The 5 Good Free Windows File Managers

David Pierce 05-02-2009

free windows file managerWindows 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 - 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 Replace Windows Explorer With A More Powerful Alternative Read More .


ExplorerXP - windows explorer alternative

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 - free windows explorer software

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?

Related topics: File Management, Windows Explorer.

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  1. Mariam
    June 9, 2017 at 4:47 pm

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  3. Fred
    November 16, 2015 at 2:42 pm


    Thanks for this list. I also found Xplorer2 the best from a more exhaustive search of my own. I'd like to point out for anyone who might miss it that the programme is actually Xplorer [squared] or Xplorer [to the power two] NOT Xplorer TWO (which might seem like another software altogether).

  4. chris
    February 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    lol:P some of you seem to have been missing what the topic says, The 5 Good FREE! Windows File Managers.
    Total Commander, not free, but a good one, I agree

  5. Kevin Reynolds
    December 31, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I downloaded Explorer 2 lite (because of this article. Thank you) and like it. I also have Total Commander and like it too. Explorer 2 however also came with a neat replacement for notepad which I really like. I have other text editors but this one seems just the right size and functionality. Make Use Of just continues to bring out good stuff. Thanks guys!

  6. Wally Hemmings
    September 12, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Turbo Navigator,.. it's been around for a few years and does everything I need from a free, dual pane Explorer replacement

  7. Michael Williams
    August 29, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I have been using the FileQuest File Explorer - it is not free, but it has a 50 day fully functional trial, and is full of great file management features like reports, ftp, tasks, and file splitting.
    Check it out here" rel="nofollow">

  8. Michael Williams
    August 29, 2009 at 8:17 am

    I use the FileQuest file explorer from PiQuest software.

    It allows you to open up to 15 windows, has automated tasks, powerful search, and reporting. After FileQuest, I will never go back to windows.

    You can check it out at

  9. Wickyd
    August 24, 2009 at 10:07 am

    I was looking for the following:

    1. Dual-pane explorer.
    2. Able to group files by extension.
    3. Renames a file by only highlights the name and not the extension.
    4. Looks like a native Windows Classic application.

    Q-Dir fits my needs perfectly.

    Thank you.

  10. Nick
    August 7, 2009 at 3:53 am

    All I really want is one that shows me how many folders and files are inside the folder I select (click on), and how big they are.

    Please please please can anyone tell me of a free Windows Explorer alternative that can show me this.

    For instance, I want to be able to click on a folder that has music in it and see how many .mp3 tracks are in that folder, and if there is another folder in it too.

    • Wickyd
      August 24, 2009 at 10:16 am

      Hi Nick

      Q-Dir can do that. If you click on a folder, it updates the status bar with the following:

      Size in MB (Files:# Folders:#)

      For example, I click on one of my folders and it shows:
      330.0 MB (Files:40 Folders:5)

      • Nick
        August 24, 2009 at 10:31 am

        Hi Wickyd.

        Thanks for the suggestion!

        I dl'd Q-Dir (3.93) but the status bar is just showing how many objects are in the directory. Is there perhaps an option I need to enable?

        I have Extras --> Status-Bar --> Size of selected objects including sub-folders ticked.

  11. Herman
    June 8, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Guys, a little comment, and asking for advice:
    1. I really love the background pic in the folders, that windows explorer has. But Explorer X2 Lite doesn't have this.
    2. Explorer X2 Lite have a great functionality, especially the dual pane, and integrated unzipper (CMIIW). But, when I see in the task manager, if I run the Explorer X2 Lite, the windows explorer is running too!! Well, IMHO, it's a memory waste (again, please CMIIW).
    3. So, what I'm asking to you guys is that, is there any explorer that has the background pic in the folder function like the Windows Explorer, and has the dual pane and other functionality that Explorer X2 Lite has, but completely overtake the windows explorer, so that the windows explorer wont run also.

    Thank you in advance, and very much appreciate for your reply ...

  12. Korvus
    May 23, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Sorry guys, Total Commander is most definitely the most advanced of all, even than Directory Opus. The point is that is makes you very very productive and offers so many features (some of them for advanced users).

    Directory Opus is also something to look into.

    IMO those presented in this article are really a joke. However they are FREE and Total Commander or Directory Opus aren't.

  13. Michael Z
    April 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    XYplorer handles my everyday file management best of all the file managers I've tried.

  14. Mr. Ed
    April 27, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I am running Vista x64, and many file managers do not play fair with it. The best "Commander" style I have found is the very powerful "NexusFile V", and it can be found at

    Try it...You'll love it!

  15. Clint Laskowski
    February 19, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Sorry if I missed in the reviews or comments, but do any of these have tags? I want to tag my files and be able to search for them by tags. I have seen (but have not tried) TaggedFrog. Anyone have comments or an alternative I should think about?

  16. Herman
    February 10, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks RanMan. Will do. Hopefully, they can .... T_T

  17. RanMan
    February 10, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Hey Herman !

    I suggest you go to the software author's web site and perhaps contact him/her to see if their application supports what you desire. Most of the 3rd party explorer apps I install do not support that function. I do not know because I don't use that software.

    Good Luck !

  18. Herman
    February 9, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Guys, please help me. I've just use the Explorer2 Lite and I really really really miss the background picture in certain folder. FYI, I have customized some folders in MyDocument folder (including) the MyDocument folder itself, so that everytime I click/open the folder, there is a picture in the background of the folder. I do this by copying a file called desktop.ini in that folder, and inside it, I mention/place i picture filename that I want to show everytime I click the folder.

    So guys, please help me to reappear this picture in the background of the folder when I use the Explorer2 Lite. Many ....many ...many thanks, cause I really love the background pic in the folder.

    • daniel
      June 8, 2009 at 4:46 pm

      you can't add a background image to Explorer2, shell scripting was an advantage of windows explorer unfortunatly.

  19. penetrarthur
    February 7, 2009 at 8:44 am

    total commander of course. i used to use FAR before.

  20. Devildogâ„¢
    February 6, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    I myself have enjoyed PowerDesk Pro for Years, and the latest is the best yet. If you sign up at Avanquest Site (New Owner of PowerDesk ) for Newsletter and Deals, they will send one for PowerDesk where you can buy it for little or nothing...

    • aranwe
      February 10, 2009 at 4:05 pm

      i love it.

  21. RanMan
    February 6, 2009 at 11:06 am

    My favorites and its freeware is Q-Dir. I've been using it for over a year and the four pane setup makes moving and finding files very quick. Also has a few skins to choose from. Latest version is v3.51.

  22. Jeff
    February 6, 2009 at 10:22 am

    +1 for Total Commander. I've used it for years and I feel lost and alone whenever I use a computer that doesn't have it installed. The keyboard shortcuts (customizable) are awesome.

  23. zecc
    February 6, 2009 at 8:19 am

    is it just me but xyplorer seems to be missing from the list... it has a very nice free version...

  24. Sharninder
    February 6, 2009 at 2:58 am

    Maybe its just me, but I think windows explorer has improved quite a bit since the windows 95 days and it has almost all the features now that the third party file managers boast of. It deals with multimedia files pretty well, has support for zip files and can atleast do read only ftp. Haven't tried uploading through windows explorer so I don't know if it supports that.

    Only thing it probably doesn't do, yet, is mount .iso files and maybe other formats such as rar, bin,cue etc. But, call me old school or anything, I think these features are better kept out of the file manager. A file manager should deal with files only and not archives.

  25. Susan
    February 6, 2009 at 2:10 am

    How you could have an article about explorer replacements and not include Directory Opus when it clearly belongs at the top is beyond me. Brilliant program in so many ways. Totally customizable and good support too. (And as the Chinese say, Cheap is not cheap, expensive is not expensive.)

    • CanUread?
      July 30, 2009 at 4:56 pm

      Can't you read? DirOpus is the best file manager around, but the title of this particular article is "The 5 Good FREE Windows File Managers"

  26. Bill
    February 6, 2009 at 4:09 am

    I like Accelman from Flexigensoft

  27. Friday
    February 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I use xplorer2 and freecommander, but recently found Q-Dir. It allows up to four panes, which is potentially cool. And it preserves some of the look and feel of the original explorer, which I actually like. It's portable, too.

  28. Khanxay
    February 6, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I've been using Snowbird for the past few weeks.

  29. j8048188
    February 5, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    7-zip all the way.

  30. Oscar Pineda
    February 5, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    FreeCommander has really nice and productive features and has almost the same functionallity as Total Commander but for free, still if you have US$38 you should go for it.

    Another interesting option is Alt Commander a freeware clone of Total Commander

    Total Commander should be mentioned in this article .. it's practically the big brother of alternate Windows Explorers

  31. Rebecca
    February 5, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I'm a fan of the QTTabbar explorer extension. Explorer.exe's got to run anyway, and replacements are just another process eating my RAM (and on my old home computer, that's an issue). It lacks the dual-pane feature, but I find I like tabs just as well in most situations, and there's good support for dragging things between tabs.

    The address breadcrumbs plug-in is useful, and QTTabbar has under the hood a lot of other options that I like from file explorer replacement apps, such as being able to set keyboard shortcuts (like create a new folder in a directory with Ctrl-N, for example).

  32. Victor Vasconcelos
    February 5, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    I'd rather have my Explorer modded. Where is the love for QTTabBar? Actually, ALL "QT" family is superfeatured and awesome.

    I don't feel the need to use them in Windows 7, though.

    • josh
      February 5, 2009 at 3:24 pm

      While QTTabBar isn't an explorer replacement technically, it's a fantastic addition. Also, Explorer Breadcrumbs, while again not an explorer replacement, also provides a nice addition to explorer.

  33. ragundo
    February 5, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Mi vote is for Ultraexplorer.
    The Grouping file type feature is fantastic. For each file type in a folder you get a collapsable entry, allowing tho show or hide files with a clic and leaving a folder uncluttered..
    Very useful for folders with a lot of files ( like downloaded internet files ).
    Unfortunately, the program is discontinued

  34. friendinme
    February 5, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I agree with Jim Priest. I tied most of the others and I think that Directory Opus is hands-down the best. It is in a league of its own. It is pricey but for what I do, it was well worth it.

  35. Owl
    February 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Total Commander puts most others to shame imho.

  36. ps123
    February 5, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    you might be mistaken as to what is actually crashing when it says "windows explorer" has crashed. it's not just the file explorer that these programs replace, the entire shell is called "explorer.exe" and that's what crashes. Explorer is the whole UI, the taskbar, etc. There are full desktop replacements out there, one that comes to mine is LiteStep.

    Those programs also wont prevent it from crashing. They still use the Windows API. They are, however, more useful and are capable of more things than just the vanilla file explorer that comes in windows. Just don't fool yourself into thinking it will solve those crashes.

  37. Jim Priest
    February 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Pricey but hands down the winner - Directory Opus.

  38. hsj
    February 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    No love for Total Commander? Free Commander has the same heritage so I'll let it slide but the others look dull. The Windows treeview is a horrible way to navigate a file system.

    • Jash Sayani
      February 5, 2009 at 3:50 pm

      Just what I was going to say!

      Total Commander is my favorite!!!

      It has tons of cool add-ons that goes from FTP/SSH features to mounting ISO files or even mounting ZIP files.
      Some add-ons allow users to connect to devices like the iPod or iPhone and gain file access.

  39. Arun Shivaram
    February 5, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    My favorite explorer replacement is Explorer++ . Check it out at

  40. Amr
    February 5, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    There's also CubicExplorer at


    • Charax
      February 6, 2009 at 4:11 am

      LOVE CubicExplorer, I added a registry key that makes Windows use it as the default explorer

      • Amr
        February 6, 2009 at 10:46 am

        How can I add a registry key to make it the default explorer?

        • Aibek
          February 10, 2009 at 5:22 am

          I am not sure if that's possible,. The only thing I found is how to change the default opening folder in explorer.

          [Broken Link Removed]