The default file manager in Windows has improved immensely over the years, but there is still room for improvement. A few years ago I switched to Xplorer2 (lite), associating folders and drives with it, displacing the default program. I have stayed with the program, finding new uses and abilities that help my work flow. Many sites have reviewed the software, but this article is by a long-term user.
1. Dual pane
The feature I use the most is the dual pane view. It makes moving files around easy. While many alternative file managers have the feature, the Windows Explorer does not.
In an age where browsers, text editors, development packages, etc. all have tabs, it is surprising to see the default manager without such a feature. Xplorer2 can have them at the top or bottom of a pane, and it can have them per pane.
Often, when opening a file from a program, only the files we want are shown. Word will show you documents; Notepad will show you text. Xplorer2 can limit what files are shown with filters. Documents, images, and file types can be shown as needed with the right wild-cards (e.g. *.doc* for documents).
4. Hide Folders
While viewing pictures, sometimes there may be several sub-folders. They can get in the way, particularly if a window is not maximized. Xplorer2 lets you hide the folders to neaten the view. This works nicely in conjunction with filters, especially with multiple folders that do not contain files of interest.
5. Simple Hard Links
When copying and pasting a file, the default file manager has always made it easy to create a soft link (shortcut). Making a hard link, however, it not as easy. Xplorer2 takes the next logical step and adds the option to create a hard link from the context menu when pasting a file.
6. Breadcrumbs (even in XP)
Breadcrumbs is a feature that shows the path to the folder you are in. It makes it easy to reach any parent folder, their sub folders, and even other drives. This is not anything new for Vista/Win7 users, but XP lacks the feature. Xplorer2 can be used to bring it to the platform.
7. Selected File Recall
When browsing your hard drive in Xplorer2, you will find that the file selected is not always the first. The program remembers what file or folder was last opened. When you return to the folder, the main program or document within it may already be chosen. Press Enter to open it instantly.
8. Double-Click Level Up
Going to a parent folder in explorer was never particularly difficult, but it is easier to do in Xplorer2. While you can still have a button or press Backspace, you also can double click in white space to go up a folder level. Once you get used to it, making sure to be clear of files, it becomes second nature.
9. Utilitarian or Minimalistic
By default, Xplorer2 has all sorts of toolbars and panes open. Its interface can be stripped down to just the file pane and breadcrumbs. Alternatively, it can be expanded to have every icon in the toolbar, accompanied by other panes (e.g. the preview pane). While most file managers, including explorer, allow for expansion, few can reduce to the screen footprint of Xplorer2.
10. Favorites List
While the default file explorer has a Favorites list, it makes no sense to share it with the web browser. The separation should be by program, which is the case with Xplorer2. Naturally, it uses its own list of user-specified folders. This can include FTP sites too.
This only scratches the surface. Free HDD space shows in the status bar. A new file can be automatically sorted (rather than listed last). Filtered panes can be a different color. Natural numbering (forcing file10 to come after file1) is optional. The options will outline most of the features.
There are disadvantages to the program, like anything else. Some programs refuse to work with anything but the native file explorer. For instance, you may not be able to open a folder from a download context menu in a browser. The lite version has some limitations, as there is a shareware full version, which you can try free for three weeks. Be mindful while installing the lite version; it is bundled with a browser toolbar.
While this article is not meant to be persuasive, Xplorer2 does have abilities that deserve to be pointed out. Some features, such as selected file recall, a user may not notice until they have consistently used the application. It is worth trying out, especially if you are an XP user.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.