How Does the Navigation Pane Work in Windows 10?

By Andy Rathbone

Look at most “real” desktops, Windows 10 gathers your PC’s most frequently used items and places them close at hand in the Navigation Pane, shown here.

The Navigation Pane offers shortcuts to places you visit most frequently.

The Navigation Pane offers shortcuts to places you visit most frequently.

Found along the left edge of every folder, the Navigation Pane contains several main sections: Quick Access, OneDrive, and This PC. (On PCs connected through a network, you’ll also see entries for Network and Homegroup.) Click any of those sections — Quick Access, for example — and the window’s right side quickly shows you the contents of what you’ve clicked.

Here’s a more detailed description of each part of the Navigation Pane:

  • Quick Access: Formerly called Favorites, these locations serve as clickable shortcuts to your most frequently accessed locations in Windows.

    • Desktop: Your Windows desktop, believe it or not, is actually a folder that’s always spread open across your screen. Clicking Desktop quickly shows you the contents of your desktop.

    • Downloads: Click this shortcut to find the files you’ve downloaded with Internet Explorer while browsing the Internet. Ah, that’s where they ended up!

    • Documents: A perennial favorite, this folder stores most of your work: spreadsheets, reports, letters, and other things you’ve created.

    • Pictures: Another popular destination, this takes you to photos you’ve shot yourself or saved from the Internet.

  • OneDrive: This free online storage space was handed to you by Microsoft when you created a Microsoft account. Because it’s password-protected and online, it’s tempting to fill it with favorite files for access from any PC. When your stored files amount to more than 15GB, Microsoft asks for your credit card to raise your storage limit.

    Look for special offers to increase your free storage. For example, tell your smartphone to store its photos on OneDrive to receive extra storage space.

  • This PC: This section lets you browse through your PC’s folders and hard drives. (Many of these commonly used storage areas also live in the Navigation Pane’s Quick Access area, as well.) The This PC section holds these areas:

    • Desktop: Click this to see the files and folders stored on your desktop. (Or, you can just close the folder and see your desktop in person.)

    • Documents: This opens the Documents folder, a convenient repository for letters, forms, and reports.

    • Downloads: Downloaded a file from Internet Explorer? Then look in here to be reintroduced.

    • Music: Yep, this shortcut jumps straight to your Music folder, where a double-click on a song starts it playing through your PC’s speakers.

    • Pictures: This shortcut opens your Pictures folder, the living quarters for all your digital photos.

    • Videos: Click here to visit your Videos folder, where a double-click on a video opens it for immediate viewing.

    • Local Disk (C:): A holdover for old techies, this entry lets you crawl through any folder on your PC. Unless you know specifically what item you’re seeking, though, you probably won’t find it. Stick with the other destinations, instead.

    • Disc Drives: If your PC includes extra disc drives, icons for those appear here, as well. Insert a flash drive into your USB port, and its icon appears here, as well.

  • Network: Although Homegroups simplify file sharing, old-school networks still work, and any networked PCs — including your Homegroup buddies — appear here.

  • Homegroup: A convenient way of sharing information among several household computers, Homegroups are two or more PCs that share information through a simple network. Click Homegroup in the Navigation Pane to see folders shared by other networked PCs in your Homegroup.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your Navigation Pane:

  • To avoid treks back to the Start menu, add your own favorite places to the Navigation Pane’s Quick Access area: Right-click the folder and choose Pin to Quick Access from the pop-up menu.

  • If you’ve connected to a network at home or work, the pane’s This PC section may include those other computers’ music, video, and photos (which are sometimes referred to as media). Click those computers’ icons to access those goodies as if they were stored on your own computer.

  • Windows 7 owners may notice that Windows 10 doesn’t show libraries in the Navigation Pane. Libraries still exist, but they’re hidden in the background. To bring them back into view, click a blank portion of the Navigation Pane and choose Show Libraries from the pop-up menu. (You must also manually add the Public folders to each library in order to return them to the glory days of Windows 7.)