Nautilus, the default file manager in Gnome, is extremely popular among Linux users. Not only is it easy to use, but it’s pretty common to find as it’s on all Ubuntu and other Gnome-based systems. However, Nautilus isn’t the only kid on the block.
Just recently, I took a look at Dolphin, the default file manager for KDE, and found that it offers a lot of extra functionality compared to Nautilus. But Dolphin isn’t the only file manager Nautilus has to be worried about – there’s also Thunar, the Xfce file manager, to complete the big three. Is it better than Nautilus as well?
Nautilus is the default file manager for the Gnome desktop. It has a handful of derivatives, including Nemo found in Linux Mint (Cinnamon), Caja found in the MATE desktop environment, and Nautilus Elementary, but we won’t be looking at those in this comparison.
The file manager offers a handful of nice features to make navigating very easy. It includes a panel on the left side for easy access to bookmarks and important locations, and the rest of the window is given to an actual view of the files and folders. Nautilus has recently consolidated all of its settings (for the most part) so that you can access all of its advanced features from just one location. For a more detailed look at Nautilus, you can take a look at its comparison against Dolphin.
Thunar, the default file manager for the Xfce desktop environment, is the third of the major three file managers (derivatives excluded). If you know anything about Xfce, it’s that the desktop environment focuses on using a small amount of system resources (although arguably LXDE is better at this), so you can easily assume that Thunar will follow the same goals and principles. However, can it still compete with Nautilus even with its focus on being lightweight?
In case you don’t have Thunar installed and are interested in trying it out, it should be easily found by searching in your respective package manager for “thunar”. Xfce users should already have this installed, and Gnome users can install it rather easily as both Gnome and Xfce use the GTK toolkit. KDE users should expect to see GTK-related dependencies slated for installation if they are not already installed.
When you first launch Thunar, you’ll discover that it looks very much like Nautilus. There’s a panel on the left side of the window which holds bookmarks and important locations, and then a simple view of your files and folders.
Thunar doesn’t have a single button to access all of its files, but rather maintains the traditional menu bar. The navigational panel is simplified relative to Nautilus, as it only includes back, forward, up, and home buttons as well as the folder path.
It’s similar to Nautilus, however, in that you can change this in the View menu from Toolbar Style to Pathbar Style – which shows the most recent few folders as clickable buttons. Overall, it looks like Thunar offers roughly the same features as Nautilus. Someone has mentioned to me that Nautilus does have a way to have a “split screen” effect to show two folders at once – Thunar doesn’t seem to have this option.
Thunar also offers a way to configure custom actions. These allow you to manipulate the files or folders selected in whatever manner you choose. The window also displays a list of command parameters which you can use in your custom commands.
One curious thing about Thunar is that one window takes up 18MB of RAM. Nautilus, on the other hand, takes about 9MB of RAM, which is certainly a lot less than Thunar. This comparison would even tend to favor Thunar, as I believe Nautilus also has the role of managing the desktop files on Gnome desktops while Thunar doesn’t have that responsibility on Xfce. However, if you run Nautilus in a non-Gnome environment, it has to load Gnome-related libraries – bringing the total to almost 24MB. Generally speaking, neither one has an outright advantage in memory usage – it depends on which environment is being used along with it.
Thunar also includes other nice features, including:
- Customizable appearance
- File properties
- Manage actions for removable media (auto run programs, warn about unwritten data, etc.)
- Mouse gestures
- Keyboard shortcuts (no surprise there)
- Hidden settings
- Plugins (includes “Send To” menu, bulk renamer, custom actions)
So which file manager is ultimately the better choice? I’d have to call it a draw. There are simply too many areas where both file managers are on par. While Thunar may benefit from a few extra minor features, it doesn’t get the same love by third-party developers that Nautilus does. There are tradeoffs by using either of them. Ultimately, I’d have to just recommend to use the file manager that comes with your desktop environment unless there’s something that you absolutely like in the other one.
Which file manager do you use? Which feature is most important to you? Let us know in the comments!
Image credit: King Penguins