Windows Explorer is a foundation of the user experience of the Windows desktop and has undergone several design changes over the years, but has not seen a substantial change in quite some time. Windows 8 is about reimagining Windows, so took on the challenge to improve the most widely desktop used tool (except maybe for Solitaire) in Windows. Alex Simons on the program management team authored this post with a detailed look at the evolution of Explorer and the major improvements to its interface and functionality for Windows 8. Judging by the passion on file operations and user interface design, we know this is an important subject so we expect a pretty engaged dialog on the topic. We put this in one lengthy post, will watch the comments and dialog, and down the road we'll continue the discussion.
It’s exciting to have this opportunity to share the improvements we’re making to the file management capabilities of Windows Explorer. Explorer is one of the most venerable parts of Windows with a heritage you can trace back to the “MS-DOS Executive” in Windows 1.0!
MS-DOS Executive in Windows 1.0
Over the years, Explorer and its forerunners have gone through several major iterations:
File Manager in Windows 3.1
Explorer in Windows XP
Explorer in Windows 7
It’s a bit daunting but also pretty exciting to have the opportunity to revisit and rethink this cornerstone of our product. Many of you who are reading this (and most of us on the development team) are among the most extreme “power users” of the file management tools in Explorer and likely start from a different perspective than the broad base of customers. As we approach the work to improve file management in Windows, we do so knowing many of you have long ago "given up" on Explorer and are using some of the wide variety of add-ons or alternatives.
As we mentioned in our post on improvements in the copy function, telemetry data indicates these add-ons and alternatives are mostly used by us power-users and we represent a small but influential group of people. The most popular add-ons and replacements (programs like TeraCopy, FastCopy, xplorer2 & QTTabBar) are installed (note that does not mean used) on about 0.45% of PC’s. Our goal is to improve the usage experience for a majority of customers while recognizing that, with such a long history and variety of depth usage, we cannot possibly provide all of the power everyone might want. We expect that there will be a vibrant third-party toolset for some time to come. Windows 8 is an opportunity to substantially improve the experience for everyone.
How Explorer is used today
Over the years, Explorer has grown to support a number of different scenarios, many unrelated to file management – launching programs, viewing photos, playing videos, and playing music, to name just a few. We wanted to know which of these capabilities customers were really using. Using telemetry data, we were able to answer the question of how the broadest set of customers use Explorer in aggregate. As a reminder, the telemetry data is opt-in, anonymous, and private, but it does represent hundreds of millions of sessions from all customer types.
This data is pretty interesting. First it shows that even though there are over 200 commands in Explorer, customers use a small number of them with any real frequency: the top 10 commands represent 81.8% of total usage. Additionally it shows us that people overwhelmingly use Explorer for core file management tasks - the top 7 commands (72.2% of usage) are all for managing/manipulating files.
This data represents the total usage of Explorer and includes cases where a person has a third-party add-on installed that uses one of our built-in commands (i.e. “play,” “open,” “edit,” “email,” etc.) A good example would be that a customer might have a third-party music app installed, which is the default player for all their music formats. The command usage of this third-party add-in from within Explorer is included in the data above. There are a class of add-ons that add their own custom commands (i.e. “rotate”) and we don’t get telemetry data for those, though we do know how often they are installed and get invoked.....