The breadcrumb bar, originally introduced in Vista, has brought an entirely new way of navigating in Windows. It replaces the plodding, sub-folder-based, dig-down method of yore with shortcut jumps.

The breadcrumb bar provides a visual indication of the path you’ve followed to get to your current location.

Take a look at Figure 1, which shows an XP path above and a Windows 7 breadcrumb trail below. At first glance, the differences don’t seem too great. The drive name (C:\) is omitted and XP’s backslashes are replaced by arrows in Windows 7. The top folder names are a little different, too, but otherwise the paths look fairly similar.

An XP file path and a Windows 7 breadcrumb bar

Figure 1.

This apparent similarity masks two important differences:

  • The XP pathname tells you your precise location in the folder hierarchy: disk, folder and sub-folder. Windows 7’s breadcrumbs indicate the trail you followed through the woods, as it were, in order to get to your current location. This difference becomes more apparent if you take a look at Figure 2. It shows a breadcrumb trail to the same location (the Cognitive Sciences sub-sub-sub-etc-folder) via a different trail through the woods: Instead of starting in Libraries, this second trail starts from the Network, digs down into the computer (named ‘Velociraptor), and then into the Documents folder and its sub-folders. Same destination, different route.
  • The XP pathname is purely informational and static; it does nothing more than tell you where you are. Windows 7’s breadcrumb trail is interactive; it not only tells you your location, it also allows you to jump to any part of the trail you’ve followed, or to other related locations.

Breadcrumb navigation has become increasingly popular, not only in operating systems and applications, but also on the web. In Windows 7, you’ll find breadcrumb navigation in file open and save dialogs as well as in Explorer windows.

Following a different breadcrumb trail

Figure 2.

Breadcrumb navigation

The real power of the breadcrumb bar is its interactivity:

  • Click any of the ‘crumbs’ to jump immediately to that location.
  • Click the arrow to the right of a crumb and you’ll see a drop-down list of sub-folders, with the currently opened folder highlighted in bold text.
  • Click any item in the drop-down list to open it.
  • The arrow to the left of the first crumb in the trail displays a list of root locations: your user folder, the desktop, Libraries, Homegroup, Network, Computer, and Recycle Bin. To the left of that, abutting the browser-style backwards and forwards buttons, is a drop-down arrow providing a list of locations you’ve visited recently. Click any item in the list to return there.
  • Click the arrow at the right-hand end of the breadcrumb bar to open the Previous Locations list. It shows the pathnames or addresses of folders, Control Panel applets and websites you’ve opened. Clicking any item opens that item.

Crumb tips

If you’ve wormed your way down through multiple folders and can no longer see the full breadcrumb trail, you’ll notice a chevron replacing the left-most arrow. Click the chevron to reveal the starting crumbs in your trail, with a list of root locations beneath.

If you’d like to know the actual pathname to your current location, click in any blank space on the breadcrumb bar and you’ll see an old-style path; click anywhere in the folder window to redisplay the breadcrumbs. To use that pathname in a document or shortcut, right-click the breadcrumb bar and choose Copy Address As Text from the pop-up menu; this copies the full path to the clipboard.

A more interesting, if misleadingly named, right-click option is Copy Address. You can use this option to copy an entire folder from one location to another, or to create a quick desktop shortcut. For example, try this:

  1. Navigate to a folder that contains several documents.
  2. Right-click the breadcrumb bar and select Copy Address.
  3. Minimize the open folder, right-click the desktop and choose Paste from the pop-up menu. A copy of the folder and all its contents will be placed on your desktop.
  4. Right-click the desktop and choose Paste Shortcut from the pop-up menu. A shortcut to the selected folder will be placed on the desktop.