25 October 2006

#5. A Great Explorer Is Discovered

Marco Polo. Leif Ericsson. Christopher Columbus. Ferdinand Magellan. James Cook. Roald Amundsen. Robert Peary. Neil Armstrong. All were great explorers, whose courageous exertions shrunk our world.

Sometimes, however, great discoveries are born of sloth. That's how I came across another great explorer: the xplorer2 file manager. One day, while creating a lot of new folders, I tired of pressing File, New, New for each one. "Nu, nu," [Yiddish for "come on already"] I thought to myself, "there must be a better way!" So like Stanley finding Livingstone, I searched until I found xplorer2. It's miles beyond the familiar old Microsoft Windows Explorer for disk and file management.

Welcome back to the Tool Bar & Grill, where you can find another valuable new Windows utility or Web site on the 10th and 25th of every month.

Xplorer2 the Rescue

xplorer2's feature list is far too long to describe here. Like many file managers, xplorer2 comes in two versions: “lite,” which is free for private use, and “pro” shareware with richer features. If you know me, you've already guessed I'm using xplorer2 lite. I've been using it for a few years, and still have barely scratched the surface of its capabilities. My favorite and most frequently used features of the lite version (most of which are lacking in Windows Explorer) include these:

  • See the contents of two folders at once with dual folder panes. Further subdivide folder panes with tabs.
  • Copy or move files between panes with one key press.
  • Display folder sizes, including subfolders.
  • Synchronize two folders by date, file name, or contents, and review two folders’ contents together with mirror scrolling.
  • Select the drive to display on the tool bar, in the folder tree, or with shortcut keys.
  • See text and graphics, even play music and videos, in a preview pane.
  • Jump directly to favorite folders or files with bookmarks, including shortcut keys.
  • See the file size and date, total size of selected files, and drive free space in the status bar.
  • View file metadata in tool tips (including file names in compressed files).
  • Add comments and apply categories to files and folders, and search or sort them by these attributes and other extended file information.
  • Select and mark files with incredible flexibility through wild cards, filters, and more, and save selections for future use.
  • Copy file or folder information as text for pasting or printing (almost as good as Karen's Directory Printer).
  • Rename all selected files at once, according to a template you define.
  • Split files or shred (irretrievably erase) them.
  • Right-click a folder pane title bar to select any folder previously displayed in that pane.
  • Customize the layout, fonts, colors, and other display elements.
  • Save different display configurations and apply them at will.
  • And yes, one key press creates a new folder.

The list could go on and on. xplorer2 also is much faster than Windows Explorer in all its operations.

Here's how xplorer2 looks with horizontal dual panes (they can be vertical too):

Both versions of xplorer2 are available from the author at http://www.zabkat.com/ and from other download sites. The lite version is loaded with tools and shortcuts, and has nearly all the functionality I’ve ever wanted. If you use the lite version, I urge you to reward the author with a donation. For readers of "Jonathan's Tool Bar & Grill," the author has agreed to credit lite donations to the pro upgrade's purchase price; just mention my name.

The pro version has even more advanced capabilities, including:

  • Search within compressed files
  • “Deep” synchronization (includes subfolders)
  • Sort and search by multiple criteria
  • Find and clean out duplicate files
  • Formatted preview of Office and PDF files
  • Search in Office and PDF files using filters
  • Save display settings for each folder
  • And many more

There are many other capable free and shareware file managers, and everyone has a favorite. For example, old-timers who are nostalgic for the old DOS-based Norton Commander might appreciate Total Commander (shareware) or freeCommander or JCommander (both free). If you’re a Linux user, try the highly rated i.File (free). I recently read a warm recommendation of PowerDesk from a highly respected computer columnist. I checked out the free version, which looks similar to xplorer2, but found it inferior to xplorer2. For instance, it does not show folder sizes, has no shortcut keys for favorites, has no preview pane, and loses the focus when moving up the folder tree. It also irritated me by hijacking some associations (for example, double-click a folder in Windows Explorer or select the Control Panel, and it opens in PowerDesk, which loads slowly). And the free version shows annoying ads for the Pro version, which xplorer2 lite does not do. So for me, xplorer2 still gets two thumbs up.

Please post your comments below. And check back here on November 10 for another review of useful tools.

This column first appeared at http://www.elephant.org.il/jonathans_tool_bar_grill.

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