MICROSOFT: Why does Windows have a menu for creating empty files?

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Microsoft developer Raymond Chen answers the question of why the “New Item” menu exists in Windows 10 and Windows 11 in the first place.

With some elements in Windows operating systems, users always wonder why this function exists at all. That’s the case with the New Item context menu, for example, which can be used when right-clicking on an empty space in Windows Explorer. “Why does a menu exist at all that can be used to create empty files?” also asks Microsoft developer Raymond Chen. He has the answer ready.

Not everyone knows that certain file types are associated with certain programs. Chen cites the bitmap image format as an example. “There’s a program called Paint in the Start menu’s Accessories folder to create a new BMP file,” he writes in the blog post. The context menu is an additional alternative to that, he adds.

Stop copying existing files

In fact, according to Chen, many people seem to create new files by finding existing files of the same data type, copying them and deleting the contents. For text files, this method also works quite reliably. “In fact, the Xerox Star (the predecessor of modern GUI interfaces) created documents by copying an existing document,” Chen writes. A more modern example is creating processes in a Unix environment. Existing processes are cloned via fork and then their contents are deleted via exec.

The confused sorting has a reason

The menu is intended to make this step unnecessary, but it can be handy in other ways as well: Users can create files in locations already designated for them without having to navigate there first within the program, be it Word, Photoshop or Notepad. “For people in a document-centric world, programs are not what they think about,” Chen writes.

But why are the options within the context menu so obviously arbitrarily sorted? Chen provided the answer to that question a few years ago as well. Windows 10 and even Windows 11 sort items not by menu name but by file extension, such as .accb, .bmp, .docx and .txt. “This is simply an artifact of implementation. Maybe it will change at some point.” In Windows 11, at least, that’s not yet the case.

 

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