So just what is this creature anyway? More than a few experienced Windows users don't even realize that this tool has a name. Windows Explorer is the graphical file and folder management utility that is seamlessly integrated into the operating system, meaning that it can be launched from almost anywhere. Right-click on the Start Menu, for example, and you are using the Windows Explorer utility to explore the contents of the Start Menu.
You can launch Windows Explorer in a number of ways. For example, you can choose Start | All Programs | Accessories | Windows Explorer. However, most Windows veterans long ago discovered less click-intensive ways to get to an Explorer window. You could, for example, hold down the "Windows" key and press "E." Explorer launches with nary a click. The author's personal favorite: right-click the My Computer icon and then choose Explore from the shortcut menu. My Computer can be found either on the Start Menu or on the desktop, depending on how you've set up the interface (by default, the My Computer icon does not reside on the Desktop; see Chapter 5, "Customizing the Windows Interface," for information on how to change this).
It is important to realize that Windows Explorer is not Internet Explorer, although you can access Internet pages from Windows Explorer, just as you can after launching Internet Explorer. So is it an application or part of the operating system? It can all get very confusing, and Microsoft capitalized on this confusion when warding off lawsuits from Netscape.
Anyway, if you've recently made the switch to XP from a previous version of Windows, you'll quickly notice that this new Windows Explorer contains some significant differences. One is that the left side looks quite different.
The Explorer interface is still split into two panes, one on the left and one on the right. The left pane used to contain something called the Tree pane or folder list, depending on whom you asked. The right side then displayed the contents of your folder selection in the Tree pane.
In XP, though, the left side now shows a new pane called a Task pane, as shown in Figure 7-1. With the Task pane, you can perform a series of tasks on the objects you've selected in the Details pane (which is mostly unchanged from previous versions of Windows). These tasks include copying and moving files, sending email messages, displaying pictures and slide shows, and playing music. The tasks available will change depending on what you've selected in the Details pane.
Figure 7-1. Windows Explorer now uses a Task pane on the left side.
Just as you must do in other areas of the Windows XP interface, you must first decide whether you want to use these new features. In Windows XP, you can easily switch back to the classic interface of previous Windows versions.