Windows Explorer, for any Windows user, is a key component of your computer-based life. It’s where you put files, where you find stuff, and how you manage everything on your computer.
Which is unfortunate, because Windows Explorer is a terrible application. It’s bad at tracking where you’ve been, it makes it hard to copy, move or even find files, and loves to fail me and close everything on my screen.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of Explorer replacements that do Explorer’s job much better than Explorer itself. They have better features, better reliability, and better usability as a whole. Out of the many I looked at, here are the best five free windows file managers (alternative to windows explorer).
Xplorer2 is the program of my choice, and is an awesomely feature-packed free windows file manager. First of all, it opens with two independent panes – great for moving and organizing files. It keeps a trail for you, so you can go back to the last folder (or three folders ago) easily. You can save bookmarks as your favorite spots, see tons of information about all of your files, and customize nearly everything about Xplorer2.
One of my favorite features is the “Preview” ability- Xplorer2 can take files of almost any type (more in the paid version), and preview them for you right in the window – great for making sure you don’t open the wrong file. And that’s all in the free version!
For $20, you can upgrade and get features you never knew you needed, but suddenly won’t be able to live without. The free version’s what I used for a long time, though, and it’s always served me well.
Kyle wrote a more detailed review of Xplorer2 last year here.
ExplorerXP’s nicest feature, in my opinion, is the tabbed interface – have as many tabs open as you want, and move things around in them just by dragging a file or folder to a tab. You can also merge or split files in .zip format, a la WinZip or WinRAR.
ExplorerXP can be set to show or not show certain files or file types, has tons of great keyboard shortcuts, and is arguably the easiest to use of the bunch. Not too many bells and whistles can be found in ExplorerXP, but if all you want is an improvement on the Windows Explorer shell, ExplorerXP’s pretty hard to beat.
I like FreeCommander mostly because it makes me feel like a Jedi leader – The Free Commander. Maybe that’s just me. It’s also, however, a great application – particularly for those with large multimedia libraries.
Built on the same Norton Commander model as Xplorer2 and others, It features a dual-pane interface similar to Xplorer2, and has a similar file previewer as well. FreeCommander can also deal with your .zip, .cab, and .rar files, and even comes with a built-in FTP client.
The standout feature of FreeCommander is the endless customizability, giving you total access to every setting possible. Everything you want and don’t want to see or manage can be edited, and FreeCommander teaches you how with their guide.
A43, as best as I can tell, is Windows 2000/XP only. If you’re using either of those, though, give it a shot. It’s a portable application that’s totally self-contained, and can do a lot more than manage files (though it does that quite well, with the dual-pane and tree views we’ve come to love).
A43 has an integrated text editor, image viewer, powerful search, and a quick launch tab to let you see your most-used applications. It’s almost a replacement for Explorer, the taskbar and a number of your applications all in one.
A43′s not under current support (hence no Vista version), but does what it does incredibly well for XP and 2000 users.
UltraExplorer has a customizable interface that can get too complicated if you let it – but can be really useful if you use it right.
One thing I loved about it is the “Drop Stack,” a place to drag files you use the most for quick access. If you don’t want all the tabs in one window, you can pull them out for quick access individually. For command line junkies, there’s access to a built-in command line window. The Breadcrumb Bar is a great way to navigate through the folder path- a feature glaringly absent from Windows Explorer.
Windows Explorer, I’m convinced, was created to drive you slowly, surely insane – another step into crazy with every lost file and botched cut and paste between windows. With any of these five free apps, you can avoid the irritating, difficult-to-use Windows Explorer, and manage your files in an interface that actually makes sense.
What file-manager do you use? One of these, or something else?
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