I had a crack at dark mode for File Explorer

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I had a go at dark mode for explorer.exe…

Clearly it is early in the development cycle so the current version is lacking some cohesion and I was frustrated at my inability to better explain in this post: Windows 10 Redstone 5 Gets Cloud Clipboard, Dark File Explorer, and More. So I thought better to illustrate.

It seems a good old-fashioned compromise for Microsoft. A dark theme in a future UWP version of explorer using the fluent design language would without question offer a dramatically more aesthetically pleasing and engaging user experience. As a consequence, there are diminishing returns in engineering efforts focused on adapting these older Win32 applications for the remainder of their lifetime. However it also seems unlikely they would be investing any effort at all if the UWP replacement was anywhere near imminent.

With some judicious use of colour and iconography I feel they can polish it up a little bit further, hence the mock-up below:

Comments (20)

20 responses to “I had a crack at dark mode for File Explorer”

  1. Paul Thurrott

    I'm curious why Microsoft doesn't just recast the File Explorer as a UWP app. I know they tried.

    Can only assume they ran into a technical limitation in UWP. Ironic.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      One question I have: could a UWP File Explorer run as Administrator? Which leads to a broader but tangential question: other than kinda hiding Store apps from all but the System account under C:\Program Files\WindowsApps, what security does UWP actually provide? Sandboxing? From other processes, perhaps, but if it could modify any file or directory to which a user has access/permissions, how robust is that security?

      If UWP File Explorer couldn't run as Administrator, wouldn't that mean the Win32 version would still be needed? If so, what'd be the point of a UWP File Explorer?

      What I don't understand is why Charmap, Font Viewer, WinVer, i.e., all the applets which don't write files, haven't been converted to UWP. Well, I do understand: MSFT doesn't consider it urgent to do so, and thus no other developers consider it urgent to use UWP. Basically, the last 3 years of MSFT not converting much to UWP (or moving things from Control Panel to Settings) has been among the worst possible things MSFT could have done for UWP, implying by inaction that there's no urgency to adopting UWP or that it's not worth the effort to port anything from Win32 to UWP.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to TheJoeFin:

        There is a great UWP version of Charmap . . .

        It's 3rd party. Code Writer is a lot better than Notepad, also 3rd party. If it were possible to replace the bundled desktop apps with the 3rd party UWP alternatives, OK, but it's not. Can't remove those bundled desktop applets.

        FWIW, the bundled desktop Charmap allows for selecting multiple characters at a time and copying them as a single string. The referenced 3rd party Charmap doesn't have that feature. By Font Viewer, I mean the window which appears when double-clicking on a .FON or .TTF file, which displays all ASCII characters as well as the standard quick brown fox in multiple type sizes. Settings has replaced the Font Manager from Control Panel.

        As for MSFT's approach, what distinguishes gradual incrementalism from timidity and/or indifference?

    • aThingOrTwo

      In reply to paul-thurrott:


      That would be a shame if the case but would reflect/play into the wider problem and debate around how big a priority desktop application development (non-web based) actually is in the wider context.


      Traditionally the solution with a newer and less mature platform/framework would to find solutions add fixes/new functionality to make the platform stronger for everyone.


    • illuminated

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Oh man you surprise me, as if you do not know that UWP is a friggin sandbox. It is impossible to see the file system outside of that sandbox. UWP File Explorer without major changes to the fundamental UWP design would be useless. With windows phone gone I am still surprised to see continuing UWP development. Maybe Microsoft just forgot to fire the last windows phone developers so they sit there quietly and continue developing UWP.



      • TheJoeFin

        In reply to illuminated:

        Microsoft enabled full system wide file access for UWPs (they need to get a special blessing from MSFT tho) what do you mean, "it is impossible to see the file system outside of that sandbox"?

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to TheJoeFin:

          . . . full system wide file access for UWPs . . .

          Up to and including running as Administrator and taking ownership of C:\Program Files\WindowsApps for, say, the Administrators group than granting the Administrators group List folder contents permission?

          If so, whither UWP security?

          • TheJoeFin

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            not any UWP can get system wide file access, there is a special approval process for apps requesting this kind of access. Obviously though Microsoft could give itself access.


            Also the apps are still vetted through the store and such, but installing a UWP with that kind of access would be much more risky than a normal UWP.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to TheJoeFin:

              . . . Obviously though Microsoft could give itself access. . . .

              Obviously UWP File Explorer would be bundled with Windows 10.

              There may be restrictions on which UWP apps get full system access, but once such an app has full system access, would it be any more secure than Win32? IOW, for system admin utilities, what would UWP provide? Better touch support presumably, but anything else?

    • TheJoeFin

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      There were a lot of sessions at Build highlighting new features coming to UWP and from those sessions here is a rough guess of what has been missing in the UWP APIs to make a pure UWP File explorer work:

      • Creating floating windows outside your app
      • Creating 'helper' panes
      • ARM64 support

      Here are some APIs which were introduced in the April 2018 update which could make a UWP File Explorer more possible

      • Independent instances of your app running
      • Tree-View control
      • Full system wide file access
      • Landmarks and Headings supported for accessible technology (AT)


      We might still see a UWP File explorer but it would probably be the end if 2018 or beginning of 2019 at the earliest.

  2. hrlngrv

    I preferred Windows back when it was possible to configure most application colors oneself. Yes, most people made their desktops as ugly as most PowerPoint presentations, but most people have no taste or design skill. Still, better to allow them to make all the noncritical mistakes they want to.

    • aThingOrTwo

      In reply to hrlngrv:


      All true, but most people don't want to configure application colours so it is also important to pick attractive defaults as well.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to aThingOrTwo:

        Back when it was possible to pick all colors, there were also themes. Nothing prevents the coexistence of as much tweaking as possible and preset themes. Those who don't what to choose anything can use the preset themes (maybe even add others from the MSFT Store?), but those who rejoice in tweaking everything they can should be able to.

  3. rameshthanikodi

    a MS employee has confirmed on reddit that this is a work in progress and they have more further changes to make.


    I feel like they either need to create some light icons for the dark mode or not make the ribbon too dark (which would be unfortunate). Right now the icons on the toolbar(s) in UWP apps invert their color when you switch to dark mode.

    • aThingOrTwo

      In reply to FalseAgent:


      a MS employee has confirmed on reddit that this is a work in progress and they have more further changes to make.


      Interesting to know and promising refinement in coming. You don't happen to have a link to this discussion by any chance (I searched but couldn't find it)?


      As for the icons I feel the inversion only works well with UWP apps because the icons all use strong, mostly simple shapes with clear outlines. They've been designed to look good on a variety of backgrounds (including slight transparency).


      Explorer icons use a variety of colours (sometimes with gradients) and far more complex in appearance. Many only work well on light backgrounds. The same can be said for Office which has a black theme and I find the contrast quite jarring.


      I agree that a lighter ribbon is a poor compromise as ruins the overall cohesion of the design so I think that leaves two options:


      1. Create a darker theme for the icons, the benefit of this is that recognition/familiarity is not lost.
      2. Simplify the visual design and create two new sets for light and dark. This will probably look better but some familiarity is lost.


  4. yaddamaster

    Microsoft is killing me slowly. This dark theme explorer is absolutely nonsense. It's like some developer took this item off the JIRA board and just said "hey, I'll do this. It looks easy!"


    It looks like crap.

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