Windows 8 Explorer Ribbon UI shown off in detail


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Windows 8 continues taking shape at Microsoft, and pretty soon attendees to the company’s BUILD 2011 conference are going to get a first-hand look at the new OS on a mysterious quad-core tablet. For the rest of us, we’ll have to content ourselves with details posted on blogs like this one and Microsoft’s official Building Windows 8 Blog.

Today, the folks in Redmond have posted an in-depth look at the changes coming to the Windows Explorer interface. As seen previously in leaked builds, Windows 8 will indeed feature Microsoft’s love-it-or-hate-it Ribbon UI, which you may have seen at work in Microsoft Office or the Windows Live apps.

Microsoft states three main goals for the Explorer overhaul: optimize the interface for file management tasks (copy, paste, move, etc.), create a streamlined command interface, and respect Explorer’s heritage. That last one is a real key: the Windows user base likely wouldn’t respond well to a file manager interface that was completely different from what they’ve become accustomed to.

The team working on the Explorer update is confident that power users won’t be put off by the change. Why? Because the Ribbon makes “hidden” Explorer features accessible without the need for third-party add-ins, it provides a vast number of keyboard shortcuts, and customization is coming back in a big way. In fact, Microsoft states that the Windows 8 Ribbon toolbar will be just as customizable as the Windows XP toolbar.

Oh, and those third-party add-ins? They’ll still be able to integrate with the Explorer right-click context menu, but they won’t be allowed access to the Ribbon. That kind of integration may come along later, but with its focus on “getting things right” the team has decided it didn’t make the initial cut.

There’s lots more to absorb in the blog post. The Windows 8 Explorer Ribbon features five tabs: file, home, share, view, and manage. Each tab contains a set of related tools, just like you’d find in Microsoft’s existing apps that use the Ribbon UI. Explorer will also adapt the toolbar based on the content of the folder you’re currently browsing. Custom views are built-in for libraries, pictures, and disks.

The Explorer experience has also bee retooled to better suit widescreen displays, which have become ubiquitous in recent years. How? By moving the details pane from the bottom of the window to the right, where Windows 7 was already showing previews for supported file types. It’s a much better way to utilize the space.