Two weeks ago, I admitted that I'm sick and tired of Windows Explorer, and I asked TechRepublic members to recommend a replacement. More than a dozen of you came through with a great list of all-star Explorer alternatives. I was a little surprised, though, by this response, from a member who was clearly having a bad week: "Try Linux. Just remove Microsoft Windows from your system, delete all your applications, and go back to work. Windows Explorer is a map of every file that your computer can see, presented in a clear, logical, and easy to use format. If you're 'sick and tired' of this, perhaps you may want to consider another career."
Well, all I can say is I'm glad that cheerful soul doesn't work in the cubicle next to mine. If he did, I'd wait for just the right moment and then calmly explain the many limitations of Windows Explorer that drive power users crazy: It takes way too many clicks to open two side-by-side windows for drag-and-drop file management tasks. You can't rename more than one file at a time, nor can you easily change extensions for most file types. It doesn't recognize .zip files, and it doesn't let you view a file's contents quickly.
Sure, Explorer works, but there are alternatives that do a better job. The hands-down favorite, recommended by six TechRepublic members, is Windows Commander. Power Desk 4 Pro earned two enthusiastic thumbs-up, and Turbo Browser also got a rave review. Here are the details, with each reviewer earning 250 TechPoints.
This May installment of Ed Bott's Microsoft Challenge showcases three top substitutes for Windows Explorer—and each is still a stellar candidate for power users who’ve had enough of Explorer’s limitations. Ed will return from vacation with a new Challenge right after the new year.
Windows Commander 4.03 (Christian Ghisler, shareware, $32)
The positive comments of drich were typical: "I couldn't work without Windows Commander. It is so functionally rich, I wouldn't try to list everything here. Drag a file to the toolbar to execute program against the file, the FTP capabilities are a lifesaver, shortcut menu to favorite directories, drag-and-drop copy and move, excellent search, directory compare, great support for .zip files (look just like directories), calculate space used by dir and all subdirs, etc."
Peachey praises its split-window design: "You can easily select things to copy from one window to the location in the other. If you switch to another server it will open the same location, which proved to be very helpful when I would copy image updates to multiple, identically structured lab servers. One feature I really like is the ability to delete and copy files with attributes. If you encounter a read-only file, for example, you have the choice to skip, delete, or delete all of that type; Explorer just quits."
Balos points to its directory synchronization and compare features and especially recommends Windows Commander for anyone who prefers the keyboard to the mouse: "It offers clearly visible shortcuts on the bottom of the screen, above the command-line prompt, which is also a nice addition."
PowerDesk 4 Pro (Ontrack; standard version free, Pro version $20)
This capsule review by byron makes a great case for Ontrack's all-in-one product: "As a network administrator I have found PowerDesk 4 Pro to be the absolute best all-around tool on the market. I no longer need or use Windows Explorer, WinZip, Cute FTP, or any other file viewer, graphic converter, or Print Screen replacement. It also allows me to synchronize drives or files, does drive mapping, and has a most excellent, fully customizable toolbar. After using it for 11 months, I have found nothing close to it."
Turbo Browser 2000 (FileStream.com, shareware, $70)
According to todd, Turbo Browser 2000 is the ultimate Explorer replacement for power users. "On the surface, it has a look and feel that is very similar to Windows Explorer, so the transition is a snap. Under the hood, however, are multitudes of tools. One of my favorite enhancements, and perhaps the most obvious, is the big file preview window powered by a broad range of filters capable of viewing most file types. When I find a graphic file I am interested in, I can convert and save it in the graphic file format of my choice. I can integrate network and local file searches into a single query and save the queries for reuse. Multithreading and multiple workspace windows allow you to proceed with more than one sequential task at a time. There is good Internet integration (you can even download an entire Web site) to make it easy to work with files and sites on the Net. File and folder comparisons are a snap, and when I want to make some massive changes to folders, I can back them up first. ..."
So which one do I prefer?
In my pre-Windows days, Norton Commander was the utility I used more than any other, so trying out Windows Commander was like visiting with an old friend. It's fast, it does what it's supposed to do, and I loved the command line at the bottom of the window. In fact, my only complaint is the lack of support for right-mouse-button shortcut menus.
I was impressed with the size and scope of TurboBrowser, especially in its ability to download Web sites and view files. But I quickly discovered a handful of minor problems (such as an inability to create folders on the fly) that made me unwilling to persevere. The $70 price tag is also out of line with the other options.
After tinkering with PowerDesk 4 Pro, I've selected it as my Explorer replacement. The $20 price is certainly reasonable, and it works the way I always wished Windows Explorer would. Thanks for the suggestions!
Look for a new challenge next month!
I'm taking a short break from the Q&A portion of this column. Don't worry, though. I'll be back from vacation after the start of the new year with a brand-new Microsoft Challenge.