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The best way to describe Windows File Explorer is “functional.” Sure, it’s got a few little settings you can tweak, and there are several tricks Windows 10 Has a Secret UWP Version of File Explorer Windows 10 Has a Secret UWP Version of File Explorer Did you know that Microsoft hid a Universal Windows Platform version of the File Explorer in Windows 10? It's not complete yet, but you can still check it out to see what's coming. Read More that’ll make it work more efficiently, but it’s still decidedly more “Volvo” than “Mercedes.”

If you spend a lot of time in the app, it’s easy to become weary of its idiosyncrasies. Why can’t you integrate non-Microsoft cloud storage providers? Why can’t you reorder the main shortcuts in the left-hand panel? And why hasn’t Microsoft introduced tabbed browsing?

Perhaps it’s time to dump File Explorer and use a third-party alternative? If you’ve never looked into what’s available, you might be surprised. Here are the seven best Windows File Explorer replacements.

1. XYplorer

To be honest, if you’re looking for an alternative, you could stop searching right now. XYplorer is possibly the best replacement for Windows File Explorer.

xyplorer

But what makes it so good?

First, it’s portable. That means you don’t need to worry about it not being available on other computers you have to use during the day. Just keep it loaded on your USB stick along with all your other useful portable apps 100 Portable Apps for Your USB Stick for Windows and macOS 100 Portable Apps for Your USB Stick for Windows and macOS Portable apps let you take your favorite software anywhere via a flash drive or cloud storage. Here are 100 of them to cover your every need, from games to image editors. Read More .

Second, it’s got a hugely impressive feature set that will appeal to both casual users and hardcore geeks.

For example, the explorer has tabbed browsing. The tabs function like a web browser’s tabs: you can reorder them, drag files between them, and even pre-configure them. The app also boasts support for custom scripts 7 Simple Windows Scripts to Save You Time and Effort 7 Simple Windows Scripts to Save You Time and Effort Want to take shortcuts in Windows? Or curious about taking your first steps into scripting? Here are seven Windows scripts to get started with. Read More , customizable fonts and colors, and secondary sorting.

XYplorer has both a free and paid version. The paid costs $39.95 for a lifetime license.

Download: XYplorer

2. Directory Opus

If XYplorer doesn’t meet your requirements, check out Directory Opus instead.

It arguably has a steeper learning curve than XYplorer. While the previous app takes many of its design queues from Windows File Explorer, Directory Opus introduces more of its own style decisions.

directory opus

If you’re prepared to spend the time learning where to find everything, you will be handsomely rewarded. Features include support for synchronizing files and finding duplicates, scripting capabilities, graphics that allow you to flag and check mark files, and a customizable status bar.

Just watch out for the beefy file size. XYplorer is 7 MB, whereas the Directory Opus installer clocks in at 50 MB. The final app directory is almost 100 MB.

The lite version costs about $40 while the full version is $70. A 60-day free trial is available.

Download: Directory Opus

3. fman

fman is the least Windows-like app on the list so far. It’s self-described as “GoTo on steroids.”

Perhaps the best thing about fman is its cross-platform support; it works on Mac and Linux as well as Windows. If you spend a lot of time jumping between the three operating systems, it’ll provide a sense of continuity in your work.

Nonetheless, if you’re a beginner, this probably isn’t the app for you. fman is mainly aimed at software developers and other tech-savvy pros.

fman

Feature-wise, it always displays the contents of two directories to make moving and copying files a breeze. It also has an extensive list of plugins for additional functionality and it has full keyboard shortcut support.

It’s free to download and use, but an update license costs $12.

Download: fman

4. Free Commander

Free Commander is the first entirely-free software on this list. If you’re not a power user and you don’t want to pay for a Windows File Explorer replacement, this is probably the app for you.

The app doesn’t try to confuse users with lots of features most people will probably never use. Rather, it aims to offer an alternative solution that remedies some of the glaring omissions within the native Windows app.

free commander

So, if you’re a first-time user, what can you expect?

Free Commander offers a tabbed interface, dual panels for easy drag-and-drop, built-in support for archive handling How To Extract Files From ZIP, RAR, 7z & Other Common Archives How To Extract Files From ZIP, RAR, 7z & Other Common Archives Were you ever faced with a .rar file and wondered how to open it? Fortunately, managing ZIP files and other compressed archives is simple with the right tools. Here is what you need to know. Read More (ZIP files), folder synchronization, definable shortcuts, and even a DOS command line.

Download: Free Commander

5. Explorer++

The second entirely-free app on the list, Explorer++ makes the cut because it’s open source. That means the community can keep working on it for as long as they wish — there’s no danger you’ll be tied to an unsupported app at some point in the future.

explorer plus plus

Interestingly, it’s also one of the most basic apps on the list. It looks the most similar to Windows File Explorer and offers the fewest enhancements.

Despite that, the enhancements will lift most users to a new level of productivity. You will enjoy tabbed browsing, the ability to merge and split files, and a display window for file previews.

Download: Explorer++

6. Altap Salamander

Most of the apps I have shown you so far have focused on one computer. Altap Salamander is the first Windows File Explorer replacement that makes a big push to offer extensive networking tools Networking 101: Ethernet, LANs, and How They Work Networking 101: Ethernet, LANs, and How They Work Even for modern users, the language surrounding home networking can be a little confusing. What's a LAN? Why do I need an Ethernet cable? Isn't it all the same? Read More .

Network protocols such as FTP, FTPS, SCP, and SFTP are all supported. It makes transferring files over the internet exceptionally straightforward.

altap salamander

The app also offers support for more archive file types than its rivals. It can work with ZIP, RAR, 7-Zip, ISO images, and UDF images.

Altap Salamander offers one other unique tool: a built-in password manager How to Migrate From LastPass to an Alternative Password Manager How to Migrate From LastPass to an Alternative Password Manager LastPass is a popular password manager, but if you've decided to move to another solution, you'll need to export your data. Here's how to export your data into 1Password, Dashlane, or KeePass. Read More . It means you can protect any sensitive or personal files using secure encryption techniques, thus stopping them from falling into the wrong hands.

Costing around $27 (depending on the current euro exchange rate), it’s also one of the most reasonably-priced paid apps.

Download: Altap Salamander

7. TagSpaces

I will leave you with something entirely different. Have you heard of TagSpaces? If not, it’s worth a look.

TagSpaces is an open source file organizer. It’s seemingly targeted at light users and people who want to keep everything organized on their machine without using a full-featured file manager.

tagspaces

It works by adding user-defined tags to all your files. For example, you could tag things as “Photos,” “Recipes,” “College,” and so on. You can color-coordinate your tags, then organize them thematically into groups for easy recall.

Best of all, because it works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android, you can stay coordinated regardless of which device you’re working on. The app even boasts Chromecast support.

Download: TagSpaces

Which File Manager Replacement Do You Use?

In this piece, I’ve introduced you to seven different file managers. Each of them will appeal to a different type of user.

People looking for a small amount of added functionality should consider Explorer++ or Free Commander. If you’re a power user, check out XYplorer or Directory Opus. Developers need fman, networkers need Altap Salamander, and if you want something completely different, download TagSpaces.

Which Windows File Explorer replacements do you use? What makes them so unique? Why should they be on this list? Let us know your thoughts, opinions, and feedback in the comments below. And remember to share the article on social media to see what your followers think.

Image Credit: OBprod/Shutterstock

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  1. Joel
    October 17, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I use One Commander (v2) for the dual-pane and shortcut customization.

  2. Happy
    September 20, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Not really a file manager per se, but I used Clover 3 on Windows. It makes Windows Explorer / File Explorer tabbed and adds some nice features, without being bloated.

  3. Wayne Pirtle
    August 25, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    I use multi-commander which is free and comes in both an installable version and a portable version. It is specifically for windows but it has a lot of features and is easy to use. I believe that it exceeds most of the file managers mentioned in the article with the exception of fman which has the advantage of running across three operating systems but has a steep learning curve due to it being totally keyboard driven.

  4. Joe Birch
    August 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

    2xExplorer. A twin pane explorer which is very small, has loads of functionality and has worked on every version of windows since Windows 95.

  5. alex
    August 2, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    free commander simply the best.... and I tried them all one by one

  6. roirraWedorehT
    August 1, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    I've been using Directory Opus for over 25 years. There's just nothing like it. I've tried the others on this list, I always go back to DOpus.

  7. Jay
    July 31, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    IMHO, Multi Commander, is one of the best orthodox (dual pane) file manager (hints: Norton Commander lover). Lots of customization and still actively developed. Another one is oMega Commander, which has MS office ribbon style, which make it looks quite modern.

  8. Matt
    July 31, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Total Commander (before Windows Commander and the DOS original before) - nothing else for ages now.
    You can use it for free and if you are used to the old DOS file managers it's a no brainer, especially if you are the keyboard using kind of guy.
    I recommend buying a license even if development is slow currently - there is not much to be optimized though anyway.
    Close 2nd place is QDir

  9. WWY
    July 31, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Anyone serious about file managers has to check out xplorer2 (www.zabkat.com). It has a free version for personal use plus 2 paid versions. I have been a user of the paid version for at least 10 years. I've tried the others, free and paid, and nothing comes close. The feature set is huge and it has a very active user community with a forum. I work in software development so file managers are my life line.

    • Michael
      August 1, 2017 at 11:55 am

      I will second that

    • TheGabe
      August 2, 2017 at 11:36 am

      It seems, there are only the two paid versions left.

    • Carol Elkins
      August 2, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      Ditto. Been using xplorer2 since 2007 that I know for sure. My favorite feature is being able to display two separate folders side by side and drag and drop between them. And being able to create bookmarks to often-used directories so that I don't have to navigate to them. There are far more sophisticated features, but these are the two that make me glad I purchased a lifetime license.

  10. Nobruca
    July 31, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I've been using the free version of xplorer² for years now and it's my default file manager. Q-Dir is also a very interesting option: you can have up to 4 different file locations opened at the same time, it's highly customizable, portable and completely free.

  11. Eric
    July 31, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I use Total Commander. It has pretty much everything I need(tabs, plugins, etc...) and has a paid version and free version. Free is nag screen but nothing horrible.

    • Mike Bee
      August 8, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      Second that. I've used TC for more than 18 years and rely on its speed, flexibility, and rock solid performance. It is the one that I've seen most support persons use, as it has the complete feature set and reliability you need.

  12. Jon
    July 31, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    My problem is that all these are cluttered, confusingly organized, and overloaded with features without taking into consideration what features are more important to put before the user, and which ought to be hid. And they are all ugly. I'm still looking for/waiting for something that is like the Mac's Finder--seriously, nothing with a column view? And attractive iconography? and a simple interface that works?

  13. steve
    July 31, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    I've used FreeCommander for many years and I find it meets my needs totally - so much so that although it is free I took on the paid 'supporters' solution.