File Explorer gets tabs and redesigned navigation on Windows 11

Windows 11 gets an updated version of File Explorer with tabs and a new navigation pane, and here's all you need to know.

File Explorer tabs in dark mode
File Explorer tabs in dark mode

Microsoft has begun testing an updated version of File Explorer that officially brings support for tabs and a redesigned layout for the navigation pane on Windows 11. The new visual improvements for the file manager are available to a limited number of testers with devices enrolled in the Dev Channel running Windows 11 build 25136.

Support for tabs has been available before as a hidden feature on build 22572, but it was later removed and scrapped from the version 22H2 development. On build 25136, tabs are officially available in File Explorer, and the app even comes with a redesigned navigation pane to make it easier to navigate files and folders.

File Explorer tabs

In File Explorer, tabs work like the experience in the web browser. Instead of having multiple instances of the app, you can now use one instance of the app to navigate multiple folders and drive locations.

File Explorer tabs (preview)
File Explorer tabs (preview)

When you open the file manager, you will find a plus (+) button to create a new tab in the title bar. Or you can right-click a folder and select the option to open in a new tab.

When comparing the old and new designs, we can see some improvements. For example, you can now right-click a tab to access a context menu with the options to close the current, close all others, or close tabs on the right.

You can also re-arrange as needed using the mouse.

File Explorer even includes some keyboard shortcuts to work with tabs. You can use the Ctrl + T keyboard shortcut to create a new tab, the Ctrl + W keyboard shortcut to close a tab, and you can use the middle button of the mouse to close a tab.

Redesigned navigation pane

File Explorer also comes with redesigned navigation pane. The new visual changes provide easy access to pinned and frequently used folders and OneDrive cloud profiles, which now reflect the user’s name associated with the account.

File Explorer new navigation (preview)
File Explorer new navigation (preview)

Also, when navigating to folders syncing to OneDrive, the address bar displays the correct path to make it easier to understand when the folders are on the cloud versus when they are local to you.

The known folders (Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, etc.) are no longer displayed under “This PC” to keep that view focused on the drives.

This PC page with drivers only (preview)
This PC page with drives only (preview)

Microsoft is currently testing the new tab and navigation pane improvements, which means that not everyone will see them. However, you can use these instructions to enable both features.

Since these changes are part of the active development of Windows 11, they are not expected to arrive until the next feature update in the fall of 2023 (presumably).

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].