Data Management

Five free replacements for Windows Explorer

If you've ever wished for more or better file management features than Windows Explorer offers, these free alternatives might be the answer.

I must say I'm not a fan of Windows Explorer as a file manager. When using it for simple file management, and it starts up the old Not Responding behavior, it can be a nightmare of frustration. This is a pain because Explorer is so interconnected with so many other tools. That's why I often rely upon one of the free replacements for the default Windows file manager. There are quite a few. Here are my top five. Give these a try and more than likely you will come out with one you like.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: CubicExplorer

CubicExplorer is a fine example of how to make a full-featured, yet lightweight file manager for Windows. This particular file manager offers some great features: tabbed exploring, bookmark files and folders, search filters, a built-in text editor, file preview, transparency levels for different programs, themes, shortcut key support, breadcrumb navigation, session saving, and much more. CubicExplorer is broken up into three panels: Main navigation window, Navigation tree, and Filter/Preview/Dropstack panel. The Dropstack panel allows you to drag and drop files/folders into groups for temporary quick access.

Figure A

2: Explorer++

What I like about the Explorer++ file manager is that it's not required to install, so you can run it from a flash drive. No more having to put up with wonky Explorer on your machine or any other machine. Pop this tool on a flash drive and carry it around with you -- you'll have a file manager that will work when Explorer is flaking out. Explorer++ features:

  • Complete portability
  • Tabbed browsing
  • Real-time previews as files are selected
  • Easy-to-remember keyboard shortcuts
  • Customizable user interface
  • Full drag-and-drop support
  • Advanced file operations

Figure B

3: Xplorer2

Xplorer2 comes in two flavors: free and not free. The free version (called the Lite version) doesn't have all the features of the paid version (you'll be missing Advanced Searching and Customer Support) but is still a solid file manager. You can browse the entire shell namespace, preview docs/pics/music/video, view side by side, filter using wildcards, synchronize folders, and obtain more information per file/folder than you get with the default file manager.

Figure C

4: NexusFile

NexusFile brings a bit of style to Windows. Not only is it skinnable, it also offers some great built-in features: tabbed browsing, built-in FTP, built-in archive, advanced rename, Split/Join File, and much more. NexusFile might well be one of the most powerful Windows file managers you will come across. Its only downfall is that the interface could take some time for new users to grow accustomed to. But for anyone who has used a typical FTP client (or an older file manager), the learning curve will be nonexistent.

Figure D

5: Q-Dir

As the site says Warning: Once Q-Dir, always Q-Dir!!! Whether that applies to you will depend upon what you want from a file manager. If you want a crazy amount of interface control, Q-Dir might be the perfect fit for you. Q-Dir offers a large number of preconfigured viewing options to satisfy just about any need. You want four panes? You got it! That is, after all, what the Q stands for: quad. You can install this file manager on your hard disk or as a portable solution. It offers preview filters, drag and drop, clipboard, exporting to XLS/CVS/TST/HTML, screen magnifier, color filter, highlight filter, and much more.

Figure E

Choices

If there is a feature you've always wanted in a file manager for Windows, it probably exists in a different tool. The five free alternatives we've looked at here represent a nice cross section of the possibilities.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

51 comments
1000164640
1000164640

I just downloaded qdir. Bad experience. Very good reviews on cnet and I downloaded the 64 bit version (from download.cnet).  Wasn't paying a huge amount of attention when I started the install but noticed after stage 2 of a seven-stage process that I was being asked to install all sorts of other software. Unfortunately stage 2 involved installing one of those "we-will-take-over-your-search" things.  Once I spotted it I knew how to fix most of the issues but it threw up one I had never seen before, whereby if you added a new (blank) tab (using latest version of Firefox) it automatically went to an ad-invested search page. Had to download and run SearchReset add-on which thankfully worked.  Silly me but it is an awful long time since I have had that experience.  Ran malwarebytes which picked up over 100 threats all related to this PUP.Optional.SearchProtect.A or PUP.Optional.Conduit.A. 

Whether qdir is good or bad, it is coming bundled with a whole lot of malware.  I won't use it for that reason.

vsparadi
vsparadi

Advanced IP Scanner will browse network resources that are not seen by these and Win Explorer.

vsparadi
vsparadi

Advanced IP Scanner will browse network resources that are not seen by these and Win Explorer.

rorwell
rorwell

"File Explorer" under Win 8/64-bit is NOT my friend. Do you know which of the 5 alternatives you listed in 2011 (Cubic explorer, explorer++, nexusFile, q-dir, xplorer2) will work in that environment? Btw, explorer 2 doesn't have a free version for 64 bit, so it costs $30 for their pro version. TIA.

stuartjd
stuartjd

Just about everyone I know who uses Total Commander swears by it. It's easy for newbies to use, and has plenty of advanced features as well.

martosurf
martosurf

I can't believe that as 2012 people *still* uses Winshit, come on guys... I mean, if you're not tied to it because the software you need then why not to switch to a GNU/Linux distro? You will be _fascinated_ about the technical excellence and graphical desktop choices you have. And about graphical choices one way of making Winshit less shitty is installing KDE SC on it, this will completely change the way you use your computer and will prepare you to -provided you aren't tied to any windows-specific applications- to the big leap. Also, you will have the Dolphin file manager that will rock up the way you work with your files.

mike
mike

Remember XTree, XTree Gold? Anyone have any copies lying around? Now lives as ZTree but I haven't tested. Was the best file manager ever

jonc2011
jonc2011

Free to try for 30 days, then $44. Pity!

oldguardreindeer-techrepublic
oldguardreindeer-techrepublic

What search capabilities do these alternatives have? Explorer in Win 7 has a search capability that appears to be indexed and it can search for file names, types of files, etc., and with a small bit of knowledge (I know, a dangerous thing), a search can be narrowed and refined somewhat. I use it often but I wish it was smarter, easier or more sophisticated (maybe it's just me). So, I'm hoping to hear from you all about searching.

kerry.sisler
kerry.sisler

Will admit to really not considering anything for use that: 1) Wants to diddle the windows registry at all; 2) That wants to use or touch or create any folder except the one it was put in; and 3) Has to run an installer to get it installed and working(sic). This is fully in line with the current thinking for Portable Applications... I will normally Google for "free portable applications" first and exhaust those sites before searching further for tools which are shareware or retailware, etc.

RB1955
RB1955

A little late to the conversation, but illuminating none-the-less. I've used a few of the versions of PowerDesk Pro. Nice program. THEN I found the Personal Brain program ( http://www.thebrain.com/ ). They have one free and two non-free versions. I'd try the free version and go to pay-version/s if you think you need to. I finally got the Pro version ("Core" version is lower cost not-free one). I saw the PB prog demo'd on Stewart Cheifet's Computer Chronicles about 1999 or 2000. Got hooked on it a few years after that. Ver 6 allows you to drop entire folders onto the interface and it does the rest. Seriously one of the coolest uber-utilities I've ever worked with. They have a good series of web-based training vidoes. PB can also easily be used for mind-mapping as well (all versions). (OK, I'm a PersonalBrain fanboi, but just a customer, for about 9 years.)

Ron_007
Ron_007

Thanks for the list. DuoExplorer - I'm using it now but I also play with QDir and FreeCommander. I was really P.O.'d when MS unilaterally decided to eliminate the 2 pane File Explorer. Expecting me to open 2 copies of Windoze Explorer side by side is NOT a solution!

liltwin1101
liltwin1101

Thanks for the article! Where I have been? Under a rock? Goodbye Win Explorer. I downloaded and tested all but Xplorer2. Each has its own uses and I plan on using the other 4 as needed for specific needs. NexusFile will be the tool of choice though. It really has a number of very useful functions. I like the ability to change colors and that you can get to folders and files with several options. The FTP is a plus. Q-Dir is good for looking at multiple file locations at one time. I elected to use them all from their portable exe, even on my laptop. I am getting a new PC soon and did not want to install the apps. They all load faster than Win Explorer.

mcmlxxiixxv
mcmlxxiixxv

Wow, this was exactly what I was looking for. I tried (played with) the 64-bit version on one of my my Win7 64-bit machines and it has worked flawlessly so far. And even better, it's portable. Thanks for this tip.

clebermag
clebermag

I have been looking for a good solution in alternative file explorer programs, mainly becvause the lacks leaded by Explorer fron Windows Seven, and after I readed this post, I may say that I found a right solution. there are solutions for problems to view file size, folder size, to organize files into folders using tab feature, and many othres. And, it looks like the old Windows 95 file explorer, that have the button "new folder", not available on Windows XP. That is very usefull.

vatsaldesai
vatsaldesai

I used to love Xtree in DOS days - Does anyone know what happened to it! Anything else is comparable to it.

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

Just checked out Cubic's website, they have a protable no-install version as well as the traditional installation.

bhwong1
bhwong1

One huge frustration with Explorer is copying or moving of folders where a single locked or corrupted file will quit the process halfway thru. Utilities such as http://www.codesector.com/teracopy.php that allows skipping these files and allow the process to be completed is really useful. Does these replacements able to handle locked/corrupted files and complete the file management process too???

adipur
adipur

Why don't you mention Total Commander? It is unequaled in it's abilities, speed and hidden possibilities for an advanced user. To the WindExplorer it is like Phelps to a baby-turtle.

leorickg
leorickg

I have been using Q-DIR for as long as I can remember. There was a time that I was looking for a better way of moving, copying files from multiple locations without opening too many explorer windows. I might as well try the others :)

seanferd
seanferd

They go over nicely in a PE environment that doesn't have the extras of a Windows install disc rolled in. The old branch of xplorer2, 2xExplorer, is still available but un-maintained. Still works fine on XP. There is also XYplorer and BSexplorer, among others.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

This is a good list. I think it will become even more relevant after Win8 comes out. Not sure what will happen to explorer but it is good to have something to fall back on just in case.

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