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Windows 8: Microsoft Shows Off ‘Ribbonized’ File-management UI and Improvements in Accessing ISO and VHD Files

The Windows 8 team in the latest posts is showing off more of the guts of Windows 8’s Explorer feature and Accessing data in ISO and VHD files:

In the first post, the Windows 8 Engineering Team is continuing to trumpet the coming changes in the Windows Explorer component of the coming operating system. In the August 29 blog post, the Softies explained more about the Explorer file manager application built into Windows 8.

Microsoft is revamping the Explorer to use the Ribbon user interface, “(w)hile not primarily a touch interface, the ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus and context menus (we’ll have lots more to say on the topic of touch, of course … we definitely know there is a lot of interest but also want to make clear that we know how important keyboard and mouse scenarios are to power-user scenarios of file management).”

According to the Alex Simons author of the post, the team set out following three main goals of the new Windows Explorer:

  1. Optimize Explorer for file management tasks. Return Explorer to its roots as an efficient file manager and expose some hidden gems, those file management commands already in Explorer that many customers might not even know exist.
  2. Create a streamlined command experience. Put the most used commands in the most prominent parts of the UI so they are easy to find, in places that make sense and are reliable. Organize the commands in predictable places and logical groupings according to context, and present relevant information right where you need it.
  3. Respect Explorer’s heritage.Maintain the power and richness of Explorer and bring back the most relevant and requested features from the Windows XP era when the current architecture and security model of Windows permits.

Simons said that;

“while most of the work we’ve done is focused on making Explorer work for everyone, we also wanted to make sure we were giving our more sophisticated users a good experience as well. One of the top requests from more advanced users is for more keyboard shortcuts. All of the existing Windows Explorer shortcuts work in this version of Explorer, but with our new approach, all of the approximately 200 commands in the ribbon now have keyboard shortcuts as well. (Note that we haven’t finalized the exact number of commands in the ribbon yet. It will likely end up between 198 and 203 when we’re done.)

Advanced customers have also traditionally asked for the ability to customize Explorer more. The Explorer in Windows XP was probably the most customizable version to date (you could add or remove a pre-specified set of buttons from the toolbar and customize the layout) but the Explorer UI in Windows 7 and Vista had very limited customization options beyond installing third-party add-ons.

The new Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) in Explorer provides a lot of customization opportunities. Similar to Office, by right-clicking any button in the ribbon, you can add it to the QAT. Additionally, you can choose to have the QAT display above or below the ribbon, and to display the ribbon in an open or minimized state. This is a big increase in the level of customization available in Explorer (you can choose approximately 200 commands to add to the QAT) and returns it to a level equal to or greater than we had in Windows XP.

Finally, as you may have noticed in several of the screen shots, we just had to bring back the “Up” button.

This is far and away the most requested improvement to Explorer, and a great opportunity to bring back some of Windows Explorer’s heritage features.”

Here’ is a walk through of the main features of the new Windows Explorer:

In another blog post releated to Windows 8 feature improvements, Rajeev Nagar shares the improvements in core Windows functionality and also announced of adding “native Explorer support for ISO and VHD files in Windows 8.”

Nagar said that “in Windows 8 – just “mount” the ISO file, and a new drive letter appears, indicating that the contents are now readily accessible. Underneath the covers, Windows seamlessly creates a “virtual” CDROM or DVD drive for you on-the-fly so you can access your data. Let’s walk through the flow that will enable you to access such an ISO file.

To mount the ISO, you can either double click the file or click Mount on the Actions tab. Once you mount the ISO, a new drive letter appears for the virtual CDROM/DVD drive that Windows seamlessly creates. The contents of the ISO are accessible just as they would have been had you inserted the CD/DVD media into a physical optical drive. Only, operating on the contents happens at the speed of your hard drive, not an optical drive.

Once you are done using the ISO, you can (virtually) “eject” it, and the virtual drive disappears.”

Nagar also explains that in Windows 8 accessing a VHD is as simple as that of ISO files, but there is one important difference: rather than appearing as a removable drive (as is the case with ISO), VHDs appear as new hard drives.

“Underneath the covers, Windows provides a virtual drive letter pointing to the volume within the VHD. You’ll notice that the icon for the drive G: below is the same as the icon for a VHD file. You can then work with the virtual hard disk just like any other file storage in your system, whether you are modifying, adding or removing files.

Once you’ve finished working with the VHD, like an ISO, you can right-click it and click Eject (or just use the Eject button on the ribbon). Any changes you’ve made remain saved within the file,” he said.

Here’s a quick demo to show you what it looks like to mount ISOs and VHDs on a new “Windows 8” system:

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