Updated: May 30, 2014
Windows Explorer is the venerable file manager for Windows. It's been around since forever, and it's kind of secretly doubled as a browser. Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer have always been only one word apart. But a product that has started as a single-tab entity, back in the olden days, has stayed a single-tab entity.
Linux has moved on long time ago, offering tabs in its plethora of file managers. So why not do the same thing with Windows Explorer. Indeed, why not indeed? Today, I will showcase QTTabBar, a handsome extension for Windows Explorer, which lets you do just that. Transform the ordinary Windows file manager into a modern product, with tabs and whatnot. After me.
The installation is rather trivial. Once complete, the setup will restart all your Explorer processes. Then, open a folder. You will notice the addition of the QTTabBar in your window. Start hitting Ctrl + n, and tabs will crop up horizontally. The tabs will have convenient names, reflecting the top-level folder. This will allow you to easily find your way around.
At this point, you can begin your very browser-like behavior. Opening a new tab effectively means cloning the existing location. You can also close tabs to the left and right, or all except the current one. A search is there, too, plus a lot of other goodies.
If you do not wish to accidentally close a folder, you can lock the tab. Rearrange everything, go through the history of closed locations, copy folder paths, and even group open folders based on some common criterion.
This function is rather useful, because it allows you to open a bunch of tabs all at once, without manually going through your data. For example, you may want to group all work related folders or all media-related folders into separate clusters. Anyhow, just create one from an existing set of tabs, and then it will be saved to the toolbar, under that little star icon.
QTTabBar also lets you add applications to its quicklist. Just drag and drop executables to the toolbar, and they will be added under the Windows logo dropdown button. You can also use the options menu, but more about that in a moment.
However, while tabs are the primary function of this addon, they are not the only one. So we have groups and applications, but there's still more. If you open the Options menu, you will discover a wealth of customization and tweaking to make your head spin.
There are a lot of settings available. For example, you can customize what happens when you middle or double-click a tab, what to do after closing one, how to handle folders with similar names, how to switch through tabs, and more.
Then, you can customize your groups, just like browser bookmarks, even adding separators, to make it all the more appealing. If you worry about creating ugly groups with unnecessary locations, you can always prune and tweak later on through the options.
The same goes for applications. You can add them as you feel like. Personally, I do not see a reason for adding too many, but you can treat this menu as a quicklist for commonly accessed programs that you use, so you don't need to move your mouse away toward the task bar, the menu or desktop shortcuts. It's not a revolution, but a thing of convenience.
You can also configure all kinds of shortcut keys and change the defaults. If you want to fully emulate the browser behavior, you will probably replace the default Ctrl + n to something like Ctrl + t, like most modern Internet browsers. And there's still more, including appearance, plugins, and so forth. The neverending options list.
QTTabBar is a very handy, useful addition to the default look & feel of the Windows Explorer. It adds the much needed tab functionality, but also lets you treat your local data folders as bookmarks and groups of bookmarks, which is extremely convenient. On top of that, you can also fiddle with applications, lock tabs, reopen closed tabs, and all the stuff you would expect from something like Firefox or Chrome and friends. You suddenly gain a lot more control and finesse over the typical data exploration.
It is baffling that Microsoft remains adamant about the one-window policy for their Explorer, but you need not worry about that. With QTTabBar, you have the slick ease and convenience of modern, practical use. Which makes you now even with the competition, and then some. One of the hidden gems for the Windows operating system.