What were some of the abandoned features of Explorer back in its prototype days?

Chris asked for some stories about what Explorer was like in the early days.

Well, one thing is that the original name of Explorer was Cabinet, continuing the folder/document metaphor by taking all your folders and documents and putting them inside a virtual filing cabinet. (Cabinet was viewed as an update to the Windows 3.1 File Manager program, whose icon as we all know was a filing cabinet.) Some remnants of this old name can be found in places like the CABINETSTATE structure. (Note that this old sense of Cabinet is unrelated to the CAB file format, which is also called Cabinet.)

In the early versions of Cabinet, shortcuts were indicated not by a little arrow overlay but by appending >> to the end of the name. For example, you might see an icon on the desktop called My Computer>>.

The first icon in each folder was a special icon that consisted of an upward-pointing arrow with the name Up One Folder. This was really just a leaky abstraction, exposing the .. directory entry as if it were a real directory.

We saw what the original Start menu and taskbar looked like some time ago, back before it was a taskbar, and also saw the precursor to the Start menu.

Comments (21)
  1. steven says:

    The .. folder entry is the one I miss most. What really messes me up is having to use Backspace on Windows XP and earlier and Alt-UpArrow on Vista and later. In general I find moving up a folder in the hierarchy far more useful than going back in the history.

    [Now imagine a user who goes, "What is this weird icon? I didn't create it. Let me delete it." Something like this may have happened to somebody in this room. Just saying. -Raymond]
  2. Crescens2k says:

    @Steven Don

    Even though on Vista+ the .. is really just single clicking on the previous directory name in the address bar, it is different from having a directory in the file view. With it in the file view it is easy to infer what to do, where as using the address bar means you have to play around a little and if you are too used to older versions of Explorer then it is less obvious, and that can be a bit of a problem for people who are less capable.

    Well anyway, in before someone complains about the features taken out of explorer in the transition between XP and Vista.

  3. Rodrigo says:

    The problem of Vista/7 new Explorer is that you cannot navigate using only the keyboard, as I was used to do on XP. On Vista/7, it seems that the TAB key gets lost in some points, in such a way that navigating without the mouse is a pain. XP Explorer had better ergonomy.

    [You should get a keyboard that lets you type Alt+. -Raymond]
  4. steven says:

    @Crescens2k Indeed, I love the clickable path in the new-style Explorer. I'm not a big mouse-user though, like Rodrigo mentions, I much prefer the keyboard. It's not so much that I think either Backspace or Alt-Up is a bad choice, but the change messes me up, especially as I have to work on both XP and Vista/7 quite frequently. Muscle memory is not to be underestimated.

  5. Excellent. More stories about prototype designs. I recently had to use XP after over a year of win7. It's amazing how the little details make a huge productivity difference. I kept asking myself why didn't they think of these things sooner. It's good to know what was attempted and abandoned.

  6. Skyborne says:

    A helpful keyboard shortcut: F6 cycles focus among viewing panes in many apps.  When I'm dedicated to using the keyboard, it's quite handy.

    OTOH, I put the mouse on the left side of the keyboard so I don't have to reach over the numpad to get at it, which means it's usually faster to hit the mouse anyway.

  7. Tanveer Badar says:

    A tip 10 years late, you can/could add up button to toolbar in XP. It went missing first time in Vista, now making a come back in 8.

  8. Ian Ellison-Taylor says:

    My memory is fuzzy but I think I was the one who initially named it "Cabinet". I wanted to call it "File Cabinet" but of course this was before long filename support had been added so "Cabinet" seemed like a reasonable alternative. Those with better language skills than me can probably figure out why the name had to be changed.

  9. Gabe says:

    The nice thing about the "up" button is that it was always in the same place. It was easy to move your mouse over to it and click however many times were necessary. With the breadcrumb bar you can't know in advance where to click. And if the full path doesn't fit in the bar you don't know how many clicks you'll need and you'll have to move the mouse between clicks. It's nice to know that the "up" button is making a comeback in Win8.

  10. Little Voice says:

    Raymond, did you mean to link to your article on the "system tray"?


    Unfortunately the image link there is broken.

    [Oops, thanks. I fixed the link and also fixed the image. -Raymond]
  11. Joshua says:

    [Now imagine a user who goes, "What is this weird icon? I didn't create it. Let me delete it." Something like this may have happened to somebody in this room. Just saying. -Raymond]

    Hmmm yes, a sloppy UI mistake allowing for deleting .., with catastrophic results of course.

    I recall a similar one here, where a version of our product shipped with this brand new search for person by upcoming scheduled event. Deleting the result row did what deleting any result row did when searching for a person, delete the person. Figures somebody would think it meant delete scheduled event. Apparently the engineer who wrote it didn't think it all the way through.

    [In my case, it was because "somebody I know" typed del ... -Raymond]
  12. Mike Dunn says:

    That reminds me of someone I know that made a directory for testing called "%WINDIR%", and when they were done testing, they deleted it in a command prompt.

  13. Aaron.E says:


    I think I know that person who was in your office.  His name is SWIM, right?  He often uses illicit substances and gets into trouble with the law?  That guy can't seem to do anything right.

  14. Anonymous Coward says:

    Even in the DOS days, I always disliked . and .. appearing in DIR listings. It just struck me as profoundly illogical for a directory to be inside itself, never mind for it to contain it's parent.

    I understand that the filesystem might need a backlink, and that there needs to be some syntax to make it possible to CD up one level, but really, DOS was taking it too far and I'm glad .. was removed from Cabinet/Explorer.

  15. cheong00 says:

    Oh… that image of taskbar reminds me of the toolbar that comes with Office 95.

  16. cheong00 says:

    @Anonymous Coward: A actually wish DOS support things like "…" (for "parent folder or parent folder") or even crazy thing like "…." like a few *nix system too, it makes batch scripting shorter then "../.." and is important when you have 25x character limit on line length.

  17. NoP says:

    @cheong00: actually, the win9x line of operating systems supported that.

  18. GWO says:

    @cheong00 I'm old enough to remember when "…" and the like were used on FTP sites as genuine directories in which … erm … unauthorised … files could be stored for download and avoid detection by cursory inspection.

  19. Neil says:

    @NoP: And Novell Netware before it.

  20. Random832 says:

    What's interesting about the clickable path bar in Vista is that the same behavior was present in the MS-DOS Executive. The main difference is that it's more discoverable now due to hover effects. Was this the inspiration for the feature?

  21. Joshua says:

    @Anonymous Coward: UNIX took it farther than that. They are real entries, and originally they were made by ln and removed by rm, not by the mknod() system call (The call would only succeed if the caller was root. mkdir and rmdir were suid-root).

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