Alternatively referred to as File Explorer or Windows Explorer, Explorer is a file browser found in every version of Microsoft Windows since Windows 95. It is used to navigate and manage the drives, folders, and files on a computer. Although similar, Explorer is not the same as "My Computer," nor is it "Microsoft Internet Explorer," even though Internet Explorer is sometimes improperly referred to as Explorer.

Windows File Explorer

Tip: Users more familiar with the Apple Mac OS can think of Explorer as Finder.

Ways to open Windows Explorer

  • Users with a keyboard that has the Windows key can press the Windows key and E key at the same time.
  • In Windows 7 and earlier versions, right-click the Start button and select Explorer or Open Windows Explorer.
  • In Windows 8 and 8.1, right-click the bottom-left corner of the screen to get the Power User Menu and choose File Explorer
  • In Windows 10, press the Windows key + X on the keyboard to open the Power User Task Menu, then select File Explorer in the menu.
  • Click Start > Programs > Accessories > Windows Explorer or Explorer.
  • In the Windows Start Menu or Start Screen, type explorer.exe or windows explorer in the Search text field and press Enter.
  • Click Start > Run, and type explorer.exe and press Enter.
  • Open the windows or winnt directory and double-click the explorer.exe file.
  • Command line users can type explorer, and then press Enter.

Examples of how Windows Explorer could be used

Windows DocumentsBelow are examples of what can be done in Explorer.

Open a document

Microsoft has made it easier to find your documents in Windows by creating a My Documents folder. Once in Explorer, you can open My Documents and double-click the document file to open the document.

Open a program

Although most programs create a shortcut to programs in the Start Menu or Start Screen after it has been installed, you can also open a program through Explorer. To open a program in Explorer, browse to the Program Files folder by opening the C: drive and then double-clicking the Program Files folder. In the listing of folders, find the program you want to open and double-click its folder. Finally, once in the program folder, find the executable file and double-click that file to run the program. Since file extensions are disabled by default, you can determine an executable by looking for a file with the same name of the program or that has an icon representing the program.

Search for a file or folder

Within the Search tab you can find files or folders on your computers. Press the F3 shortcut key to open search at any time while in Windows Explorer.

Other system tasks and functions

Using Windows Explorer, you can also do any of the below system tasks and functions.

Related pages

Also see: My computer, Operating system terms, Views button