Windows 10: In the new version of Windows, Explorer has a section called Quick Access. This includes your frequent folders and recent files. Explorer defaults to opening this page when you open a new window. If you'd rather open the usual This PC, with links to your drives and library folders, here's how.
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The ribbon is probably one of the most highly polarising UI decisions Microsoft has ever made (well, that and the start screen), and whether you love it or hate it, one great thing about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is that people are already working on tools to tweak the upcoming OS so it works better for them. Ribbon Disabler, a free utility that permanently removes the ribbon from all Explorer windows, is one of those tools.
One of the most common complaints about the Explorer interface in Windows 7 was that it dumped the 'up' button used to move up in the directory structure. The good news is that it's returning in Windows 8. The perhaps more controversial news is that Microsoft will achieve that by using the often controversial Ribbon interface.
Windows only: Free file browser Q-Dir makes for a good USB drive app or installed replacement for Windows Explorer for those who do a serious amount of file swapping, or just like to be able to keep multiple folder views open at once. The app—which installs by default, but can run by itself after renaming it "Q-Dir.exe"—offers a customisable number of panes, though the default four-square is a pretty good starting point. You can save any view you like to a favourite button, along with adding shortcuts to frequently-accessed folders. There's also a quick-filter box in the lower-right for easy sorting and finding, and if you use Q-Dir regularly, you'll be glad it keeps your right-click shell extensions and offers its own "*Q-Dir" launch option on right-clicking a folder. Q-Dir is a free download for Windows systems only. Q-Dir
Windows only: Reader Juliana created a simple but extremely useful AutoHotkey script that creates a new folder in Explorer with a quick keystroke of Ctrl+N. If you're an AHK user, you can download the script source here and just copy and paste it into your own AHK script. (This is a great compliment to the Better Rename script, for example, which brings Vista-style renaming to XP.) If you're not an AHK user, you can still add the shortcut sugar to Explorer by downloading the executable (linked below). It may not change your life, but if you're a shortcut lover, it certainly adds a much-needed feature to Explorer. New-Folder
Windows only: Attribute Changer, a free right-click utility, gives you total control over everything reported by a file to your system. Right-click one or many files and choose "Change Attributes," and you can enable or disable read-only status, hiding, indexing, and even NTFS compression. You can change the file's date of creation, modification and last access, and tweak a photo's time of taking. Great for those files that get erroneously labelled as made on Jan. 1, 1969, and always get lost in searches, or fixing date issues with a photo collection. Attribute Changer is a free download for Windows systems only. Attribute Changer
Windows only: If you've got a shortcut on your desktop and—rather than opening the file it's pointing to—you want to find the actual file on your hard drive, Windows Vista has a handy Open file location entry in its context menu. The OpenTarget shell extension brings the same functionality to XP, adding an entry to your context menu when you right-click a shortcut to Open Target Folder. Clicking it takes you directly to the folder containing the file. This handy little extension may not be for everyone, but if you spend much time chasing down shortcuts, it's a nice tool to bring XP up to speed with Vista. Add Open Target Folder Option To Windows Explorer Context Menu
Windows only: Free Windows utility Folder Guide adds user-defined folders to your right-click menu for quick, easy access to any number of favourite folders. Once you add a folder, Folder Guide makes it a very simple affair to navigate to that commonly used folder in just two clicks. Explorer's Favourites menu already uses the same basic concept, but it's not as readily available as the right-click menu and it also integrates with Internet Explorer, which means any of those bookmarks clutter your folder shortcuts. If you like the quick access idea behind Folder Guide but don't like the execution, check out previously mentioned Direct Folders or previously mentioned Finder Style to put your favourites in the sidebar.
Windows only: Windows Explorer alternative UltraExplorer offers dual pane and tabbed browsing, plus a handy "Drop Stack" staging area where you can drag files to temporarily park them, for easy batch operations. Command line lovers will like the Command Line box at the bottom of the UltraExplorer window; you can even set the command prompt to stay synced to whatever folder you are browsing. You can make UltraExplorer portable after its initial installation, too—copy the files from the /APPS/ directory in the installation folder to your USB drive to do so. For other file management options check out our Five Best Alternative File Managers. UltraExplorer is a free download for Windows only.
Windows only: Free Explorer add-on QTAddressBar clones the functionality of Vista's new address bar in Windows XP. For folks unfamiliar with the new Vista address bar, it provides a clickable breadcrumb trail of every folder leading to your current location. Clicking one of your folders will take you directly to it, and clicking the down arrow provides a drop-down for moving to any folder within that one. Brought to you by the same folks who made previously mentioned QTTabBar, this freeware Explorer add-on looks like another nice stopgap between Vista and XP. While you're at it, check out more ways you can power up Windows Explorer with free add-ons.