Windows 11: Rolling out a test build in File Explorer

EarTrumpet developer Rafael Rivera spotted hints of the test in March before Microsoft confirmed that the feature, as well as the new Home screen for File Explorer is coming to Windows 11.

It’s been about four years since Microsoft tested and then abandoned an attempt at adding tabbed browsing to the File Explorer in Windows 10; a new Windows 11 preview build released today is giving it another shot.

As a result, file Explorer navigation is becoming more browser-like, and Taskbar widgets are suddenly dynamic.

A post on the Windows Insider Blog explains that Build 25136 is testing a File Explorer browser with tabs so you can jump back and forth across folders without popping open a new window. However, even if you’re a Windows Insider and your PC is set to receive Dev Channel builds (for people who are willing to receive the most active updates, even if there’s a chance they’re unstable), you may not see the test right away.

Senior program manager Brandon LeBlanc emphasized in a tweet that the features are rolling out. However, they will wait for feedback before enabling it for more testers.

It also includes an experimental left navigation panel that lists the Home button first, followed by your OneDrive cloud-synced folders, then folders you’ve pinned for quick access, with This PC and Network drives below that. In the test, Microsoft says, “Known Windows folders which are available by default in the navigation pane are no longer displayed under This PC to keep that view focused for your PC’s drives.”

The other significant feature it’s rolling out tests of in this build brings more dynamic content to widgets in the Windows 11 taskbar. Microsoft only recently restored the Weather widget to the toolbar in Windows 11 with live updates. Still, it’s testing automatically refreshed content for sports and finance widgets, as well as breaking news alerts.

 The Windows 11 Insider tests of Media Player with a “date added” sort option and Notepad with support for keyboard access keys.

Earlier in the day, the team mentioned testing an updated Notepad app with native support for ARM64 devices and support for assistive techs like screen readers, text scaling, and access keys.

In addition, a Media Player update is available to all Insiders for testing. It has added CD playback support (some people will appreciate that more than others) and a new filtering option that allows users to sort their collections by Date Added or, as I call it, The Correct Way.

Windows Explorer was first included with Windows 95 as a replacement for File Manager, which came with all versions of Windows 3.x operating systems. Explorer could be approached by double-clicking the new My Computer desktop icon or launched from the new Start Menu that replaced the earlier Program Manager. There is also a shortcut key blend: Windows key+E.

Successive versions of Windows (and in some cases, Internet Explorer) introduced new features and capabilities, removed other components, and progressed from a simple file system navigation tool into a task-based file administration system.

While “File Explorer” or “Windows Explorer” is a term most generally used to describe the file management aspect of the operating system, the Explorer process also houses the operating system’s search functionality and File Type associations (based on filename extensions). In addition, it is responsible for displaying the desktop icons, the Start Menu, the Taskbar, and the Control Panel. Collectively, these features are known as the Windows shell.

After a user logs in, the explorer process is created by the userinit process. First, Userinit initializes the user environment (such as running the login script and applying group policies) and then looks in the registry at the Shell value and creates a process to run the system-defined shell – by default, Explorer.exe, then, Userinit exits.