File managers at 2018-2019

What is a file manager ?

A file manager is an application which manages files mainly by doing simple file functionality like copy/move/delete/rename etc.

The functionality of a file manager can broaden to many other file-related aspects like a graphic tree of your local hard drive, comparison of directories, edit/view of files, pack/unpack and many more functions.

The main look of a file manager will be a two-pane frame in which you can see two different directories at a glance, while performing functions related to the right pane, left pane or both (like copying a file from the left pane to the right).

There are many modern file managers (a lot of file managers exist today) most have the basic functionality I mentioned earlier, and each one has its own flavor, adding functionality by using a plugin system or having the special functionality at the core level of the file manager.

Why people used them in the past ?

In the past (I am talking about the DOS era 1980-1997), a file manager was more than luxury, it was a must as all functionality on a PC was file-based, there was no GUI, no windows, no registry, no internet and all functions were file centric, thus file managers were the way to go  as without them you had to manage the command line which was much more complicated and prone to errors.

The first worth mentioning file manager which all modern file managers imitate and refer to was the NC - Norton Commander which operated over the DOS and showed a two pane graphical interface with menus on top and a quick menu on the button which could be operated using the F1-8 keys.

Where f3 viewed a file, f4 edited the file, f5 copied, f6 moved etc.

NC v1, v2 v3 upgraded the simple usability of the OS so much that many copied this winning formula and many a user used NC on a daily basis.

Why people aren't using them today ?

Nowdays the need for a file manager has decreased immensely, the big majority of users won't need it at all.

The main reason is that windows has incorporated a basic file manager in its core, named Explorer.
This is the main window any user opens when accessing a directory.

This file manager is by no means a NC clone as it doesn't consist of a double pane window and shows only a single directory at a time and it is a much more mouse centric file manager.

Not only that, but a lot of our day to day use is less file-centric and more feature centric, thus when you download a new application, you double click on the setup file and it installs itself without you remembering or caring where it was installed, it adds data to the registry and leaves you with a single link to it which you should click in order to start it.

Our day to day work is much more web centric and less application centric, thus a lot of work is done online, and even much of your own work stays online in your google drive or other online service, enabling you to work over a file from several different places.

Thus the need for a file manager has decreased significantly.
In the DOS era, when one wanted to pack several files into an archive, one had to use a pkzip application or anything else and when using the file manager for the task, everything being under the same roof made the work much more accessible and easy, but today you install a packer and gain the functionality by using a right click button on a file/set of files.

Who needs a file manager today ?

The regular user won't need a file manager and the regular explorer window will suffice all of his needs.

But the regular user won't read my blog...
Do you need a file manager ?
The answer is no, you don't need one but maybe yes - maybe it will make your work smoother, faster and definitely much cooler.

So, if you are doing many functions on files on a day to day basis then your work can gain a lot by using a file manager.

Another way to see if you will gain much from using a file user will be to watch behind your shoulder and see if you find yourself aligning two explorer windows side by side in order to do functions from window to window - this will be the native work of the file manager without the need to hack explorer for this.

What are the requirements from a good file manager today ?

File managers have expanded widely since the first version of NC and not always in a good way, file managers are supposed to make your work easier, not clutter the menus with endless functions making it hard for you to find the needed function you are looking for.

IMHO a good file manager has to have the following requirements:

  • Quick
  • Look SIMPLE with no clutter
  • Have ONLY the simple file functionality (copy/move/delete/view/edit/rename)
  • Have a good plugin system which can expand it in many ways - but only the installed plugins will affect you.
  • Actively developed
  • In order to remove clutter it will be nice if it could have no menus at all and use a nice search-commands functions, this will make the double pane windows much nicer without any clutter and will be more keyboard centric which will make your work much faster.
No need for any other functionality, it should be a simple and quick application with no clutter only simple file functions while all other functions should be attained by plugins.

Which file managers one can find around ?

There are too many to count and mention, but I will mention the three most significant ones
  1. Total commander - this is the most widely used file manager after Norton Commander and is a good choice, I don't recommend it as it has too many "advanced" functionality embedded into it which loses my focus while working with it.
  2. Far Manager - A very good alternative, one which looks like the original NC (Text GUI over blue background) and is the winning choice by Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov from Softpanrama which is a real expert in the field of file managers or OFMs as he coins them.
  3. fman - This is the winning choice for me as it fullfills all of my requirements, it is super quick (written using python), has only basic file functionality while it is maintained nicely by the author and can be extended using a nice plugin platform he built and to top the above it has a very efficient "Command Palette" instead of cluttered menus.


If you do many file functions in your day to day work, I really recommend you to try fman which just make your life easier and your work smoother (not to mention waaaaay cooler)


Anonymous said…
Very good article.
However, you should not nix up orthodox file managers (OFM; side-by-side file managers with two panes) with other file managers. And an additional remark: I just learned recently, that the oldest file manager is dired, an Emacs mode for file management. It's also not an orthodox file manager but fulfills all of your requirements.
avi said…
Thank you for your comment.

It seems you are more enlightened in the subject than me, I will appreciate if you can clarify the difference between an OFM and a File Manager.

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