Microsoft is experimenting with tabs in File Explorer and other apps on Windows 10

If you're one of many Windows Insiders who have been constantly asking Microsoft to bring tabs to File Explorer, we may have some good news for you. According to sources familiar with the matter, Microsoft is currently experimenting internally with a new feature called "Tabbed Shell", which brings the familiar browser tabbing module to all app windows in Windows 10, including the File Explorer.

Per our sources, Tabbed Shell is a feature being worked on at an OS level, and doesn't require work from app developers to take advantage of it. By default, Tabbed Shell works with any app window, whether it be Photoshop, File Explorer, or Microsoft Word. Any UWP, Win32 or Centennial app will work. Much like in Edge, you'll find a tabbed interface at the top of a window where you can switch between instances of the same app.

This means that right away, any app can take advantage of the new tabbing experience without any developer work. If an app features a titlebar, it will be able to function with Tabbed Shell. Microsoft will also offer API's to developers if they wish to "integrate" their apps with Tabbed Shell, which will give the app more control over the tabbed experience.

For example, an app that isn't optimized for Tabbed Shell will likely display two window controls, titles and icons, as the app in question isn't integrated with Tabbed Shell. Based on internal designs, we've created a mock-up below in which you can see how this would work. In our example, we're using Word 2016 as an unoptimized Tabbed Shell app.

Unoptimized Tabbed Shell app mock-up by Windows Central

However, if an app developer does want to take advantage of Tabbed Shell, they can do just that. Developers will be able to adjust titles, tab colors, create custom New Tab experiences and more. In our second example, you can see that in this scenario Word 2016 is integrated with Tabbed Shell, making for a much more streamlined user-experience.

Optimized Tabbed Shell app mock-up by Windows Central

The goal for Tabbed Shell is to extend the popular and familiar browser tabbing experience to other app windows, which should help unify the user-experience and window management across the entire operating system.

Microsoft is still experimenting with the user-experience for this feature. As it currently stands, it's unclear whether the tabbed experience will show up by default, or if it'll only show up once you have two instances of the same program open. A lot of user-experience scenarios still need to be figured out, which isn't much of a surprise considering this feature is still pretty far out.

Speaking of, it's currently unclear when/if this feature will show up. Sources say it could be either Redstone 3 or Redstone 4 in 2018. That's assuming Microsoft doesn't end up killing the feature, like they do so often internally. Hopefully, if this feature is further along than we're expecting, we might see it at Microsoft's BUILD developer conference in May.

Redstone 3 development is now well under way internally, and there are several features in the works that are yet to be announced. Keep it locked to Windows Central for more news regarding Windows 10 Redstone 3.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Only thing I love in Mac OS while working is that the Finder (file explorer) has tabs. Must have in Windows.
  • I really strongly prefer the column layout that Finder uses over Explorer
  • I really don't. I hate the fixed column width, which constantly truncates my filenames.
  • Omg, I really don't understand why this comment had at least 12 down votes 0_o opinions aren't welcomed anymore on this site? On wide monitors it looks ok, and may be easier to navigate not only to few levels up, but quickly go to siblings for few level up folders easier than with dropdowns in Explorer's address bar or when folder tree doesn't fit screen.
  • I agree, Explorer's columns are so much better.
  • Clover does this in Windows too but it's really slow.
  • Ctrl-Tab is mandatory.
  • I didn't know that was a thing :P
  • Wow, neither did I! It is quite useful. Big thanks to Ma Rio for englightening me. Now I'm blazing through my tabs in IE, which gets me to my next point: it surprises me that tabs in File Explorer haven't been a thing since Vista. Seemed like a pretty easy addition to make them like browser tabs.
  • Wow. I didn't know people didn't know that. 
  • Ctrl+Tab and Alt+Tab. Two keystrokes for a multitasker's dream machine. And if you use virtual desktops, CTRL+Win Key +Left Arrow (or Right Arrow) allows you to swap desktops.
  • You guys should check out q-dir
  • Ooo I literally just found that thanks to you. Also tried something I picked up with the Alt + Tab thing: Ctrl + Shift + Tab will cycle backwards. Nice...
  • want
  • Want.
  • That is awesome! I want it!
  • Let's hope that it works better than edge in the creator's update. ..
  • Most people are saying edge works better in CU.
  • It's good. But HBO GO is broken for me since I updated. Works fine in IE thogh.
  • It would be about time they get this! It's on MacOS already and has been on Linux for years. Oh Microsoft, so slow sometimes to catch up!
  • Except they aren't just catching up, they're jumping way ahead
  • Actually all copied the Amiga ..yet fail ..Yet, again dumb down soceity with the flat clipartish newspaper icons.. Then again slower response time with more ram , Before it was like oh we have a lot more ram so are graphics,,and program can be a lot more so we can be wasteful . Well now you have pos graphcis ,and still pos programming ,and yet way more ram.Still not much faster in booting or shutting down.Still the same problems if not more.The excuse oh yeah lets make it look modern ..pfft yeah they pulled the ***** over your eyes.That was tried before. IT failed.That isnt the SCORM standard. Which the UI/UX standard is a subset of. Summary FAILURe.
  • Want!
  • nice
  • I have mine since Windows XP.. haha.. its about time for Microsoft to bring that feature.. There is an app called QTTabbar that bring tabs in Windows Explorer. This is my current theme :-
  • This is what happens to those who didn't even bother to read the article. Does QTTabbar integrates to the OS? Per App? No. And do you even think that you are the only one who knews it? No.
  • Finally... and while you're at it, enable a global dark mode to all of them as well.
  • The Skype Preview App and Microsoft Edge should be triggered by the dark mode toggle I agree... Also, if all Office 365 apps got a dark mode that would be amazing.
  • The Office 365 apps do have a dark theme. Go to File>Account and change the theme in the dropdown box.
  • Stack&Tile in Windows? Count me in.
  • A lot of people have been requesting a tabbed File Explorer for some time so I wonder whether they have put it off because they knew that they were going to be doing this later.
  • I don't think they were putting it off. They must've been doing this for a while.
  • In the meantime, free Clover can add tabs seamlessly now. I've been using it for years, and it's one of the first things I install for each new Windows installation.
  • It's raining tabs
  • F I N A L L Y
  • When integrated into this shell should let the developer add additional controls in the tab bar/title bar similar to how Edge in creators update does. And if the developer does not customize the title bar in any way then they should get the integrated experience without additional work.
  • This would be fantastic.
  • MS: You guys think this feature is great? OK! I'll cancel it!(There's a saying in China that if consumers like this function, MS will cancel the function next time.)
  • Yeah! I've been asking this for years!
  • This will speed up my workflow quite a bit. I just hope my customers adopt it.
  • I'd rather they modernize the file explorer interface. It doesn't have to be as drastic as in Windows 8 but just give us a new and better experience. But I could see how awesome tabs with tab preview and save for later would be on file explorer
  • After having used the windows 8 file Explorer I just can't use the Windows 7 file Explorer. It's so much better. This is a great idea though as it can apply to all apps. They have to be working on a new file Explorer anyways - so uh yeah. I hope we see the tab controls from edge too 
  • Tabs are great for many reasons. Personally, I've never been a fan of tabs only for the pure fact that all navigation and switching occurs at the bottom of the OS where as tabs are generally at the top. Put tabs at the bottom and I'm sold! I also understand the task bar can be moved to the top but that's changing a fundamental default of the OS. Piddly...but after using Windows so many years when you think "I want to change what I'm viewing" my brain goes to the bottom everytime.
  • This is great, a system-wide tab UX for any apps that take advantage of it. Hopefully they won't go releasing half-baked implementation again like many of Windows 10 features left untouched since their introduction with little to know improvements. Hopefully won't be as bad as the Tabs on Edge which is still unreliable and limited. You can't still able to drag things on to blank area of tab bar and no UI to reopen closed and recent tabs. Though I hope they will include thumbnails and even Set Aside tabs with this new system-wide tab feature. It would be nicer too have this better integrated on Task View where you can switch to specific tabs. It could be a form of MixView-like UI.
  • Not exactly how I want tabbed Explorer browsing... but at the same time, now I want tabbed MS Office! That looks epic! Also, how hard would it be to add middle-click to open a new file explorer window? That alone would save me quite a bit of headache at work.
  • Not sure what your company's policy is on outside programs but there's AutoHotkey which would allow you to create a script that could potentially do just that. The language it runs on is pretty easy to pick up; something like what you want to do could probably be done in five short lines or less. If you like you could even complie the script into a tiny .exe file and run it that way without having to actually install AHK on the machine you want ths to work on. If you did it this way you could literally run the .exe from a flash drive (or similar device) and bam middle click will open a new Explorer window, a feature which personally I don't want but to each his/her own.
  • that will be so wicked, been waiting for something like this for years .......
  • While this is nice MS needs to ditch that old explorer and do a moden  UI variant. I'm quite tired of seeing any trace of Windows 7 go backwards UI elements in an otherwise modern UI space, so MS needs to cut out the old windows UI elements and also redraw the File explorer UI. When they do the resraw to match windows 10 modern design language this tabbed experiece might fit better.
  • Waht about experience in both Flash and HTML5 videos automatically begin playing.  This uses a lot of bandwidth and CPU and slows down my computer.  In addition, I do not want to watch or hear any useless videos unless I ask IE or Edge to play them. How to Disable Autoplay Video in Internet Explorer!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Edge in CU has click to activate for Flash if I'm not mistaken. (Disabled Flash in Edge long time ago)
  • They really need to redo the look of file explorer. Out dated as hell looking and feels clunky. A dark theme at this stage of the game is more than welcome; been a long wait for this one from most of us.
  • But in current state it is way faster, functional and usable than new UWP apps that has blur and animations. But I agree - DARK THEME EVERYTHING :D
  • I'm using QTTabBar for a long time now for File Explorer and it works like a charm.
  • me too... it amazing that QTTabBar is ended support in 2013 and I am still heavily using them.. it makes my work more productive and less messy
  • As a person who admits to habitually opening multiple File Explorer foldres on a daily basis, I approve of this feature. :P
  • I want tabs in File Explorer YESTERDAY! C'mon Microsoft! 2018??? Really????
  • Absol-freaking-utely! This has also been my number 1 issue for a decade now.
  • that would be awesome! :)
    cant wait to seeing more!
  • Yes please!  I guess Windows Explorer will get reworked with the new  "adaptive shell".
  • This is good. If Microsoft does implement this feature and I like the way they did it, I'll drop QtTabBar as it occasionally has problems and I prefer to not mess with Windows as much as possible.
  • this better come with a redesigned explorer.
  • This is so long overdue that I hope they also include dark theme as a backlogged item.
  • File Eplorer lacks some basic functionalities. MAX_PATH length  is 260 characters. Overlay icons are only 15. It doesn't recognize UTF8 without BOM text files.
  • I think automatic snap feature in explorer window when more than one is open.
  • If rumors are for Redstone 3 or Redstone 4, then it'd be ready by Redstone 5. :p
  • Tabs are a really amazing feature. Waiting very much for it ❤
  • This sounds great!  I'm glad Microsoft spends their time working on things that may be useful to its users.  Too much time spent on inking and 3D Paint.
  • That's interesting! Makes me wonder if this will be available to all apps (including UWP) or only WIN32. Either way this shows that Microsoft is still committed to WIN32 and it makes me think that maybe that composable shell is also about making WIN32 apps adapt to smaller screens.
  • The cshell is about the taskbar and start menu and stuff. This has to be on win32 and UWP apps. 
  • This sounds like a great idea. Hope it comes to the OS.
  • sound like a great idea? are u kidding me!
  • Finally! The file explorer needs a refresh. I would love to see it have some modern features. The ribbon was an excellent start, now I'd like to see it become more user friendly.
  • ERMEGERD. IT'S HAPPENING. AHH. As you can tell I'm very excited and happy. 
  • This is gonna be HUGE
  • I wonder if we'll be able to use tabs in apps like Chrome. Would be fun to have tabs-in-tabs
  • I would like mouse gestures on OS level. For all apps.
  • We will see people closing all instances of program at once by pressing close button.
  • Once the fad comes to Microsoft you know it's dead. Count on everyone abandoning tabs now and Microsoft forcing them down on us like waterboarding. All their apps will have them and MS will release 53 updates, 47 of which that break something, trying to force us to use them. In fact they'll probably release an entirely separate file explorer in parallel and then make the original one not work anymore.
  • Where i can find the first wallpaper ?
  • If anyone has used Clover you would already know what a tabbed explorer is like... Bliss! Unfortunately being a tacked on  freebee, Clover is bound to crash here and there and is hasn't been updated for ages. Bring on the native tabbed explorer... BRING IT!
  • TidyTabs adds tabs to most Windows programs (no UWP unfortunately). While it's not built-in to Windows and doesn't look as nice, it works very well. I'm hoping that keyboard shortcuts will be added in the near future so I can use the extra buttons on my mouse to switch between tabs. Also check out AquaSnap if you're a fan of tiling windows and want to improve upon Window's Aero Snap.