You’re Not Alone: Windows 11 Is Randomly Opening File Explorer

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A Windows File Explorer pane popped up over a web browser.

You’re just sitting there browsing the web, watching video, or playing a game, and suddenly a File Explorer window opens right in front of you. Before you think you’re losing it or a hacker is messing around with your computer, read this.

What’s the Deal with Windows 11 Opening File Explorer?

Microsoft released the Windows 11 22H2 update in September of 2022, and it became available for everyone as a general update in January 2023. There are a host of cool new features in 2H22, including tabs in File Explorer.

What's New in Windows 11's 2022 Update: Top 10 New Features (22H2)

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And speaking of File Explorer, there has been an unpatched bug “haunting” many people’s Windows 11 machines (including mine) that is still present as of Windows 11 Build 22621.1413.

We use the word haunting because, unlike many bugs that cause a crash, poor allocation, or overuse of system resources, this particular bug actually gives the illusion that someone is messing with your computer in a sort of jump-scare fashion.

While you’re using your Windows 11 PC and doing any activity unrelated to the file browser, such as browsing the web or playing a video game, a File Explorer pane will suddenly pop up in the foreground.

It might look like somebody is trying to open a folder on your computer—and we used the word “opening” above to best describe how people perceive it—but it’s actually a window focus bug. Something triggers the bug, and an open File Explorer window is brought to the foreground.

“Something” is very vague, we know, but as of April 2023, there is no definitive answer as to what triggers the bug. If you search for “Windows 11 22H2 explorer focus steal” you’ll find dozens of discussion threads on Reddit, Windows troubleshooting forums, and around the web, each with dozens to hundreds of comments detailing when it happens to the frustrated user. Windows Latest wrote up the issue back in January 2023, for example, and we’re still seeing it on some of our systems today.

Some people experience it at the same time every day, like clockwork. Some people experience it randomly. For every comment along the lines of “I disabled X, and it went away,” there is a companion comment of “I disabled X as you suggested, and it didn’t go away.”

How Can I Stop Windows 11 From Randomly Opening File Explorer?

Hopefully, the bug will be patched soon. But in the meantime, if you’re tired of dying in video games because File Explore steals the focus (or, like me, despite knowing about the bug, it still manages to startle you every time), there are two simple things you can do to work around it.

First, you can close File Explorer when you’re not actively using it. For example, if you use File Explorer to browse to a video file, close File Explorer once you have the video playing. The bug doesn’t open a fresh File Explorer window. It only steals the focus to bring an open File Explorer window to the front. No open File Explorer window, no focus steal.

Second, you can use an alternative Windows file manager. This is probably overkill if the bug doesn’t bother you much or you rarely have File Explorer open. But if you’re really annoyed by the bug, check out an alternative option like OneCommander—and, hey, while you’re at it, check out some of these other super-charged alternatives to built-in Windows apps, too.

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