Live: Best Cyber Monday deals Hawkeye review Pfizer COVID booster FAQ: New omicron variant and more PS5 restock tracker Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Get Back: The Beatles documentary

How to streamline your Windows 7 experience

It's been out for a while and is more tweakable than ever, yet many of us keep Windows 7's out-of-the-box settings installed. Learn how to make the most of Windows Explorer to make your digital life even easier.

Windows Explorer (nee File Manager) has long been a core background app, but those in the know have honed it into a powerful toolset for making it easier to find files and apps and generally keep our digital lives flowing more freely. Here are five of the smarter tweaks I've seen:

  • The Favorites list sits up in the top of the left-side navigation bar, but it's populated only with a few items that Microsoft thinks you're likely to use often. It's easier than you think to add folders here--just drag it from the right side to the starred Favorites tab on the left. To remove one you don't use any more, jut right-click it and select Remove.

Windows Explorer: add to Favorites.
Windows Explorer: add to Favorites.

  • It gets better. You can add applications to the Favorites section as well. You may already have an app-launching system you like, but this is great for the programs you are likely to want to run while working with your file system (like CCleaner in my example). Click the address bar and type in "%userprofile%\Links" (leaving out the quotes) to reach your Links folder. Now just open up the Start menu and drag an application into the folder. You should see it pop up immediately on the left under Favorites.

Windows Explorer: add Link.
Windows Explorer: add Link. CNET/Screenshot by Robert Lightner

  • If you have a networked hard drive or some other external storage that only shows up on the network, it's easier than ever to keep it easily accessible from Explorer. Just navigate to the network device that contains the drive you want, then right-click and select "Map network drive..." You can choose a drive letter that's memorable or accept Windows' default and specify whether or not to reconnect when you log on. It should now appear under My Computer.

  • Windows keeps certain files and folders invisible because users might accidentally cause problems by fiddling with them. If you feel confident that you'll wield your deletion privileges wisely, you can view hidden files easily. Just click Organize at the top left of Explorer, then select "Folder and search options." Select the View tab and then tick the button next to "Show hidden files, folders, and drives." Now your access should be complete. 

  • Use those Libraries! Old-school Windows users may neglect the Libraries in Windows Explorer, but they can be incredibly handy, especially for finding that document or picture that could be in any one of 100 folders. To add a new folder full of pictures or work documents, just select the appropriate Library, click on "locations" under the Library heading, then select Add and browse until you've found the right folder. You can also create your own Library by right-clicking Libraries, then selecting New and Library.

Windows Explorer: add folder to Library.
Windows Explorer: add folder to Library. CNET/Screenshot by Robert Lightner