When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Here’s how it works.

Closer Look: Tabbed File Explorer in Windows 11 Dev Channel build 22572

Windows 11 screenshot from the leaked build and the logo

Closer Look is a series where we typically discuss Windows 11 features in more detail. Although we have recently expanded our coverage to also talk about capabilities being introduced in Insider Preview builds, we will go one step even further today by talking about a feature that's not even available by default in the Windows 11 Dev Channel.

I'm talking about the "secret" tabbed File Explorer that is present in the latest Windows 11 Dev Channel build 22572, of course. This is something that was recently discovered and if you want to know how to enable it, you can check out our guide here.

Although it's not available by default in the Insider ring, this Closer Look piece will talk about some of the missing features that will perhaps shine more light on why Microsoft hasn't released tabbed File Explorer yet. The fact of the matter is simply that there are a lot of functionalities that you would expect a tabbed interface to have, but are not present in the current implementation.

A screenshot of tabbed File Explorer in Windows 11 Dev Channel build 22572

But starting off with the good stuff, the basics of a tabbed interface are there. It's nice to see that the overall UI is quite similar to a browser window, which is good because it means that there's not a significant learning curve to familiarize yourself with the interface. You will notice the familiar Windows 11 design aesthetics too, such as rounded corners. Overall, I think it's quite aesthetically pleasing, even in its current unfinished state.

You can click on the "+" icon in the window to open more tabs. I did notice a slight stutter while the new tab populated with icons, which was a bit jarring, but then again, this is an early look so we can't fault Microsoft for this just yet.

I was pleased to see that if you copy and paste files between the same directories open in different tabs, both tabs automatically get refreshed to show you the updated view. Similarly, Snap Layouts work as expected too. I didn't notice any bugs in either of these processes which means that Microsoft has at least nailed the basics already.

Screenshots of File Explorer in Windows 11

It is also interesting to see that a tabbed File Explorer is treated as a single process in Task Manager. So if you have tons of tabs open in File Explorer, it will still be shown as a single tab. I'm not sure if it matters much to our readers in the context of actual use-cases, but I'm just drawing a comparison to the "default" look where multiple File Explorer instances are obviously treated as separate instances in Task Manager.

Screenshots of File Explorer in Windows 11

Now coming over to what doesn't work is where we'll see some of the reasons why Microsoft hasn't rolled this out yet. The first thing I noticed was that you can't drag your File Explorer instance by clicking on the area above tabs. If you see my screenshot above, the red line is where even if I click my mouse and drag to move the window, File Explorer will not respond. I need to drag the "untabbed" area in the blue line for this to function. So if you have lots of tabs open, your real estate to drag the entire window gets drastically reduced, I'm sure Microsoft does not intend this to be the default behavior.

A screenshot of tabbed File Explorer in Windows 11 Dev Channel

It's clear that drag-and-drop behaviors aren't ready yet. This is evident in other places too where you can't drag your tabs to reorder them, drag them out of the window and spin them up as another instance, or even drag-and-drop content between different tabs. It just shows you the icon highlighted above, indicating that the functionality is not possible.

Since the whole idea behind tabbed interfaces is improvements in multitasking, I am once again sure that this is something that will be fixed ahead of general release.

Another thing I noticed was that the tab title bars don't have any context menus. Now, this is something that I probably expect due to my experience with tabbed interfaces in browsers so I'm not sure if this is something Microsoft plans to add, but it would be nice to have context menu options to group tabs, close multiple tabs, or open a duplicate tab, among other things.

A screenshot of tabbed File Explorer in Windows 11 Dev Channel build 22572

That said, you can right-click on folders and then click on "open in new tab" to have it open separately. This can be seen in the screenshot above.

A screenshot of tabbed File Explorer in Windows 11 Dev Channel build 22572

This also works with .zip files where you can view the content of a compressed file but it's a bit buggy in its current state as it doesn't show the name of the file in the title bar of the tab, as can be seen above.

All in all, at this point, I'm just glad that Microsoft is implementing a tabbed interface in File Explorer again after it unceremoniously shelved it in 2019. At that time, it gave no public reasoning for this, even though the initial announcement of "Sets" tabbed interfaces for Windows 10 in 2017 had generated quite a bit of excitement. Let's hope that Microsoft further improves the user experience and rolls it out eventually, preferably with the next major update of Windows 11 (version 22H2) expected later this year.

Report a problem with article
Windows 11 Insider Preview written with an image of a dummy laptop running Windows 11
Next Article

Microsoft releases Windows 11 build 22572.100 (KB5012817) to test servicing pipeline

unity game development logo
Previous Article

Save 98% off this 2022 Unity Game Developer Training Bundle

Join the conversation!

Login or Sign Up to read and post a comment.

19 Comments - Add comment