I have never used Vista and never will, so I can only comment on Windows Explorer in XP, which is universally known as a pretty useless file manager. For several years I had been using Altap Salamander as an alternative, but for unknown reasons it started to slow down on my Windows machine and rather than trying to find a fix I just looked around for an alternative – which brought me to FreeCommander, and I haven’t looked back since.
Apart from it being free, as the name suggests (although donations are appreciated and deserved), this little gem works well and has so many functions that it’s hard to explore them, leave alone use them all on a regular basis. On a basic level, FreeCommander has a two panel interface that is user-friendly and adaptable; the two panels can be arranged to sit next to or on top of each other, and you can fade in/out an additional tree-view panel for each of them. Drives can be either displayed as a combo bar or as separate bars above each panel; those bars include mapped network drives, an icon for ‘network places’ and for a simple FTP client.
The menu bar is of course customisable (including in terms of colouring) and offers a large array of icon options, a reflection the many functions the program offers. For those hating to use the mouse, most of those functions can also be activated by using keyboard shortcuts. FreeCommander has an integrated DOS command prompt, a file splitter, a shredder, as mentioned a FTP client for downloading/uploading files, compare and synchronisation functions for directories, the ability to zip and unzip files (read and write for ZIP and CAB and read-only for RAR), text search in files and archive search (ZIP, CAB, RAR) and even a simple screen capture function for whole or part-screen images that can be saved either in jpg or bmp format.
In terms of file view a tabbed interface can be used, layouts can be saved, file information can be shown as information tips, there are quick access buttons to the Start menu, elements of the desktop and control panel, system directories and the computer management function, and a built-in text editor is available. Particular directories and files can be tagged as favourites for instant access, and the internal file viewer enables a quick view of text, hexadecimal, binary and image files (the viewer also works in archives). In addition, further file management functions include
- Creation and verification of MD5 checksums
- Multi renaming of files
- Context menu and properties of files and directories are displayed
- Size of directories can be determined through a quick access button
- File time and file attributes can be changed
- Time shift of several files at once is possible
- Creation of a directory list
- File compression
A fuller list of available functions can be checked out here, but even it is not complete. All in all a great little program!