Windows 7 Tutorial

Show the content of files and pictures in Explorer for Windows 7 (Preview Pane)

The typical way to look a file's content (Microsoft Word document, text file, PDF files, spreadsheet, etc.) is to double-click on the file in question from within Windows Explorer, which will then open it in its default program ("handler"). As for images, a mini preview appears at the bottom of the Windows Explorer window, which has limited usefulness depending on the content of the picture. But Windows 7 includes a "Preview Pane", built right into Windows Explorer, which is disabled by default - this means that most users probably don't even know it exists! In this tutorial, we will show you how to preview files in Windows Explorer without having to open them, using the Preview Pane.


Enable and show the Explorer preview pane in Windows 7

First, launch Windows Explorer: double-click on a folder on your desktop, press the Windows+E keyboard shortcut, or right-click on the Start button and choose "Open Windows Explorer".

Once inside Explorer, click on the "Organize" dropdown button, and choose "Layout" - then, select "Preview Pane" from the submenu that opened; as soon as you do, Windows 7 shows the preview pane on the right hand side. When no file is selected, the preview pane is blank; if a supported file format is currently selected, you'll be able to preview its content without having to open the file!

Windows Explorer Preview Pane in Windows are

Note: like all other panes in Windows Explorer, you can resize the Preview Pane to your liking. To do so, simply drag its left border left or right, as shown in the screenshot below; notice that the regular arrow pointer cursor has morphed into a double-headed arrow:

Resize the Preview Pane in Windows Explorer

Previewing pictures in Windows Explorer

For the special case of image files, it may make more sense to preview them simply using "Thumbnails view" for file icons; in that case, you can leave the preview pane hidden. Click on the "More options" dropdown button, and pick a thumbnail size:

Preview pictures with thumbnails in Windows 7
As implied by the above, Windows Explorer's preview pane is most useful for non-graphical content. Ironically enough, Office 2010 files don't seem to be supported at this point!

Windows 7 Tip: as long as the files in the center of the Windows Explorer window retain the focus, you can just use the Up or Down arrow key on your keyboard to move from one file to the next - keep in mind that not all file formats are currently supported by the preview pane. For this special case, just double-click on the file in question to launch it the way you typically do.

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