Microsoft has posted a detailed explanation of the new, improved, ribbonized Windows Explorer in Windows 8. In a nutshell, Microsoft is grafting a ribbon onto the top of the Windows Explorer window -- no surprise -- that closely resembles the ribbons in Office and a handful of Windows 7 applets.
Here's the part that surprises me. Microsoft relies on "telemetry data," which is collected and automatically forwarded by people who participate in the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program. The telemetry data for earlier versions of Windows Explorer "shows that 54.5 percent of commands are invoked using a right-click context menu, and another 32.2 percent are invoked using keyboard shortcuts... while only 10.9 percent come from the Command bar, the most visible UI element in Explorer in Windows 7 and Vista."
From that observation, Microsoft deduces that making the command bar more accessible -- with a ribbon -- will improve Windows Explorer.
That same telemetry data shows that roughly 50 percent of the commands carried out in Windows Explorer are Cut, Copy, Paste, or Delete, and that Properties and Rename account for another 20 percent. Call me a heretic, but my conclusion is that Microsoft should make it easier to cut, copy, and paste files -- and the best way I know to do that is to make it easy to put two copies of Windows Explorer up on the screen at the same time, side by side. But I readily confess that I don't like the ribbon in Office and positively detest it in small apps such as Paint. I guess that makes me a Luddite, but ribbons waste so much room, especially on wide monitors, and (at least in my experience) they don't make it any easier to locate commands that you already know about -- quite the contrary.
One of the benefits of a ribbon -- in this case, I have to agree with Microsoft -- is that it makes commands more discoverable. That's a noble goal. I've often wondered how to make keyboard shortcuts more discoverable, too, but there doesn't seem to be an easy way to do it.
Fortunately, much to Microsoft's credit, it's easy to turn the ribbon off. By reclaiming the space wasted in Windows 7's Explorer at the bottom of the screen for file details, Win8 Explorer can actually list more files. Also, much to Microsoft's credit (as noted in my earlier post), the up-one-level arrow icon is now prominently located on the navigation bar. And I see with great elation that it's (finally!) easy to have Explorer show file name extensions.