Customizing the Explorer's File List Display

by Barry Dysert
(last updated August 24, 2015)


Windows Explorer is a very popular utility in Windows 7. It allows you to easily navigate among your files and folders. Not surprisingly, you can customize it in a variety of ways to better suit your needs. When you launch Windows Explorer, you'll see that there are four main elements to the window. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Windows Explorer.

The four main elements comprising this window include:

  • The Explorer menu (File, Edit, View, Tools, Help)
  • The left-side navigation pane
  • The middle details pane
  • The right-side preview pane

You can indicate which of these main elements you'd like displayed by pulling down the Organize | Layout menu and either checking or clearing the corresponding menu item. Most people tend to turn off the preview pane since a thumbnail preview is shown in the status area.

The details pane can be presented in one of several views. By pulling down the View menu you can see that the available views include: Icons, List, Details, Tiles, and Content. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Windows Explorer View menu.

Another way to customize the Explorer window is by grouping items together. This is done by right-clicking an empty area of the details pane and, from the resulting Context menu, selecting the Group By option. Grouping by different attributes of the files (Date, Type, Size, etc.) can make things easier to find.

You can also select which columns are to be displayed in the details pane. Right-click a column header, and you are presented with a list of what columns are available for display. You can even indicate the left-to-right ordering of the columns by moving particular columns up and down via the More button on the Context menu.

When you've decided what columns should be displayed you can sort the information in the details pane in ascending or descending order by clicking a column's header. A small arrow will appear in the column header to indicate which column is being used to sort, and whether the sort is ascending or descending. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. Arrow indicating that the pane is displayed in ascending order by name.

 This tip (12367) applies to Windows 7.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...


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What is eight more than 8?

2016-02-29 07:43:51


In the file list display, can I move the preview pane to the bottom instead of the right side.

2015-12-15 10:28:48

Nelson Phillips

How do I get Windows Explorer to remember open showing all the columns that were visible when it was last closed? No matter how I have configured the columns, Windows Explorer displays only less than 300 pixels covering "Name" and part of "Date Modified."

Thanks for your help.

Nelson Phillips

2015-08-24 11:12:56

Mary Garcia

You can change the default 'view' of items in Windows Explorer in the Organize menu > Folder and Search Options > View tab. That's where I go for my favorite tip - unchecking the "hide file extensions for known file types" - to display the .txt, .png, .docx, etc. file extensions. At the top of that window, you can check the "Apply to Folders" option to make it the default.

2015-08-24 08:47:25

Henry Noble

If you want to change the folder Word uses by default to store documents, go to File > Options > Advanced, then scroll almost to the bottom for the "File Locations" button.

If you want to change the folder Windows uses by default to store documents, it is a little more complicated because each user has his/her own file area. In general, use Windows Explorer to locate My Documents. Right-click on the folder, select Properties from the list, then select the Location tab.

2015-08-24 07:34:20


Jim, I'm sorry, but I don't know what you mean. How is Windows making the Documents folder the default? Do you mean that's the default folder that's suggested when you save a document in Microsoft Word? Please elaborate. Thanks.

2015-08-24 07:30:48


I don't like the Windows version of 'Documents' because it is not complete. I have my own 'Documents' folder that I want to use. How can I make Windows default to my folder rather than to its folder?

2015-08-24 07:11:52


Assuming you're talking about Microsoft Word, please ask your question in that forum. Thanks.

2015-08-24 06:41:12


I'm looking for modifying the elements of Word Explorer Window that stick until changed. The problem is that when you change the element settings, and close the window, all changes are lost.

Is it possible?

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