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Alternatives for Explorer
Despite all the criticism, Explorer functions well enough as a file manager - trust me when I say I've used worse :). However, if speed is an issue, or you want more advanced features, or just something nicer to look at than folders and icons, then an external file manager is required. There's no shortage of choice, so we'll try to focus only on those that are freely available. More will be added to this list as they are discovered, so please submit any we've missed!

[*zenogias:] To be honest, I can't see why some companies insist on charging for file managers, or why people are so willing to pay for them, when there are so many free alternatives available. But, there are some links at the end for those of you with an unquenchable desire to spend money ;)
This presents your directories as 3D mini-cities, with each file depicted as a colourful tower block, height depending on file size. So, instead of clicking through folders, you can zoom in, pan up and down, and rotate around your computer's landscape :) The file manager is fairly customisable - though you can't change the colours, the font can be altered, as well as the information displayed for each file. Very speedy on modern systems, though you'll need and OpenGL 3D graphics card. Also reasonably stable, at least under Windows 2000.
[*zenogias:] Interesting idea... however, the interface is not very intuitive, and it will take time to get used to the layout and controls. Moreover, becuase the program is still at an early stage, features are limited; for example, all files must be viewed with external programs, as there are no inbuilt file previewers. Definitely worth a look though - some serious potential here.
Another 3D file manager, but with a more traditional approach. Folders and files are shown as lists of 3D blocks, zooming in and out of the screen, and a row of icons at the top allow simple file functions. A wider array of features than TridCommander, which compensates for the slightly less ambitious approach. Drag and drop and filtering are fully implemented, as well as a "grouping" mechanism used for copying and erasing of files, though still no file previewing.
[*zenogias:] Again, good eye candy, and novel, but at a price - TC ran very slowly on my computer, and although tweaking the settings improved performance, it still crashed fairly frequently. But, don't let this put you off; as well as a visual novelty, TC could actually be useful, especially once the stability problems are ironed out.
Unfortunately, version 2 of this file manager has become shareware :( Fortunately for us, version 1.52 is still freeware, and, whilst obvious lacking some of the features of its newer counterpart, it's still a useful program. Fewer features than other explorer replacements, but this does mean it's easier to get to grips with, and, as the closest to Explorer in look and feel, it's a good choice for beginners. This isn't to say Salamander is entirely lacking in features - it comes with inbuilt hex and text viewers, and a wide range of hotkeys. Very fast too, due to the small executable, and stable with it.
[*zenogias:] Salamander used to be an old favourite of mine, though it's been overtaken by other more advanced programs. But, if you value speed, and aren't really interested in a bunch of features you'll never use, this is a good starting point.
Ontrack's free version of their popular file manager, gathering momentum, and already up to version 4. It lacks some of the features of the commerical Pro Edition, such as synchronisation and graphics conversion, but for the most part it's all there; there's a wealth of other features to play with. A fairly large program, and unlike many of the file managers here it integrates itself quite heavily into Explorer, with many options in the right click context menus. Powerdesk is quite customisable, in that you can add icons to toolbars and launchbars; not much, but a nice touch, and the launchbars are very useful. Encryption and zip extraction is built in, as is file previewing and editing. Due to its size, the program isn't as quick as some other replacements, but, perhaps due to the backing of such a large company, it's rock solid stable. Easy to use, and an intuitive design.
[*zenogias:] Such heavy-handed integration doesn't appeal to me. The manager itself is pleasant enough...but there isn't enough to make it stand out from the pack...and when you reckon in the banner ads and irritating splash screens, there's too little content to make it worthwhile.
Based upon the famous Norton Commander, but souped up and tweaked - turbo-ised, as the name may suggest :) TN's main concern is speed above all else, but that doesn't mean other areas are lacking. It's won plenty of awards, and is probably one of the "big name" file managers. A clear, simple layout, but with an wide array of features, such as filtering, encryption, folder mounting, and a "permanent delete" function. Arguably the best set of inbuilt file viewers of any file manager listed here - they cope with graphics, text, RTF, binary files, and music and video. However, it's still quite easy to get used to, though the keyboard shortcuts are based upon NC rather than Windows, so some users may have to retrain themselves. Updates are frequent, though more to add new features than address stability issues, and the program runs quickly and smoothly. Again, there's a lack of customisation options...other than changing colours, there's not a lot to change, but everything else is fine.
[*zenogias:] Easy to see why this is so popular...simple enough for beginners to use, but with some interesting advanced features. Probably one of the fastest file managers around, and its heritage is certainly a bonus. Definitely worth serious consideration.
This one is more similar to the old Windows File Manager - MDI approach, with multiple windows (for different folders, drives, etc). The inbuilt file viewers are very capable, especially the image thumbnailer (for those of you without 2k :)), and as the program uses a novel plugin system, new viewers can be developed outside, and added in later. Also of note is the built-in scripting, using VBScripts to create macros, or add new features; as yet, the site's script library is very small, but hopefully more will be added later. File encryption is included, along with a few other security features, and folder synchronisation. Other, more standard options are also present. GXExplorer is fast, and stable, having been in development for some time. Also, it's one of the few open source file managers, with the Delphi code available on the site.
[*zenogias:] A very capable program, and the scripting feature is potentially very powerful. The open source plugins idea is original, and hopefully people will write new file viewers to add in. If you liked the old File Manager look, you'll like this a lot...seems easy to use, and clearly designed.
A PC version of Directory Opus 4, a famous file manager for the Amiga (now with a very expensive official port). No file viewers, one standard view, no bells and whistles. BUT - arguably the most powerful and customisable file manager available for the Windows platform, provided you're willing to spend the time setting it up. It comes with a huge list of predefined interal commands (extract icons, copy to iso, archive handling via the DOS archiver programs, etc..), which you can tweak and combine to get the results you need. If you can't find what you need, just create new commands of your own...or specify paths to external programs to deal with files via switches and scripting. PcOPUS is currently the closest thing to a skinnable file manager; you can define your own colour scheme, and skin the menu buttons with bitmap files. Very fast, due to its simplicity, and stable. It's very different to Explorer, so may not be for everyone, but it's worth the effort.
[*zenogias:] PcOpus, I want you on my desktop forever. An amazingly powerful file manager, makes up for its relative lack of modern features with the ability to create your own, either from scratch or with the program's help. Definitely NOT for beginners (go with a file manager that's easy to use), and it won't be to everyone's tastes... but for some, it'll be absolutely perfect. Forgive me as I gush like the PcOpus fan I am :).
A long-established file manager, again based on NC, and very popular - small, fast, and with a huge list of features. I can't begin to list all of them here...but here are a few choice cuts:
  • Helps to create batch files to run your programs;
  • One address bar handles both directory browsing, run commands, and DOS commands;
  • Good internal text editors and previewers (hex, RTF, graphics...);
  • Sorting by filetype is done alphanumerically, not by the bizarre Windows naming scheme;
  • Lets you save different "layouts" (postition of toolbars, panes, etc).
2xExplorer also has more standard features, such as dual pane viewing and right-click file menu support. The program is very stable (no crashes for me yet under either Win9x or Win2k), and updates are still frequent. The only slight downside is the slight lack of customisability, at least not without file hacking; but everything else is near-perfect.
[*zenogias:] Got to admit that it's a personal favourite, simply because it's designed so well, with everything within easy reach. Not very similar to Explorer, so it will take time to adjust, but after a while it simply becomes a quicker way of doing things. And if you can think of a feature, it's probably here :).
NexusFile [formerly X-File]
A popular Korean file manager, recently released as an English version. Very fast and small, but with some useful features, such as running programs with parameters, built in command-line and archive handlers. The workspaces concept saves a lot of time, lets you easily switch between important folders with a keypress, and the "folder tree" function is quite original (builds a horizontal tree view of the folders on your drive, split into levels). Also interesting is keyboard shortcuts system - like PcOpus, NexusFile offers a range of internal commands, but also lets the user create their own using external programs. The homepage is in Korean, but the program is easy to find. The help docs are currently being translated into English, but you probably won't need them - NexusFile is very intuitive to use, easy to get used to. Some nice customisation details too, in that you can switch icons on or off, and change text colour depending on file extension. Overall, definitely worth consideration as a mid-range file manager - well featured, but not overcomplicated. Thanks go to A. Waterfield for the link.
[*zenogias:] I like the look of this one in particular, especially the ability to use different coloured text. Some novel ideas I hadn't seen in other file managers, and an interesting keyboard shortcut system. Going to spend some more time looking at this one, definite potential to become a favourite - well, if I mentioned PcOpus in the description, it's bound to be, eh ;)?
Those into the replacement shell scene may have heard of Dimension, a promising 3D shell by Brandon Sneed, been in development a while now (discontinued). The shell itself is impressive, but it also comes with several replacement app, including a file manager. It's probably the lightest manger featured here, very fast indeed, keeps only a minimum number of features in favour of a huge speed increase. Not even a menu bar, and just the one windows - double click a folder to enter, double click away from icons to return. Interestingly, despite its small size it still has the same important features as Explorer, and is also fairly customisable - users can select a bitmap to use as folder background, and change text colour. Think of it as a true replacement for Explorer - exactly the same functions, but in a smaller, more attractive package. Thanks to gwylfa for pointing this one out... he's mentioned a problem with drag and drop, though it seems to work fine here, try it for yourself...
With kind permission from Brandon, file is here (210 kB).

[*zenogias:] A minimalist's file manager, but still usable, and the double-click traversal method is easy to get used to.
Winfile & Shareware
And even Microsoft themselves provide an Explorer replacement, of sorts. Remember the Windows 3.11 file manger? It's still there in modern Windows, just hiding...try looking for WinFile in your Windows directory, or typing 'winfile' in the run box. It's there in 95, 98, and NT, but not 2k, and don't know about ME. Elastic suggested I put winfile here, and why not - it's there on your system already. Give it a go... simple, fast, and doesn't require much learning. Only downside is lack of support for long filenames, though apparently they're fine under NT 4 service pack 6a, though no knowledge on older versions. Thanks to nightbird for the information...
[*zenogias:] Well, not much to say here. When I first moved over to Windows 95/PC environment, I prefered to use Winfile - Explorer seemed too slow and bulky. These days, there are better featured alternatives, but sometimes you can't beat the retro feel ;).
And, if you absolutely must spend money on a file manager, here are a few names to try. Some have evaluation versions to download, but, with so many decent free ones available, VP probably won't be reviewing these: AB Commander, FMEdit, Turbo Browser.

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