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In Windows, when a program offers to locate a file for you, it typically does so by opening an Explorer window pointing at the containing folder with the specific file highlighted. This gives you context about where it is on the hard drive as well as allowing you to manipulate the file.

Are there any guidelines or research about what it should do if you ask it to locate a folder? Should it open the containing folder with the specific folder highlighted, as though it were a file? Or should it display the contents of the folder?

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+1 Great Question! –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Nov 26 '12 at 21:18

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I believe it depends on the situation.

If you want to ask user to choose a file from that folder (or, for example, it's a log files folder) you should show its content, and you should open a parent and select a folder within otherwise.

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We work with files, folders are an abstraction, categories of files.
One who points to a folder almost always wants to do things with the files that folder contains.
The exception is the systems administrator, who might be doing things to the folder itself.

If the user is suspected to want to navigate the folder hierarchy then the two-panel explorer interface is the right one. Else the simpler single-folder UI is the choice.

The Windows explorer program has a switch to root the folder hierarchy in the folder of your choice. When used, the left navigation pane sports only the chosen folder, and the user can only navigate downwards from there.
I like to use this switch because it produces a simpler UI, and protects the user from folder handling and navigation errors.
I'm not sure is the Windows explorer switches still work in Windows 7.

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