Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Microsoft Details Windows 8 Ribbon UI in Explorer

Over at the Building Windows 8 blog, the Windows 8 development team posted a number of screenshots and a video explaining the various changes to Windows Explorer interface, particularly the ribbon UI. Details on the ribbon UI have been well documented over the past few months from a number of leaks, but this is first official documentation of the new Windows Explorer.

Again, using telemetry data from users who chose to share with Microsoft how they use Windows, the team has laid down three main goals to accomplish with this new version of Explorer.

  • Optimize Explorer for file management tasks. Return Explorer to its roots as an efficient file manager and expose some hidden gems, those file management commands already in Explorer that many customers might not even know exist.
  • Create a streamlined command experience. Put the most used commands in the most prominent parts of the UI so they are easy to find, in places that make sense and are reliable. Organize the commands in predictable places and logical groupings according to context, and present relevant information right where you need it.
  • Respect Explorer’s heritage. Maintain the power and richness of Explorer and bring back the most relevant and requested features from the Windows XP era when the current architecture and security model of Windows permits.

Although the ribbon has been criticized in the past, Microsoft program manager Alex Simons wrote that the “ribbon approach offered benefits in line with our goals”. The best thing about the ribbon is that it exposes a large set of commands, over 200, that were previously hidden in menus. The ribbon also has other benefits, such as providing keyboard shortcuts for every command in the ribbon, and UI customization with the quick access toolbar, taking us back to a customization level that is basically equivalent to Windows XP. The ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus.

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The Home tab is focused on the core file management tasks such as Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, Cut, and Properties. It also given new prominence to two popular heritage features, Move to and Copy to, along with exposing a hidden gem, Copy path, which is really useful when you need to paste a file path into a file dialog, or when you want to email someone a link to a file on a server.

The decision on which commands to display on the Home tab comes from telemetry data. The top 10 commands that are visible on the Home tab represent 81.8% of Explorer command usage.

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The Share tab is for sharing files by typical methods like zipping them up and emailing them to a friend, or burning them to optical media. Or you can quickly share files with other people in your home group or your network domain. It also provides one-click access to the ACLs for the currently highlighted file.

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The View tab provides access to options for view customization. From here you get one-click access for turning on/off the Navigation pane, Preview pane, and Details pane, a live preview gallery for the different icon display sizes, quick access to sorting and grouping by column, the ability to quickly add columns, plus easy access to three hidden features: show file name extensions, show hidden items, and hide selected items.

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The ribbon UI is context sensitive, meaning that a variety of contextual tabs are activated in the context of specific files and folders, and for tasks like searching, managing libraries, viewing pictures, and playing music.

Below are examples of some of the contextual tabs for search, library tools, picture tools and disk tools.

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Then there is the new Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) in Explorer that provides a lot of customization opportunities. Similar to Office, by right-clicking any button in the ribbon, you can add it to the QAT. Additionally, you can choose to have the QAT display above or below the ribbon, and to display the ribbon in an open or minimized state.

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A customized QAT with a minimized ribbon

Watch the video demo below that showcases the new features.

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