Earlier this week, Microsoft rolled out build 25179 to the Windows 11 Dev Channel, and it finally enabled the tabbed interface in File Explorer for everyone. Tabbed File Explorer has been officially available in the Dev Channel since build 25136 for a subset of users, and even before then, you could force-trigger it in build 22572. Now, it has been released for all Dev Channel Insiders.
It is important to understand that tabbed File Explorer is not ready for public consumption by the masses yet, which is exactly why it is only available in the Insider Preview for those who opt-in to it. As such, it is naive to expect perfection or even stability from the feature. That said, when the feature does arrive officially, I expect it to have more capabilities than what are currently on offer.
So, I have decided to jot down a list of functionalities that I would expect a tabbed interface to offer when, and if, it becomes generally available (GA). Seeing that Windows 11 version 22H2 is expected to land in a couple of months without this UX and Windows 11 version 23H2 being reportedly canceled, I would expect tabbed File Explorer to land sometime next year as a “moments” update, provided that it does hit GA.
With that out of the way, let's begin!
1 - Better performance
As it currently stands, tabbed File Explorer (which I'll just refer to as “File Explorer” for the rest of this article) isn't the most efficient piece of software out there. Although you'll be fine when using a couple of tabs, it does show notable jitter when you have multiple tabs open. In fact, I actually noticed that opening a new window of File Explorer seems to be a bit faster than opening a new tab.
I know that this is preview software, so I'm not knocking on it. What I want to emphasize is that if this File Explorer does hit GA, I would want it to have way better performance than what it currently offers.
I don't expect to open more than a few tabs at a time, but Microsoft has to think of the way the market is going to use it. The tabbed interface is quite similar to what we have in our browsers right now, and a lot of people have the habit of having dozens of tabs open simultaneously. The same user group might try to use the new File Explorer the same way and end up ditching the capability altogether if it doesn't meet their performance expectations.
I fully understand that a browser and a File Explorer aren't equivalent, so they should not have the same performance targets. What I mean is that people may use them in the same way. As such, Microsoft needs to give this area some thought. One method would be to have some kind of “soft” limit or recommendation of how many tabs can be open simultaneously, and then giving people the option to change it to an arbitrary number if they are okay with the performance hit. There could be other ways to tackle this problem, this is just one of those.
2 - Merge tabs
Something interesting that Microsoft could work on next could be the ability to “merge” tabs. Consider a use-case where you have two directories open, and you want to compare their content and manually copy-paste files between both.
One way to do this would be to have two separate instances of File Explorer open and have them snapped next to each other. However, a tabbed interface is supposed to make the need for separate instances redundant to some extent, so you could also open the two directories in two tabs. The drawback here would be that you wouldn't be able to see both at the same time.
As such, one avenue Microsoft could explore would be to give users the ability to merge tabs, where you can have multiple tabs open side by side depending on your screen real estate. You can see an example of this below where two tabs have been merged with the option to split them off again in separate tabs if you want:
I don't think that this is an absolutely necessary feature, but I do believe that it could improve productivity for many people who are involved in workflows where they need to have multiple directories open while having the ability to view them simultaneously. Microsoft hasn't really added a lot of new functionalities to File Explorer in the past few years, so this could be a decent experiment.
3 - Better context menus for tabs
Right now, File Explorer has a very bare-bones context menu specific to the tab. If you right-click on a tab, you'll get a small context menu that gives you these three options:
- Close tab
- Close other tabs
- Close tabs to the right
It would be nice to have more options like Duplicate, Pin, and Merge, depending on the functionalities that Microsoft is planning for File Explorer in the long run.
4 - Persistent tab groups
I can't help but draw comparisons between browsers and File Explorer due to the similar interface that they now offer. With that in mind, I also wouldn't mind having the ability to make tab groups.
Now, I have a bunch of Neowin-related folders in different directories, so I would appreciate if I could create a tab group that contains all of those different directories. And then, there would be a single-click mechanism with which I could open a collection of tabs.
Of course, you could pin those directories in the Favorites section and open them individually, but what I am proposing is the ability to open multiple pre-defined tabs with a single click. In theory, I could have separate directories containing Neowin logos, custom images, and other miscellaneous content open across multiple tabs with a single click.
Since we are drawing comparisons to browsers, my preferred browser Chrome actually falters a bit in this space because the tab groups it offers are ephemeral in nature. You lose them if you close your browser window or restart your PC - unless you find them in your browser history. I would like File Explorer to overcome this problem by offering tab groups of a persistent nature. Personally, I'd love to experiment with something like this and see how it impacts my workflow.
5 - Drag and drop tabs as windows
I feel like a major missing feature in File Explorer right now is the lack of ability to drag-and-drop a tab as a separate instance/window of File Explorer.
People who use tabs in File Explorer quite heavily might want to de-clutter their interface a bit by dragging and dropping their windows across different instances. In essence, this would be a hybrid workflow where you are using both tabs and windows to de-clutter your workflows.
However, this is not currently possible at all. You can drag-and-drop tabs in the same window, but you can't drop it as a new instance. I believe that it is very important to have this capability, and I would love it if Microsoft could implement it in the future.
That's it for my wishlist for the features I want in tabbed File Explorer in Windows 11. Do you agree with the list? Do you have a wishlist of your own in this space too? Let us know in the comments section below!