Windows 10: File Explorer Redesign [Ongoing]

I love the Universal Windows Platform, or as it’s commonly abbreviated to, UWP. Apps made on it, compared to traditionally written Win32 apps, tend to fly. Trackpad physics on them tend to be accurate, and their touch-friendliness – especially in this day and age, where people poke at every visible screen to see if it responds to touch – is crucial.

Microsoft has, over the past few years, been encouraging developers to write apps as UWP ones, providing them with a (too slowly growing) framework to make it easy for an app to be written from start to finish. 
The ultimate goal, over the next few years – at least, that’s what the most popular theory dictates – is to turn Windows into a UWP-only platform, dubbing this “Core OS”. Traditional Win32 programs would then run on an emulation layer that can be added to this Core OS, making for a modular approach to how Windows could operate.

Core OS is already out there, on Microsoft’s own Surface Hub computers. It’s not currently functional on a larger-scale consumer level, however, and I (being code-illiterate, for now at least) figured, if there’d be any place for its expansion to begin, the File Explorer would be the first place to do so .
Windows already has a UWP-based File Explorer (the one you’re used to is the traditional Win32 one), hidden away. It’s easy to access, though, and if you’re really interested, here’s a way to access it.

Its functionality, however, pales in comparison to the Win32 Explorer, and in general is far more cumbersome to use. It’s nothing like other, far more fluid UWP apps – such as SoundByte and MyTube – and is effectively useless. The only item of interest here is simply that an official, first-party UWP-based File Explorer exists and is (possibly) being developed further. And for the sake of clarity, here’s what the normal, old-school Win32 File Explorer looks like, in contrast.

After spending a week using only the UWP File Explorer, and came to a number of conclusions:
1. Speed is pretty lacking, mainly because of an unintuitive single click to select/double click to enter system
2. The sidebar doesn’t really do much3. Lack of detailed viewing options
4. Gestures to change viewing options – like pinching, etc – doesn’t do anything

5. Address bar is unintuitive, a button to edit its content isn’t optimal6. Why have a separate UX + UI for touch selection and keyboard selection?7. No status bar for quick file info8. No separation for core folders (Music, etc) and Partitions9. Right click does nothing beyond copy/properties, and cut/copy/paste.

The Win32 persona of the File Explorer, is far from perfect. Here are the most easily noticeable, initial drawbacks I found, keeping an eye out for them given I’m more used to its flaws than the former example.
1. The ribbon is an utter mess
2. Tons of redundant functions and buttons with far too many hidden menus for repetitive options3. Preview is non-functional, showing only a glorified version of the object thumbnail

4. Iconography and menu styles are outdated5. Lack of modern-looking menus and windows6. Completely nonexistent trackpad physics

Bearing these in mind, I worked towards developing an initial prototype for a redesigned version of the File Explorer. Not from the ground-up, mind you; I bore in mind that above everything, familiarity is key to keep users happy given that the File Explorer has been around for decades at this point, and its design has worked for a reason. Here’s what came of putting all this information together, in the form of a gorgeously rendered sketch:

MacOS’ Finder, via Soy de Mac

The biggest change I made was to divide functionality by relevance: if a button or function was more relevant to the folder – such as display options and folder-specific items like creating a new folder and selecting items in it, it stayed up top. If it was more file-specific, like cutting, copying and deleting, it would be pushed into the preview pane. Here’s a list of items that I’d intended to outright remove:

1. The share ribbon. Windows 10 comes with its own share menu, and is robust enough to replace this outright
2. Item check boxes/File name extensions and others can be thrown into explorer settings, as they already are right now.

3. Extra large icons/tiles. Instead, a new hierarchy with icons, list and details. Pinch to zoom/ctrl+scroll within these options can adjust their respective information densities; medium would be the default for everything.

Another change I made was turning the address bar into an omnibar of sorts – if web browsers can tell the difference between a search term and a URL, then the File Explorer should realistically be able to tell the difference between a folder’s address and search terms. As mockups go, the very first one I built changed several times over the course of two days, with six iterations made, with each adding a detail that further augmented ease of use.

Its current state is, in relative comparison, more complete than the others, with clearer indications of what certain buttons (such as the viewing options) do, and drop shadows where necessary to add a sense of depth and ease of use. So without further ado, here it is:

Wallpaper via Jacob Zinman-Jeanes, Icons via Microsoft


The above is the fully expanded take on the Explorer; I’ve also made mockups for what it’d look like should you choose to shrink its window size, at two different stages. The idea was for the preview to collapse first, followed by the file hierarchy, followed by the button labels, leaving only their icons.

The idea is that when the File Explorer window is complete – that is, when it’s wide enough that both the file hierarchy and the preview pane can be revealed – expanding the entire window will keep the widths of the file hierarchy and the preview panes constant, with only the central panel – the one with all the files in it – expanding the number of files one can see in it. One can modify the width of the hierarchy and preview panes by manually dragging the respective lines between them and the files pane.

Note: I intend for this to be the beginning of a long-term project of sorts, and – as already demonstrated above – intend for this to evolve over time as I receive feedback from peers and strangers alike; alongside, I will also be adding a greater deal of detail to the mockups, with examples of how other screens and drop down menus will look, along with, of course, a dark theme. Similarly, will continue to fine-tune these as time passes. Stay tuned!