at the program. To open Explorer, right click on either the Windows Start button or the My Computer icon and click on Explore. There are three main sections of the window: the toolbars (A and B), the folders (C and D), and the files (E and F). This window is how Explorer looks with Windows 98. More recent versions of Explorer may look different.

Explorer Toolbars

Like most programs, Explorer has menu options starting with File Edit and ending with Help. By clicking on these options you can change settings or the information within your computer. These are some of the more common operations you may need to perform.

Edit > Select All Selects all the files in the open folder. What you do with these files is determined by your next operation.
Edit > Cut Takes your selected file and prepares to move it to another location. The file is not removed from its current location until it has been pasted to a new location. This operation works with multiple files as well.
Edit > Copy Takes your selected file and prepares to copy it to another location. The file is not removed from its current location, but a second copy will be created in the pasted location. This operation works with multiple files as well. If you paste a file to the same folder, a new file named "copy of..." will be created.
Edit > Paste This completes the cut or copy operation after selecting the folder where you want the files to go.
View > Explorer Bar
> Folders
If you only have one column of information displayed in Explorer, you can use this option to display the folders section (C) of the window. You can use Explorer with the folders section closed, but I think it is easier to use Explorer with both windows open.
View > Details In the files section (E) of the example window, we are viewing the details of each file. When you start Explorer, you may see large icons and only the name of each file. By viewing the details, you will be able to see much more information, including the date and time modified, size and type. You will also be able to sort on any of these categories by clicking on the words Name, Modified, Size or Type.
File > Send To >
Desktop (create
This is useful if you need to create a desktop shortcut for a program or other document. If you are installing Paritek for the first time, you can use Explorer to find Paritek.exe in the Paritek folder, highlight it and use this option to create the usual shortcut to the program. Then each time you want to run Paritek, you just click on your shortcut.
File > New > Folder At times, you may need to create a backup, temporary or permanent location for some files. This option gives you that ability. When you first create the folder, it will be called New Folder. By typing over these words, you can call the folder whatever you want.
File > Rename This option allows you to rename one file (if several are selected, only one will be renamed). Depending on how your system is set up, this may also give you the ability to change the extension of the file (the three letters after the period). If you do change the extension, you will change the way Windows treats the file and this could mean the file will become unusable.
File > Delete This option will delete the file or files which are selected. In most cases, the files will be deposited in your recycle bin, but you should not rely on this happening. Unless you really want to permanently remove the file from your system, do not use this menu option.

The second toolbar performs some of these same functions. You will see buttons labelled Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete (A). The Back, Forward, and Up buttons provide shortcuts for moving between folders. The Undo button may prove useful if you accidentally delete the wrong file (again, you cannot rely on this working every time). If your window is a little wider than the one shown here, you will probably see other buttons as well.

The Address line (B) allows you to see which folder you are currently looking at. In the example window, we are looking at the c:\paritek folder.


The folders window (C) displays all of the folders which you can access through Explorer. If you are on a network, you may even be able to see folders on other people's computers.

Folders which have additional sub-folders have a small plus sign to the right of them (note the plus next to My Documents and Program Files (D). The paritek folder does not have a plus sign next to it because there are no sub-folders within the paritek folder. If you click on a plus sign, you will see all the sub-folders within that folder and the plus sign will become a minus sign (as seen next to My Computer). If you click on that minus sign, the sub-folders will no longer be displayed.

You should also notice that the paritek folder is "open" . If you look at the little graphic, you will see that it looks different from the other "closed" folders . The files displayed in the file window (E) are stored in the open folder (paritek). Just ignore the fact that the "My Documents" folder has a piece of paper sticking out of it -- it always looks like this .

Of course, many of the folders and files on your computer will be different from mine.


Once you open the folder you want, Explorer will display the files within that folder (E). If your display shows large icons, click on View > Details to see all the columns of information. By using the scroll bars and arrows (F), you will be able to move through the list of files. If you use your mouse to point on the bottom right corner of the window (F), the cursor will change to a double arrow. By holding down the left mouse button and moving the mouse, you can change the size and shape of the window.

Because Explorer displays two lists (folders and files), using your keyboard to move up and down the lists is a little tricky. You need to know which list is active. In the example window, you will notice a small dotted line around 1.bkp. This means that the files list is currently active and if you press the arrow keys on your keyboard, you will move up and down the files list.

Once you spot a file you want to access (copy, open, etc.), you click the file name once with the mouse. This will turn the file name white on blue. You cannot click on the other information about the file (date and time modified, size or type) to highlight the file you want.

If you want to select another file, hold down the Ctrl key and click on the name of the second file. If you want to highlight several files that are all in sequence, click on the first file in the list, then hold down the Shift key and click on the last file in the list.

Once you have highlighted the file or files you want to work with, you click on the toolbar options to do something with the files. As a shortcut, you can also do a right-click on the name that is highlighted (white on blue) to see a list of commands you can perform on the selected file(s).

Explorer also allows you to "drag and drop" files and folders. For example, if you click on a file and move the mouse while still holding down the left mouse button, you can put the file somewhere else. You could move a file to the recycle bin (deleting it) or to a different folder (similar to doing a cut and paste). You must be careful, however, that you do not accidentally do this when you are just trying to click on a file. You could move the entire paritek folder into the My Documents folder just by moving the mouse up a fraction of an inch when you clicked on the paritek folder.

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Content copyright 2001-2009 David Marchak
This page last updated June 15, 2009