Windows Explorer Explained: The Address Bar

Judging by the volume of e-mail I've received in the last few days, a lot of people share my confusion and/or frustration with Windows Explorer. I'm glad to hear these mini-tutorials are proving helpful, and I'll keep them coming for at least another couple days.

Today, let's talk about the Address Bar, which is not only poorly named (it should really be called the Location Bar), but also pretty confusing--especially for users who were accustomed to the Windows XP version.

Found near the top of the Explorer window, the Address Bar displays the hard drive "address" of the currently selected folder. In XP, that would look something like this: C:\Data\Spreadsheets\Financials\Third Quarter. But in Vista and Windows 7, the Address Bar got an overhaul:

Gone were the backslashes; in their place, little arrows. Though it may look a little weird, this new convention offers a much better way to navigate your folders. (Novice users, now would be a good time to read my post on the difference between files and folders.)

In the above example, I've opened the PC World folder, which is a sub-folder of my Graphics folder. Graphics is a sub-folder of Data, which is a folder that's found on the root directory of my hard drive.

Suppose I want to quickly jump from the PC World folder to the Data folder. Simple: just click Data in the Address Bar. And if I want to jump to a different Data sub-folder (say, Documents instead of Graphics), I click the little arrow next to Data, then choose the folder I want.

This makes a lot more sense once you try it out for yourself. The bottom line is that the Address Bar can make folder navigation a lot quicker. But it's optional--if you're more comfortable with the traditional tree structure, there's always the Navigation pane (see Windows Explorer Explained: Changing the Layout).

Ready for a couple Address Bar tricks? If you click in a blank area, the location instantly changes to show the old-school folder path. You can type in a different path and press Enter to jump directly to it. Or, better yet, type in the name of a common location: Computer, Contacts, Control Panel, Documents, Favorites, Pictures, and so on. Neat!

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