Bring A Tabbed Interface to Windows Explorer With QTTabBar

Microsoft made some major changes to Windows Explorer with the release of Windows 8. They finally brought the once hated, but now popular, ribbon interface to the built-in Explorer app. The ribbon toolbar was almost universally panned when it debuted in Office 2007, but by the time Office 2010 rolled around customers had become familiar with it and actually began to at least accept it if not flat out like it.

That is a good thing because the interface isn’t going anywhere — we already know it is included in Office 2013 and Microsoft has also added it to the Windows 8 Explorer app as well.

However, one thing that the Redmond, Washington-based company failed to add was a tab feature. Ironically that seems to be almost universally considered the number one most requested feature by Windows users, thanks to familiarity with web browser interfaces.

Fortunately, as always, the third-party developers have come to the rescue to let us add and tweak Windows 8 to our heart’s delight. In this case somebody has found a way to add those much-wanted tabs to Windows 8 Explorer. That someone was a developer who goes by the handle of masamunexgp and he had decency to open source the project and make it available to all of us via SourceForge.

If you have used any modern web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Google Chrome then you already know all about tabs and how they can improve your user experience by letting you quickly switch between locations with no loss of data.

QTTabBar brings all of that tab goodness to Windows  8 Explorer in a free and open source manner that allows the user to be worry-free about malware and apps coming along for the ride, such as the recent spate of AVG toolbar installations and Babylon search apps that users have unwittingly encountered.

Getting Started

Once downloaded and installed QTTabBar will prompt you to close and re-launch any open instances of Windows Explorer in order to get started.

When first relaunched, you will immediately notice changes to the Windows 8 Explorer app.

First, there is a small tab below the address menu. Below that tab is a whole new set of menu options to go along with your new tabs feature. This menu is important because it adds a LOT of the functionality that makes this whole new addition to Windows Explorer work as if it were built right into the app by Microsoft themselves.

You will almost immediately notice this entire new menu bar. It includes a host of features to help you along the way, but some just are not obvious at first glance.

The first question is — what is included in that brand new menu bar at the top of Explorer? At first glance it doesn’t appear to contain much, but all of the features you will likely need are right here.

Let’s go left to right with the menu buttons and see exactly what is included.

  1. The first handy feature you will encounter is the ability to group tabs. This is great for those of us who tend to work with multiple tabs open for different areas of the computer or network.
  2. Then, there is a button, which resembles a clock, and this one allows you to reopen previously closed tabs. This is great if you have a bad habit of closing tabs accidentally as I do in Firefox and Chrome (both of which also allow you to recover that lost information).
  3. Next up is Applications, which appears as a Windows logo and it will remain grayed out unless you add an app to it.
  4. After that, you will find a pair of grouped icons that give you the option to launch a new window or clone the current tab.
  5. Now you will see a set of five icons, all with various versions of “X”, that allow you close tabs in various different ways.
  6. Finally, there is a copy tool with a dropdown menu of several options and, at the very end of the menu bar, a search box.


If you right-click on a blank area of the QTTabBar menu then you will get the context menu from which you can access the Options window.

This window has a number of tabs that allow you very good control over almost every option and feature included in QTTabBar. There are tabs for Path, General, Window, Appearance, Groups, Applications, Plugins, Shortcut Keys and Misc.

All of these tabs contain useful features, but some more so than others — for instance, I initially could find no way to open a new tab other than clicking the “clone this” button and then navigating to a new folder or network location. As it turns out, according to the default option listed within those on the “window” tab, clicking the mouse scrollwheel on a folder will open it to a new tab. That option, by the way, can also be changed.

There are also many other features that can be changed from within the Options window, including keyboard shortcuts, how the app functions and how it appears. There is plenty to discover and tweak here.


QTTabBar is not only free, but it is an open source project. Those are certainly two things we like to see with any app. It also has countless ways that it can be customized to each user’s personal tastes and needs. But, beyond those pluses, it brings some much needed and requested functionality to a Windows application that many of us use every single day.

Perhaps Microsoft will eventually add this feature to Explorer —  it certainly gets enough requests for it — but for now, there are at least apps that can get the job done for you and do quite it well.