How do I get the Explorer navigation pane to highlight the current folder all the time?

In Windows 7, the folder tree in the Explorer navigation pane by default no longer highlights the item in the view pane. This change was based on user testing and feedback, but if, like me, you prefer things the old way, you can play with two new check boxes on the Folder Options dialog. You can get to Folder Options in a variety of ways:

  • From the Control Panel, go to Appearance and Personalization → Folder Options. (Or just type Folder Options into the Control Panel search box or the Start menu search box to go straight there.)
  • From the Explorer menu bar, select Tools → Folder options.
  • From the Explorer command bar, select Organize → Folder and search options.
  • Or you can exercise your super élite status and just right-click on a blank space in the navigation pane.

However you wind up there, the item you want to turn on is Automatically expand to current folder (or Expand to current folder if you use the super élite method).

Comments (28)
  1. Gabe says:

    Does anybody know the nature of the feedback that caused the feature change?

  2. 640k says:

    •From the Explorer menu bar:

    1. Press ALT

    2. Select Tools → Folder options.

  3. Jim T says:

    Ah the good old explorer settings. I still have a wry smile when jump onto new windows xp box occasionally, and the first thing I do is go into the explorer options and invert almost all the settings.

    At least the settings can be inverted.

  4. retro says:

    Or run command: "control folders"

  5. Barbie says:

    Funny, that. I was so used to go to the View tab to change the behaviors I did not like (where I could not find this one), that I never checked the General tab. Serves me right. Thanks Raymond, you made my day.

  6. Sro says:

    press just Alt, and the menu are show.

  7. AlmostAlive says:

    I just leave this here:

    If you're missing anything from the Windows XP explorer or start menu in Win7, this tool will give it to you.

  8. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    Do you know how to make the tree view understand Alt+Enter as "Properties" command? Looks like when it was rewritten, Alt+Enter was left out. That's the danger of complete rewrite.

  9. Richard says:

    That's not the only "improvement" in the W7 navigation pane. For example:

    1. Expand enough folders to show the scroll-bar in the navigation pane;
    2. Scroll down the navigation pane;

    3. Select a collapsed folder which has sub-folders;

    4. Click on the arrow to expand the folder;

    5. The navigation page scrolls up so that the selected folder is at the bottom of the list.

    It doesn't seem to happen if the folder has already been expanded, or if the folder is already at the bottom of the navigation pane. It also doesn't seem to happen if the folder being expanded is not selected.

    Early reports suggest that this "improvement" hasn't been fixed in SP1.…/17a83954-8c3c-4d45-9dd6-03f6cdd1604c

  10. JJJ says:

    @Richard:  Thanks for the bug report!  I'll get to work on it immediately.

    Is that what you expected Raymond to reply with?  I don't actually work at Microsoft, so no, I won't really be fixing your bug.

    [That's why I hate the Tips/Support category. I'm tempted to just keep my tips to myself. -Raymond]
  11. Andy Babiec says:

    JJJ, I hate to do this but I have to vent about this same problem as Richard. This is probably my one big issue with Win7 – especially for power users like me who manage a good amount of files on external drives.

  12. JonPotter says:

    @Gabe: It's presumably just more of the same feedback that has been responsible for the continual dumbing-down of Windows over the past 15 years.

    Microsoft have split Windows into so many different versions anyway – I'd really like it if Windows 8 came with an "Expert" version for people who actually know how to use computers.

  13. Paul M. Parks says:

    @JonPotter: Already addressed.…/54583.aspx

  14. McGee says:

    I'm not trolling, but that change made the W7 Explorer work really like the Mac Finder. Wonder if the Macintosh had any influence on the decision…

    Unfortunately, it doesn't work as well as it does on a Mac or as well as it did on older versions, so, thanks for the tip! ;)

  15. Another missing feature in Windows 7 is the timer on the tree view. In XP (not sure about Vista), you could use the cursor keys to move up and down in the tree view, and nothing would happen until you stopped moving the cursor. Then after a fraction of a second, the list/details/whatever panel would update.

    This no longer works; you have to hit the Enter key after cursoring to the folder you want. Much less convenient now.

    I wonder if there's a way to restore the timeout? I really miss it.

    Sorry, Raymond, but yes, when you post on a UI topic it will attract comments about closely related UI changes… :-)

  16. 640k says:

    @Paul M. Parks

    MS' previous expert modes didn't work because they were badly implemented. If Apple would have done it they would have been the best expert modes ever.

  17. Marquess says:

    “If Apple would have done it they would have been the best expert modes ever.”

    Expert mode on Mac OS is like easy mode on Linux. Just doesn't sound right.

  18. angrypixie says:

    The navigation pane is insanely bad in Windows 7. Wait don't get me started on Windows Explorer in Vista and 7. (For those who act as if nothing's wrong, see…/List_of_features_removed_in_Windows_7 and…/List_of_features_removed_in_Windows_Vista) The entire shell team should be fired from the Windows division for producing such utter crap after XP. Sorry but I can't vent my anger and frustration enough. And now Raymond will threaten about stopping blogging on such topics making his readers attack lone critics. You have to tolerate the criticism when you produce such garbage as the Vista and Windows 7 Explorer.

  19. K says:

    And if you are bothered by this* monstrosity of a bug, then classic shell will also fix it. It still scrolls around sometimes, but in a much more sensible fashion. Instead of putting the top folder at the bottom edge and therefore hiding everything of interest, instead it jumps to the top. I would prefer no movement at all, but at least I have now stopped pulling out my hair in frustration.


    There exists also a dirty registry hack if you would prefer to not select files by clicking on their size or date, but sadly, that one messes up refreshing and everything feels really sluggish afterwards.

  20. mr d says:

    How about the opposite thing?

    Is there any trick to get that old behavior back that when changing the selection in the tree view the right-hand view gets automatically updated?

    This is IMHO a usability issue: The selection on the left should *always* match the selection on the right. The way it is now is highly confusing in the scenario that the user wants to delete the current folder. If he/she changed the selection in the folder tree but did not press Return to update the folder view it is very easy to delete the wrong folder. Permanently that is for network shares.

  21. Richard says:


    No, I wasn't expecting Raymond to come back with, "I'll get right on fixing that". I was just taking the opportunity to vent my frustration with this relatively minor glitch in a place where other Microsoft employees might see it, with possibly the vaguest hope that it might somehow filter back to someone on the Windows team who *can* fix it.

    I'm well aware that the comments on a blog don't constitute an official support channel, and they're not the right place to report bugs, but there doesn't seem to be an official way to report bugs in Windows. Phoning tech-support and paying for a support incident to report a bug isn't really a sensible option.

    Maybe I'm missing something, but there doesn't seem to be a Connect equivalent for Windows.

  22. Nick says:

    I have to echo several other comments made here.  Explorer in Windows 7, while better in some ways, exhibits several glaring traits which can only be bugs.   There are a huge number of people in the threads that K links to which discuss the problem, and mr d gives a good example of why this isn't just a small bug, but an issue which can cause real data loss.

    Another thread is:…/50a81b05-da98-4d55-821d-55ffbbd0e998 which links to a video of the problem in action:

    I know Microsoft doesn't seem to like patching minor bugs with the interface, but I thought data loss issues are usually addresses more rapidly.  Assuming you're still on the shell team, Raymond, it would be really nice if you'd take a few minutes to read that thread, assuming you don't already know about the problem.

  23. Brian K says:

    Thanks for the tip Raymond. Try not to let the flak discourage you from posting more. Programmers – be sure to check out 101 Visual stuido Tips in 55 minutes:…/Sara-Fords-101-Visual-Studio-Tips-in-55-Minutes-Challenge

  24. Marc K says:

    @Alexandre Grigoriev: Classic Shell will also add back the ALT-Enter functionality on Explorer's TreeView.

  25. zzz says:

    How nice of you to add that option.

    Now where is the option to fix the search:


    1. Go to windowssystem32
    2. in the search bar type: etc

    3. wait for etc folder to show up, double click it


    1. Copy current location from address bar and paste it into cmd prompt after CD:

    "CD search-ms:displayname=Search%20Results%20in%20System32&crumb=location:C%3A%5CWindows%5CSystem32etc

    The system cannot find the path specified.

    'crumb' is not recognized as an internal or external command,

    operable program or batch file."

    1. Try go one folder up from the current location (after step 3 above)


    The treeview is STILL in system32 after doubleclicking the etc folder in the search result!

    PS. Anyone thinking this might be be fixed in 7 after this "f'n" rant you got to be kidding yourself. They haven't got the totally broken Vista explorer than randomly switched between document/music/whatever details fixed yet either! You can't believe the heat I've got from friends I talked into buying Vista over that! No more Windows recommendation until MS produces the completely bug free RTM version of windows vNext since they can't be trusted to fix obviously broken stuff in service packs!

    PS2. No I won't go through the context menu "Open folder location" because it's more than just right+left click, you got to move mouse to bottom of the context menu and then if you wanted to land in the ETC folder, you still got to double click that too since "Ofl" goes to PARENT folder!

  26. zzz says:

    Oh sorry, I'm terribly sorry for posting a bug report here. Can you point out the MS Connect site that's open to public and takes bug reports for Shell?


  27. Bulletmagnet says:

    @Jon Potter

    Microsoft have split Windows into so many different versions anyway – I'd

    really like it if Windows 8 came with an "Expert" version for people who

    actually know how to use computers.

    "People who actually know how to use computers" don't use Windows :)

  28. Klimax says:


    Correction: use WIndows and know how to combine them with 3rd party programs to adapt Win for their usage and know how to get to options they need.

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