Brief Analysis: Tabs in Windows 11 File Manager

In the latest installment of the Closer Look series, tech media Neowin looks at the tabs feature in File Manager in the Windows 11 Build 22572 preview. Overall, the tabs feature is easy to get started with and the overall style fits with Windows 11, so users don’t need a big learning curve and the feature will improve their work efficiency.

For years, Windows users have been asking Microsoft to add tabbed functionality to File Manager, with little success. in 2017, Microsoft finally gave in and added a tabbed interface (Windows Sets) to the preview version of Windows 10. But then the feature was removed by Microsoft again, and the OS spent the next five years without tabs in File Explorer.

On the bright side, the basics have been provided in the new version. You’ll also notice the familiar Windows 11 design aesthetics, such as rounded corners. Overall, I think it’s quite aesthetically pleasing, even in its current unfinished state.

You can click the “+” icon in the window to open more tabs. However, I did notice a slight pause in the actual experience when populating icons in new tabs, which is a bit uncomfortable, but then again, this is an early look, so we can’t blame Microsoft for that yet.

I was pleased to see that if you copy and paste files between the same directories open in different tabs, both tabs will automatically refresh to show you the updated view. Again, the “Snap Group” works as expected. I didn’t notice any errors in either process, which means Microsoft has at least got the basics down.

It is also interesting to note that in Task Manager, the tabbed File Explorer is treated as a single process. So if you have a large number of tabs open in File Explorer, it will still show up as a single tab. Not sure if this has much impact on our readers in real-world use cases, but I’m just comparing it to the “default” look, where multiple instances of File Explorer are apparently treated as separate instances in Task Manager.


1.  Drag and drop

There are still some shortcomings in the current tabs feature. The first thing is that you can’t drag your File Explorer instance by clicking on the area above the tabs. As you can see in the screenshot above, the red line is where File Explorer will not respond even if I click the mouse and drag to move the window. I need to drag the “no tabs” area in the blue line for this to work. So if you have a lot of tabs open, you have drastically less room to drag the whole window, and I’m sure Microsoft doesn’t intend to make this the default behavior.

It is clear that the drag and drop behavior is not ready yet. This is also apparent elsewhere; you can’t drag your tabs to reorder them, you can’t drag them out of the window and spin them up as another instance, you can’t even drag and drop content between tabs. It just shows you the icons highlighted above, indicating that the feature is not possible. Since the whole idea behind the tabbed interface is an improvement to multitasking, I’m once again sure this will be addressed before the full release.

2. Tabs do not support right-click menu

Another problem when it comes to the tab title bar is that there isn’t any right-click menu. Now, this is probably what I would 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 right-click menu options to group tabs, close multiple tabs, or open a duplicate tab, among other things.

You can right-click on a folder and click “Open in new tab” to have it open separately. This can be seen in the screenshot above. This also works for .zip files, where you can view the contents of the zip file, but it is a bit buggy in its current state because it does not show the name of the file in the title bar of the tab, as shown in the screenshot above.