Building Windows 8: The new ribbon-based Explorer

The latest blog post on Building Windows 8 confirms an observation made earlier this year, back in April, when screenshots of development Windows 8 builds began leaking onto the Internet. Windows 8's new Explorer will be getting the Scenic UI, also known as the "ribbon."

Alex Simons from the Windows 8 Program Management team explains this change as melding the best of both worlds, that being the Explorers of Windows XP and Vista/7. The main design objective of the new Explorer is almost identical to a similar problem the Office suite faced - simplify the user interface, but expose as much functionality to the user as possible.

Simons describes the three goals as follows:

  1. Optimize Windows Explorer for file management tasks.
  2. Streamline the user experience. Place controls in predictable locations, organize them into meaningful groupings, and expose them in contextual scenarios if possible.
  3. Respect Explorer's heritage. Bring back commonly requested features from the Windows XP era.

The goals may be better explained by looking at the current Windows 7 Explorer, and comparing that to the Windows XP Explorer:

The Vista/7 Explorer offered a richer representation of files and folders compared to the XP Explorer. It also did away with traditional pulldown menu bars and toolbars for a command bar that changed depending on which file was selected. As Microsoft's telemetry data shows, the command bar did not contain most of the common tasks users perform with Explorer:

Some of these commands can be added to the toolbar in the XP Explorer, as seen in the above screenshot. Not so for the Vista/7 Explorer. Users turned to the right-click menus and keyboard shortcuts in lieu of the command bar:

Given that almost 85% of users accessed the most common Explorer operations using a method that deviates from the most exposed part of the current Explorer - the command bar - the new Explorer had to accommodate these commands, especially for tablet users who do not have a keyboard at hand. Simon explains the team considered expanding on the current Vista/7 command bar, or going back to XP-style menus and toolbars, before settling on the Ribbon.

Like with Office, the Ribbon also exposes hidden "gems" in the user interface. For instance, in the Windows 8 Explorer pictured above, there is a button for users to invert the selection of files in the current folder. On XP, this option is available via the Edit menu. Windows 7 users have to enable the Menu bar and go to the Edit menu to access this feature.

Despite the extra amount of space the Ribbon takes up, the new Explorer actually shows more files than the Windows 7 Explorer as Microsoft moved the Details pane to the right, instead of being on the bottom as it was in Windows Vista and 7. Users can also collapse the ribbon and show it on demand for even more screen estate. The new Details pane is similar to that in Windows Live Photo Gallery.

The downside of the new Explorer? Current toolbars that plug into the Explorer UI will no longer work. In addition, there will be no "classic" UI for the new Explorer. Microsoft is hoping users will embrace the change without a legacy UI to fall back on as they have done going from Office 2003 to 2007.

Missed our previous coverage of previous Building Windows 8 posts? Check them out here:

Image Credits: Building Windows 8 blog

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I like this change, actually...

If they were to make all of the buttons in the Open and New groups large-sized buttons, then it would be perfect, even for the novice user, and even for a touch-screen.

I personally think the Open button should be just as large as the Properties button...

And if I remember correctly, people were saying that things like changing the view and such will also be present in the status bar at the bottom of the window... so yeah...

First a correction...

Windows 7 users have to enable the Menu bar and go to the Edit menu to access this feature.

If people are 'enabling' the menu to use it in Windows 7, they are wasting their time, and if a tech writer 'thinks like this', it is a bit scary.

Instead of 'enabling the Menu', just hit the 'Alt' key, the Menu magically appears, and magically disappears after you use it. There is no reason to EVER enable it.

---------------------

The comments on the site are borderline either 'misinformed', 'insane', or 'grasping on to old concepts out of fear'. The Windows File Manager in Windows 3.1 is not how people should be thinking anymore, and the Ribbon is a really, really good thing.

The Ribbon TAKES UP LESS SPACE than the Toolbar in Windows 7, yet people are scared it is consuming their screen.

The Ribbon makes New features and 'hidden' existing features easier to see and use, for both experts and novice users. (For the expert: Copy Path, History, Copy To..) (For the novice: Invert Selection, Select All, Rename) ... Etc.

The Ribbon is a UI model that is successful in Office, even though people said it would suck and hate it and it was awful, but people that truly use it, LOVE IT. Why? Easy access, getting away from dialogs and nested commands in menus, and Live Interaction with Content.

As for the screen space, the Ribbon Can be Minimized, and also 'automatically' minimized, so it opens as you need it, and closes itself. (Just like the Menu in Win7 can appear and disappear with the 'Alt' key automatically, and not take up precious screen space.)

(It is also just like Office, and if anyone that likes the 'clean screen' look, Word 2010 with the Ribbon Minimized is far cleaner with more screen space than any other version of Word to date.)

So if anyone 'still' thinks the Ribbon is bad, or will take up space, they are clinging to ignorance or old habits that they may finally have to break to live in the 21st century. I get tired of the people trying to make Windows 7 work like Windows 3.1 file manager, and if Microsoft has to use shock collars to get people to stop thinking in that antiquated mindset, then I'm even for that.

There are reasons for 'progress', it is up to you to embrace it or stay inside the cave and 'club' the people that have seen there is more than just the cave. -Most of the comments here are the people in the cave wanting to 'club' people to hold on to their ignorance.

---Yes, Plato's Allegory applies here too.

thenetavenger said,
First a correction...
If people are 'enabling' the menu to use it in Windows 7, they are wasting their time, and if a tech writer 'thinks like this', it is a bit scary.

Instead of 'enabling the Menu', just hit the 'Alt' key, the Menu magically appears, and magically disappears after you use it. There is no reason to EVER enable it.

Well you could do that, but what if you use Invert Selection frequently? Then you might as well keep the menu bar on.

When Office first began using the ribbon I moaned and complained, now I am still complaining. The ribbon has always decreased my productivity. I am still a fan of dual pane windows 98 style explorer and use xplorer2 lite edition in my home PC and it makes me super productive. My problem with this ribbon UI is lack of a native option to revert to older menu system. I have always been a microsoft fanboy and an early adopter so far. But if MS is going to target dumb/ casual/new users while ignoring power/experienced users, I am switching to Linux Mint or OS X.

When Office first began using the ribbon I moaned and complained, now it is one of my favourite features in Office because of how much easier it has made things for myself. I believe the same will hold true for this. Many aren't willing to 'change' what currently works for them. I think Microsoft is doing a bold thing shaking the tree. People will complain but I believe the majority will like this.

I also do appreciate that Microsoft focusing on bringing all their products to conform with one another so that they appear as ONE.

I observe that it is being taken rather well, or at least better than here, at Engadget. Well, apart from a few trolls talking about Macs being better.

TruckWEB said,
The ribbon will be more touch friendly for Tablet use.....
Because? The Tab headers are way smaller than the Organize menu in Windows 7. And have you seen how small the "Open with" arrow is? Good look!

Once again people blowing things way out of proportion. Too big? Collapse it. Hotkeys? Fluent's had them since day one, hold down your alt key and there they are. Ugly? Reskin the thing, that's nothing new. Like the old pulldowns? It's Windows, you can hook into anything, can't see why there wouldn't be somebody coming up with a shell extension for it. Too complex? Um is the picture of a printer too complicated for you? Still going to whine about it? Replace the bloody thing with the bajillion Explorer replacements that are out there so you can sleep at night. I'm actually glad for it, people were whining about a lack of a unified UI, Microsoft's doing something about that and now they're whining again.

Sheesh.

What a horrendous mess.

There has to be a better way to expose functionality than to shove a whole bunch of icons in the user's face.

i like how people say "this looks ugly" like if it was rtm... and they wouldn't change anything about it.

second, its not like you cant minimize the ribbon, like any ribbon i know, yeah! surpriseee, ribbons can be hidden! if you dont like it, just put stuff in quick access bar... yeah! ribbon also has quick access bar, all ribbons i know do!.

even 3ds max! yeah even there some people dont like ribbon and some do, the truth is, its faster is some ways, in others not really. and it has its avantages. of course 3dsmax its not made for touch like microsoft expect windows 8 to be, a little finger friendly if you gonna use "normal" version. but it means ribbon works well in alot of places, and if you dont like it or it "takes too much space" you can just MINIMIZE it. and use the QUICK ACCESS toolbar.

EmilyTheStrange said,
i like how people say "this looks ugly" like if it was rtm... and they wouldn't change anything about it.

Uhm, this is pretty much what any Ribbon since Office 2007 has looked like.

I like how they've implemented the ribbon in terms of functionality, placing of buttons, and size of icons, but I do hope they have redesigned the Aero theme so it is completely Metro, and thus Windows Explorer will look much better than this. I'm actually hoping there will be a decent Windows Explorer-like program built-in for the Immersive experience; I'd like to enter this old "Desktop mode" as little as possible.

looks bloody awful

don't see why they are obsessed with putting a ribbon on every damn thing

works well in office and some apps but i would not want it on explorer

MS it is time to borrow from the Metro UI in this case not go backwards in time and use the overly iconed ribbon bar of 2004. This is such a disappointment.

Oh dear, oh dear, its like when you give a 2 year old some colorful crayons...
First they use it on a piece of paper and when you are not watching then they smear all over the place.

Follow the k.i.s.s. method (keep it simple stupid, yeah you ms )
- loose the icon overload (so 90's), we can read!
- only the most used in the "home" ribbon button!!! control yourself!
- give things you can touch a button appereance
- all buttons the same size, important ones first
- if icon is necessary > monochrome and stylized

You can make this sooo cool and functional by just adding the metro ui style to the ribbon. Oh I forgot ms and ui constancy...


Really happy with the new ribbon, at last something for people who want to use their PC for something other than watching movies and posting the latest wallpaper they are using as if they are products. Great step forward MS, was worried Windows was going to only end up with the basic menus a TV has in the end.

There should be the option to pick and choose what you need and for the more simple user maybe it could be kept simple at the beginning and allow extras to be added as required.

New ribbon =

Come on, MS. Your interface guys are great with things like Aero and Metro, but this is really a step backwards if you ask me. Just keep it simple like before.

PlogCF said,
New ribbon =

Come on, MS. Your interface guys are great with things like Aero and Metro, but this is really a step backwards if you ask me. Just keep it simple like before.

I would say that Windows 8 is two steps forward. It satisfies the most basic users, and also the power-users with One OS.
The two interfaces is a really elegant solution.

FMH said,
I would say that Windows 8 is two steps forward. It satisfies the most basic users, and also the power-users with One OS.
The two interfaces is a really elegant solution.

it's more like trying to seat in two chairs at the same time. I can't imagine tablet users just stick with Metro UI menu all the time, and never switch to desktop mode to do some tasks that only can be done there (hence that possibility is the whole point of having such a tablet over other tablets). but turns out so far desktop mode is only taking steps backwards in terms of touch friendly and clean interface.

х.iso said,

it's more like trying to seat in two chairs at the same time. -----

I would disagree with this part. I see it as serial-tasking, not multitasking.

I agree! I'm glad that there is a "Classic UI" function...

PlogCF said,
New ribbon =

Come on, MS. Your interface guys are great with things like Aero and Metro, but this is really a step backwards if you ask me. Just keep it simple like before.

FMH said,
The two interfaces is a really elegant solution.
General rule of thumb: if you had to do two interfaces to satisfy everybody, your solution is probably extremely inelegant.

Buttus said,
but will it be dual pane?

just snap one window to each side of your screen and you have dual panes...
why code functions like dual panes and tab managing for the file explorer when the windows window management easily lets just snap windows in to a similar configuration and the taskbar pretty much fills the task of tabs.

Even with the ability to minimize, I cannot stand the ribbon. It just looks so bloated. A small icon toolbar with frequently used commands worked better for me. With the ribbon out, Outlook looks cramped and with it minimized, I now have to make an extra step for a simple task like replying.

joemailey said,
The ribbon can be hidden, just like it can be in office.

i hate that so many people don't seem to notice this and complain so much

Kuraj said,

i hate that so many people don't seem to notice this and complain so much
And they can easily go to the new Start screen, if they think the buttons are too much.

Kuraj said,

i hate that so many people don't seem to notice this and complain so much

That's no solution! You would still need to open or switch tabs for simple tasks like changing the view! And the smart behavior of the context sensitive Command Bar will still be gone.

Yes, it is well overdue!!! MS are you listening. Forget the d@mn ribbon bar, it feels as if though we are moving backwards in this case.

Cryton said,
All I want in Windows Explorer is tabbed exploring.

Why? Can you seriously explain it? Why add another layer to window managing? If you had 3 folders open you would need to open Explorer and switch to that tab. Now you already have "tabs" of Explorer inside the Taskbar. Just disable grouping of Taskbar Buttons.

tiadimundo said,

Why? Can you seriously explain it? ...

I can tell you I have tabbed browsing thanks to QTTabbar and it has changed the way I deal with my desktop for the better. If you don't want to use the new tabbed interface (fingers crossed) then just turn it off in the options menu.

tiadimundo said,

Why? Can you seriously explain it? Why add another layer to window managing? If you had 3 folders open you would need to open Explorer and switch to that tab. Now you already have "tabs" of Explorer inside the Taskbar. Just disable grouping of Taskbar Buttons.

Because if i have three Windows Explorers open I can never be sure where those windows were last, which screen they will open on, if they'll open in the front of the screen or behind other windows, which one is the one i want and a whole load of other things.

I'd love to be able to keep all my exploring of files in one tabbed window so I can more easily manage my files and do the file management I have to do.

Too much buttons! Some of the customers may get confused and think: WOW! Which button should I click next?

I hope that the ribbon menu can be set to minimized globally...

GraphiteCube said,
Too much buttons! Some of the customers may get confused and think: WOW! Which button should I click next?

I hope that the ribbon menu can be set to minimized globally...


If people get confused and can't take just a short bit of time to understand it, they're idiots.

Callum said,

If people get confused and can't take just a short bit of time to understand it, they're idiots.

People shouldn't be automatically labeled as 'idiots' if they can't adapt to a new UI. Not everyone is quick to change, and you can't expect to design user interfaces solely for the fast adoption crowd. That's fine. So developers simply have to work towards maximizing the group of users who accept their changes, instead of telling people to RTFM and call it a day.

Design is a two-way street. Developers don't rule all but it isn't 100% design-by-committee even if it's a paid product.

The best thing about the ribbon is that you can minimise it for maximum real estate.

Plus, "Invert Selection" on the ribbon, fantastic!
It's my 8th most used explorer feature.
I remember the hissyfit that myself and others got into when they tried to remove it in early Win7 builds.

If they use that first image as the explorer window, wow. It looks like a cluster-****. If they went back to the way it was displayed in XP, that would be fine since the icons were small and unobtrusive.

I can just imagine that ribbon on a netbook ... it would take up the entire screen, lol.

Lexcyn said,
If they use that first image as the explorer window, wow. It looks like a cluster-****. If they went back to the way it was displayed in XP, that would be fine since the icons were small and unobtrusive.

I can just imagine that ribbon on a netbook ... it would take up the entire screen, lol.

It takes up less than the Windows 7 Explorer UI does. The blog post mentions that by default 24 items are displayed, while Windows 7 displays only 22 items.

Lexcyn said,
If they use that first image as the explorer window, wow. It looks like a cluster-****. If they went back to the way it was displayed in XP, that would be fine since the icons were small and unobtrusive.

I can just imagine that ribbon on a netbook ... it would take up the entire screen, lol.

I forgot to mention this, and I've added a small bit to the article. But to reiterate:

The Details pane is on the right, and given most people have widescreen monitors, the change seems sensible. In addition, that means a bit more vertical space for files.

SekaiStory said,

It takes up less than the Windows 7 Explorer UI does. The blog post mentions that by default 24 items are displayed, while Windows 7 displays only 22 items.


Have you even looked at that screenshot? If you close the Library Pane (it's not there anymore in Windows 8) and make the Details Pane as small as the status bar, then you will have a larger screen real estate.
That comparison wasn't fair. They are lying to themselves.

I'm sorry, but I just don't like it at all. Way too complex now. They ruined it with the Ribbon like they did with Windows Live Mail.

Bern@rd said,
I'm sorry, but I just don't like it at all. Way too complex now. They ruined it with the Ribbon like they did with Windows Live Mail.

How is removing one click from some operations "too complex" ? Any monkey can click a button.

SharpGreen said,

How is removing one click from some operations "too complex" ? Any monkey can click a button.

Clicking a button isn't complex. Finding the right button can be complex.
With the Ribbon you have to know where commands are. On the "Home" Tab there are more than 20 commands. It will take more time to see the command you need.

The Ribbon is just not the right solution for Explorer.

Neobond said,
I can see how this would help less tech savvy users, but it sort of makes it look very bloated as well lol.

My thoughts exactly. Ribbon UI is great for apps like Photo Gallery, but it takes too much space on Explorer me thinks.
Edit: Looks like they've put the option to collapse the Ribbon UI.

Edited by fehuris, Aug 29 2011, 5:44pm :

Neobond said,
I can see how this would help less tech savvy users, but it sort of makes it look very bloated as well lol.

It looks quite alright in motion, and its nice on a touchscreen. Plus, you can always minimise it. Just a shame they don't use the same glass style ribbon tabs that Office uses.

Notice that the ribbon is collapsible, the little up arrow on the top right, I don't see the problem with having it as an option. Personally I do everything by hotkeys or right click anyway.

Neobond said,
I can see how this would help less tech savvy users, but it sort of makes it look very bloated as well lol.

They are making two aspects of Windows 8. One is the new Start screen, and other is desktop version.

They are making the new Start screen, extremely clean and usable. While at the same time making the desktop version more powerful and feature-full for the power-users.

This strategy may have been inspired by the skins/overlays some OEMs of their's shipped their PCs with, which just had the basic features. Like what HP was doing with WebOS, but they realized it was useless since they couldn't have competed with Microsoft, and thus cancelled the project.

Neobond said,
I can see how this would help less tech savvy users, but it sort of makes it look very bloated as well lol.

ehmm but you can minizime the ribbon like in ANY ribbon?... if you dont need it you can minimize it and use the quick acces bar if you want? so i dont understand your point. if you dont need it like i dont do 99% of the time, since i use keyboard its all about minimizing it and now you got more space than Win7 explorer

EmilyTheStrange said,

ehmm but you can minizime the ribbon like in ANY ribbon?... if you dont need it you can minimize it and use the quick acces bar if you want? so i dont understand your point. if you dont need it like i dont do 99% of the time, since i use keyboard its all about minimizing it and now you got more space than Win7 explorer

Unless ur using a tinmy screen, why do you need to minimize it even if you use the keys or mouse anyways?!

Stetson said,

You can minimize the ribbon, just like in other ribbon apps:

http://blogs.msdn.com/cfs-file...stomizations_5F00_thumb.png

In fact I think that should be the default.


Of course you can, it just either way ruins clean look that Windows 7 explorer have. Also it's a step back from a touch-friendly interface, because more than half of the icons in Ribbon are too small, and also "quickbar" on the screenshot you shown is just horrid and totally not touch friendly.
So yeah, they did "expose as much as possible functionality", but totally failed with "simplify the user interface" part. Once again, of course you can collapse the Ribbon, but it doesn't make it look like current W7 explorer at all, because buttons for common tasks in W7 are not too big and not too small, just the perfect size.