How to view previews

Did the Windows File Explorer suddenly stop showing previews of photos, videos and PDF documents? In their place, generic icons appear and you don’t know how to solve the problem? Would you like to enable the display of previews for files, such as those related to FLV videos, which are not normally supported by the Windows file manager? No problem, you’ve come to the right place.

In fact, if you dedicate some of your free time to me, I am going to explain to you how to view previews on Windows and macOS, going to act on the settings of File Explorer and Finder (ergo the file managers of the two operating systems) and, if the thing interest you, I will also show you how to enable previews for those file types that would not normally be supported.

What do you say? Are you ready? Perfect, then you just have to follow the instructions below carefully and try to put them into practice. I assure you that, in no time at all, you will be able to activate previews for all the file types you want, as well as solve any problems related to viewing files in the File Explorer and in the Finder. I just have to wish you good reading!


  • View previews on Windows
    • Enable previews in File Explorer
    • View previews of unsupported files
  • View previews on Mac

View previews on Windows

In this first part of the guide I will show you how to view previews in the Windows File Explorer, as there is a good chance that you want to learn how this feature works for Microsoft’s operating system.

Specifically, here I will focus mainly on Windows 11 and Windows 10, but in reality, continuing with the reading you may find bread for your teeth even if you have an older version of the OS.

Enable previews in File Explorer

If you’re wondering how to preview files for File Explorer , there’s a good chance you have Windows 10 or upgraded to Windows 11.

I’m right, right? In fact, these versions of the operating system integrate options that allow you to disable previews . You may therefore have checked a wrong box or the latter may have been activated following an update, for whatever reason. In any case, what matters is that it is nothing so problematic.

To resolve the issue on Windows 11 , just open File Explorer (using the appropriate folder icon, located at the bottom of the taskbar), click on the View option , present at the top, select the Show item and press on Preview Pane option . On Windows 10 , you can find the latter option directly via the View section . By doing so, a section will appear on the screen in which a preview of certain contents is shown. If you are wondering, for example, how to preview PDF files , this is the procedure you need to follow.

Of course, this clearly does not replace the file icon , but you understand that this possibility can actually come in handy in certain contexts. For the rest, if your intention is to replace the icons and you are wondering, for example, how to preview a photo (as currently you always see the classic icon of images) or a video, you can safely enable another option. On Windows 11 , just open File Explorer , select any folder , click on the three dots icon located at the top right and press the Options item .

Then, move to the View tab : here you need to uncheck the Always show icons, never previews option . On Windows 10 , you can find the latter option by opening a folder and following the path File> Change folder and search options> View . Obviously, once the check is removed, it is necessary to press the Apply and OK buttons in succession to make the changes effective (you may also want to use the Apply to folders option , in order to apply the settings to all folders of that type).

For the rest, if you still do not see the thumbnails of the images instead of the icons and in the View menu a display mode other than List , Details and Small icons is activated (it is important to select an option other than these , otherwise you have to go to the aforementioned Preview Pane ), you may want to try restarting File Explorer .

To do this, just press the combination of buttons Ctrl + Alt + Del , select the Task management option , possibly press on the More details item , go to the Processes section , select File Explorer , which clearly must be open, and press the Restart key present at the bottom right, then opening File Explorer again .

Another question that might come in handy is clearing the preview cache files . Doing this is very simple: just press the Start button , search for disk cleanup and select the Disk Cleanup utility icon from the search results. In the window that appears on the screen, put the check mark next to the Preview item , press the OK button and you’re done.

Important Note : If you are trying to understand how to view folder previews on Windows 11 , you need to know that this is not officially possible. In fact, Microsoft has removed this possibility and therefore there is not much you can do. On Windows 11, therefore, I can only advise you to use the Preview Pane for files such as PDFs and the like, as well as to verify that there is no check for the Always show icons, never previews option in order to view image previews. and videos instead of the generic icon.

However, there is no official option for folders and frankly I do not recommend installing third party software for Windows 11 folders only : if you want to see the contents, just open them . For the rest, perhaps giving meaningful names to folders could be useful to remind you of their contents. In any case, if you really don’t like the question, I will let you know that on Github there is a community project called Windows Thumbnail Generator. However, you should only use it if you are an experienced user and clearly at your own risk, as I do not take any responsibility for any problems arising from the use of a program created by enthusiasts.

View previews of unsupported files

How do you say? Would you be interested in seeing the preview of those formats in File Explorer for which it is usually not possible to reveal the content in advance natively (we refer, for example, to FLV videos )? By installing third-party software , you can expand the capabilities of the Windows file manager and get previews even for those file formats that are not normally supported .

Of course, as mentioned in the previous chapter, I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to install third-party software simply to be able to view previews. However, if you really need to preview files such as FLV videos, I can direct you to the MajorGeeks website, where you can access Shark007’s free ADVANCED Codecs video pack. To be clear, the latter adds support for all major video file formats to Windows Media Player and, consequently, to the File Explorer of the Microsoft operating system.

To proceed with the download, just click on one of the Download @ MajorGeeks links , present under the DOWNLOAD NOW button . You may need to close some commercials, but then the download will start . Once finished, open the ADVANCED_Codecs_vxx.exe file you just downloaded by double clicking on it.

Since this is a community project, i.e. an unrecognized app , Microsoft Defender SmartScreen may bring up the Windows-protected PC screen. As mentioned above, there is always a minimum risk in making use of third-party programs made by enthusiasts and for this reason I usually advise against the use of these external solutions. However, in this case they are codecs known by many users ( Avast Free Antivirus automatically scanned the file when I opened it, not detecting any problems), so if you want to proceed, just press the More information link first and then the Run Anyway button .

In any case, since these are community projects, I clearly do not take any responsibility for any problems that may arise from the use of the software. You should simply make use of them if you really need to and if you are a power user , able to understand how these projects work. For the rest, you can complete the installation procedure by pressing the Yes , OK and Next buttons in succession , then checking the I accept the terms of the license agreement box and clicking the Next (three consecutive times), Install and Finish buttons .

Mission accomplished! Now you just have to open the File Explorer (you can safely close any windows of the installed program that appear on the screen) and you will see previews also for those formats, such as FLV video files , which were previously not supported by the home file manager Microsoft. Among other things, now you will not only see the preview images, but you will also have the possibility to play the videos through the Preview pane option .

If you have second thoughts, you can remove previews for video files from the Windows File Explorer by simply uninstalling Shark007’s ADVANCED Codecs (there may be multiple Shark007 related entries, so make sure you uninstall everything, you may also need to restart your computer to apply changes). If you are not very familiar with the PC, you can refer to my tutorial on how to uninstall a program.

View previews on Mac

If you are used to using a Mac and are no longer able to preview files in the Finder , you have come to the right part of the tutorial. In fact, you should know that if the Finder has stopped displaying file previews and, in their place, shows anonymous icons , there is probably simply an option disabled.

I therefore advise you to proceed in this way: open any Finder window (you can also proceed from the desktop without having anything open), go to the View menu at the top and select the Show View options item . In the window that appears on the screen, put the check mark on the Show icon preview item , which is located at the bottom, and that’s it. If everything has been done correctly, instead of icons, the Finder will now show you previews of all supported files , such as PDF documents and images.

Among other things, from the same window, if you want, you can also adjust the size of the icons and the criteria with which to organize them by default. If you want to view a larger preview of the files selected in the Finder, go to the View menu (at the top) and select the Show preview option : in this way, a special box will appear in the right part of the window, which will allow you to reach your goal.

I also remind you that by clicking on a file and then pressing the space bar on the keyboard or, in the case of Macs with a trackpad , by making a deep tap or a three-finger tap on a file, you can see a larger preview of the latter.

For the rest, you should know that macOS now supports previews of a good number of files . It is possible to expand this possibility by installing applications such as BetterZip, which in its free version allows you to see previews of the files contained in the compressed archives (to use the complete functions of the software you need to purchase the relative license), Simple Comic for electronic comics CBR / CBZ and so on. In short, there are various applications that also include plugins for QuickLook and, once installed, allow you to increase the number of files that can be previewed. Obviously, be careful not to install any of dubious origin.

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