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File Explorer gets facelift in latest Windows 11 build

Nips and tucks aim to give decades-old app a more modern vibe

Microsoft is redesigning File Explorer with the help of relatively new developer tools that are being applied to the decades-old Windows operating system.

In the latest Windows 11 build released this week to the Dev Channel, Redmond is including an updated File Explorer Home, address bar and search box, and a new feature first previewed in March designed to make it easier for some users to find the most relevant file.

As with most features in the Dev Channel, the new ones for File Explorer in Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 23475 are not available to all Insiders. Microsoft engineers plan to let some developers play around with it and give feedback for a decision whether to release them to all Insiders, the company wrote.

The new look for File Explorer – which is more consistent with that of Windows 11 – comes after the file manager application was shifted to the Windows App SDK, a collection of developer components and tools that came out in March as the new desktop app development platform for Windows 11 and Windows 10 version 1809 and later.

The aim is to give developers a unified set of APIs and tools for a more consistent development approach.

The updated File Explorer Home – essentially the landing site for File Explorer – is powered by the Windows UI Library (WinUI), a user framework for Windows desktop and Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps. There are two generations of WinUI, the first being WinUI 2 for UWP and the second WinUI 3 in the Windows App SDK.

The Recommended File feature will be available to those signed into Windows with an Azure Active Directory (AAD) account, with the files recommended being cloud files associated with the account.

Recommended files "will be displayed as a carousel and support file thumbnails which is coming soon," wrote Amanda Langowski, principal product manager for the Windows Insider Program, and Brandon LeBlanc, senior program manager at Microsoft. "Quick Access folders (available by default for users signed into Windows with a Microsoft account), Favorites, and Recent also bring in an updated experience with WinUI."

Redmond is additionally adding a newer address bar that can recognize which files are local and which are in the cloud, including letting OneDrive users about their sync status and quota flyout.

That said, there are some known issues arising with the enhanced File Explorer, including that it might crash when users drag the scroll bar or try to close the window if there is an extended file-loading process running.

There are also a number of known issues with File Explorer Home. One is that users navigating the Recommended sections with the tab key could see explorer.exe crash. In addition, when they move from one group to the Recommended section using a keyboard, the focus doesn't appropriately appear on the group header or files.

Also, "in case of an authentication error on File Explorer Home, the 'Please Sign-in' button appears but clicking on it does not pop-up the authentication dialog," Langowski and LeBlanc wrote. ®

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