Which Linux File Browser Is More Productive: Nautilus or Dolphin?

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Any regular Linux user will know that the two most common desktop environments are Gnome and KDE. Additionally, each desktop environment likes to pack its own software along with it, everything from core items such as system setting control panels to photo management software.

Therefore, users of competing desktop environments will notice that they’re using different file managers — an important part of desktop productivity. Surprisingly, there are a lot of things that can go right or wrong with a file manager, so these applications do a lot more than simply show where your files are. I compared Nautilus, Gnome’s default file manager, with Dolphin, KDE’s default file manager, to see which one is the easiest to use and which one is the best for productivity.



Nautilus has often been seen as a decent file manager that offers enough features to make any user productive without cluttering the interface and making it difficult to use. Its interface is pretty straightforward — it includes a panel on the left side with common folder destinations as well as bookmarked locations, and you have a few navigational and settings buttons along the top.

Usually Nautilus also includes a menu bar, but in Ubuntu (with which the screenshot was taken) the menu bar is placed into the top global bar. It has been put on a diet over the past few Gnome 3 releases to cut some fat in the interface, which has been hotly debated over whether or not that’s a good thing. The menu bar is actually pretty pitiful, as it only includes a File menu with a few options, where only the “Connect to Server” option isn’t found anywhere else. This is actually quite confusing for anyone who needs to use that functionality as they’ll think that they can find it — along with everything else — somewhere else such as by clicking on the gear/settings button. Besides the items found in the settings button, there aren’t any additional settings to configure.

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Otherwise, Nautilus is a very nice file manager. If navigation is the main concern for you in a file manager, then Nautilus will deliver just fine. There are a handful of derivations of Nautilus that you can also try out, including Nautilus Elementary, Nemo, Caja, and more.


You can easily download and install Nautilus by looking for a “nautilus” package in your respective package manager. Do be aware that if you’re not already using a GTK+ based desktop environment, you will most likely be facing a handful of extra dependencies that need to be installed.



Dolphin, on the other hand, follows KDE’s philosophy of placing importance on features and customizability. As such, you’ll immediately notice that the interface isn’t nearly as slim as Nautilus’s. Similarly to Nautilus, Dolphin includes a left panel of common folder destinations, as well as some buttons to customize navigation and configure other settings.

Most importantly, Dolphin includes “Split” and “Preview” buttons that Nautilus lacks. Split allows a second navigational area to appear within the same window, while Preview allows you to view thumbnails of images and videos. Nautilus doesn’t have any “split” functionality, but “preview” functionality is enabled (but not available as a button toggle).


Thankfully, Dolphin packs all of its configurable settings into one drop-down menu button called “Control”. From here, you can easily change some other views such as enabling visibility of additional information and hidden files, control the panels and location bar, and view other deeper settings available for Dolphin.


Dolphin can also be easily downloaded and installed by searching for a “dolphin” package in your respective package manager. If you cannot find it, you may need to search the Internet to see in which package Dolphin is bundled into — some distributions like to bundle certain KDE applications into a single package. Do be aware that if you’re not using KDE or any Qt-based desktop environment, you’ll also likely face a lot of extra dependencies slated for installation.

Which is more productive?

While both of these file managers are great choices, I have to declare Dolphin the winner because it is fairly easy to use and it packs a ton of features. Nautilus is easier to use, but not by enough to offset the feature and configurability difference between the two. However, keep in mind that this is the beauty of choice — it is good to test out all your options so that you’ve tried them all, but if there’s an application that works best for you, there’s no reason for you to stop using it.

Which file manager (including any others not mentioned) do you use? Is it because you chose the file manager or you chose the desktop environment? Let us know in the comments!

Image credit: Andy Ciordia

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37 Comments - Write a Comment



Dolphin because I love KDE. KDE because I love dolphin.



in nautilus, at least outside of Ubuntu, and in older versions of ubuntu as well, split is called “extra pane” available under view or by pressing f3.
interesting read aside from that.

Danny Stieben

Thanks for that tidbit! Maybe I just happened to skim over that.



The more productive file manager is the one you are more familiar with. Those that have been using Midnight Commander for a long time find that they can be more productive with it than with either Dolphin or Nautilus.

A. C.

You are completely correct; the application you’re familiar with is the one you’re most productive with. I expect there will be no end to hair-splitting “legalists” out there that claim that in an objective test of people who have never used a file manager, their preferred program would come out on top. I think it would end up about the same.

John D.

hair-splitting “legalists”

We call those people “bureaucrats”



Nautilus, much like gnome and unity is being oversimplified and locked up for some reason. dolphin along with KDE offers more features and the option to use them however you want. that’s the whole reason i use Linux. so i think you’re right. dolphin is the clear winner.



It’s unfortunate that the default file managers in Gnome and KDE are dumbed-down. While Nautilus is continually stripped of useful options, it somehow manages to remain a slow and resource-hungry FM.

Dolphin really is what Nautlilus strives to be. A simple and efficient (if option-deficient) manager.

Krusader is easily the most powerful gui file manager on Linux, but requires KDE libraries. On the console, I love the fast and efficient Ranger.


I agree about Krusader. It’s hard to beat a dual-pane file manager with single key strokes dedicated to the most-used file management functions.

Danny Stieben

I really need to try out Krusader then…



I use Nautilus because I use Gnome 3, but I agree that Dolphin is a better file manager in almost every conceivable way. Too bad I can’t get used to KDE.


Carlie Coats

If you have to deal with huge images (as I do), then an
insist-on-previews file managere is impossible to deal with.
It is painful enough to load hundred-megapixel images when
you *want* to, without having them haltn activity every
time you visit that directory.



So disable preview.



command line (bash, ls, cp et. al) is the most powerful file manager, by far.



Dolphin also has built in file workflow

If, for example, you open an audio CD then it automatically provides folders for mp3 and flac (possibly others, been a while) – if you open those folders it auto-rips the CD into that format without further ado

So smooth it’s slightly confusing for the tech aware – when I first saw the feature I thought the folders were on the CD

Danny Stieben

I never knew about that! I remember trying to do the same task with Windows many years ago when I didn’t know any better — of course that didn’t work.



The most important feature of any file manager is the ability to spawn a terminal in a directory. Nautilus keep taking that out, and although it’s easy to put back, for that reason alone, I don’t like it. Happily Caja and Nemo put it back in. Dolphin is KDE, and I don’t.


tim lovejoy

Beauty of choice is what Dolphin is all about.
I notice that every time I go see my folks and see their deskop and laptop side by side, my mom and dad both use Dolphin and both of them are configured to how they want. My dad wants to have more butons at top like Delete and it has to be big.
I run across this very often and most recently with Gwenview which is different on my wifes laptop (she mainly views and slideshows) and my sons who do much more stuff with pictures so their buttons bar is full as is the left side panel.
I like that: same program but can look different and serve both newbies and experts.

Anytime I use a computer at work the first thing I miss is the Split-View.

Danny Stieben

Great story! I’m impressed that all of your family uses Linux! I’m having a hard time converting my family over. So far I’ve only been successful with my girlfriend, and somewhat my dad. That’s about it.



I still use Konqueror as a file manager- never tried Krusader.

Danny Stieben

I thought Konqueror was primarily a web browser?


I’m not sure how it started- but if you open Konqueror, go to Settings -> Load View Profile -> File Management it turns in to Dolphin cubed. The main thing I haven’t been able to do in Dolphin is split windows more than once- Konqueror has a Window menu heading with Split View Top/Bottom and Split View Right/Left which can keep splitting- I often have a remote directory (via fish:// ) or 2 open along with two or more local directories.


Cliff Jones

I’ve been engaged in this debate since 1998… I HATE nautilus, and it’s only gotten worse over the years.

BTW the “split left-right” view in ‘dolphin’ is the most useful thing a file manager ever came up with. Think filerunner and midnight commander (fr and mc respectively) Decades after their creation those 2 are still very useful, more so than nautilus.

It seem the nautilus devs harbor the attitude that minimizing choice automatically means boosting productivity. Of course I disagree.

I like gnome, and in fact run ‘dolphin’ in it often.

I put ‘dolphin’ in pseudo-quotes because I actually don’t use it. I use it’s back end, konqueror, with the original front end, the kfm. (K file manager) My icon launches “kfmclient openURL /data” (/data is a shared folder usually on my standard servers)

I find konqueror to be more ‘professional’ than dolphin. Dolphin seems to be for weekend warrior-types, those who don’t earn a living with their computers…

Danny Stieben

Wow, interesting setup! If it works for you, that’s great!


Eddie G.

I would have to agree with a few of the commenters here. the best and most productive file manager will be the one you are moast familiar with, can navigate through quickly, and have knowledge of where everything is. Other than that this is all just “fluff”. but good and informative read none-the-less!



i’d prefer dolphin over nautilus, and nemo over dolphin…
i’ve no particular reason but, i just feel nemo and dolphin more easier than nautilus…
especially in GNOME3, where there no more menu bar and resize-minimize button (in default mode)…


Darrell T

got to be Dolphin better feel to it more of a look than the basic look thanks yh



I really enjoyed the article, as it came at a time when I was experiencing problems using the latest version of nautilus, having just moved to ubuntu 13.04 from 12.04. I would go to dolphin, but I don’t want to install all the kde baggage that comes with it. However, decided to try nemo, and I have to say that so far it seems to fill in the gaps that the new nautilus has recently introduced. So, for me at the moment it’s nemo.

Danny Stieben

I agree. It looked for a while like Linux Mint wasn’t going to have much remaining to “fix” compared to Ubuntu, but I was wrong. Nemo is just one example.



Well, i like dolphin the most, even if i used it very little, but i use XFCE and i actually like thunar a lot too (simplicity well done), i uninstalled dolphin, because some features don’t seem work well outside of KDE (i’m sure it can be fixed, and maybe even easily, but i currently don’t have time to worry about it).

In the few times i have used a mac i liked the file manager, leaving their Evil policies aside (mind being owned by the product, instead of owning it?), mac products just work and are fine for most common uses… anyway, do you think there is a file manager similar to mac’s finder? Actually, the feature i’m looking/hoping for is the column view (?), wich i think is a bit similar to a split view in dolphin, except the columns aren’t independent (if you open a directory in column1, it will open in column2, and column2 directories will open in column3)… i’m wondering if this can be accomplished with dolphin (then i would rush to reinstall dolphin hehehe).



I found a file manager with the “column view” (Miller Columns), it’s called Marlin, and apparently it’s based on thunar… i tried it, but i think it still needs some more work. Also, it seems that dolphin had a project (or at least the wish) to add column view but they dropped it.

A dual pane+column view FM would surely rule over the rest.


Dilyan Traynov

Nobody has notice a BIG advantage of Dolphin file manager… It has a build in protocol “fish://” which is used to browse computers, that run ssh server. This combined with Split-View, no more FIlezilla .
Dolphin FTW :)



Nautilus just sucks.

Slow and no preview option.



Dolphin has way more functionality than Nautilus without looking cluttered. Not only that, it also looks great doing its job.


Michael Fahey

Dolphin or Nautilus?
And the winner is… Neither.

Dolphin’s functionality is way better than Nautilus, there is no question about that.
But Dolphin, up to the latest stable version (, contains a bug so serious as to make it worthless.

Dolphin does not refresh when files change. If you are on a shared drive, or even one on your local workstation, to see any changes requires the view to be refreshed with an F5. Every time you look at a Dolphin file window, you have to hit F5 to see any changes.

This bug has been reported many times, the response from the dev’s is always “it works for me” and it never gets fixed.

PS, The winner is Xfe.


Falko Meyer

I’m used to avoiding file managers completely. A console window with about 6 tabs does well for me, often with several ssh connections to different remote machines. Common command interpreters do provide a history, command and filename completion as well as regular expressions and pattern matching, which greatly helps in file management. Especially using middle mouse button copying it’s way less typing than one might expect.

If it comes to using a file manager I’m currently going with Dolphin. It’s included with KDE that I chose for being the slightly more usable of the two big desktop environments (imho).

PS: transferring files or directory structures between computers w/o a GUI:
cat /path/to/file | ssh remote_computer cat – >/path/to/file
tar cf – directory | ssh remote_computer tar -C /path/to/ -xf -


Falko Meyer

Yep of course it ate the backslash before the “>” in the command using cat.

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