If you’ve never given your file manager much thought, maybe it’s time to look at the wide range of features offered by Linux file management tools.

Most users take their file managers for granted. It’s there, it does its job, and that’s all they care about. But to Linux users, the file manager is as close to their hearts as their text editor. There is a reason for this: With the Linux operating system, and the various desktops, there are quite a few file managers. Each has standard as well as unique features. In fact, there are so many file managers, and so many unique features, it’s time someone listed 10 of the best choices. See if one of these file managers meets (or surpasses) your needs.

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1: Command line

Although the command line isn’t just a file manager, you can’t have a listing of Linux file management tools without including it Without these tools, working on headless servers would be a challenge (unless you’re using remote desktop). And being someone who cut his Linux teeth with the command line, not a day goes by where I do not use it for something. The tools you will use for file management in the command line include cd, mkdir, rm, ls, locate, find, cp, and mv.

2: Dolphin

Dolphin is the default file manager for KDE, which replaced Konqueror upon the arrival of KDE 4. Dolphin is a full-featured file manager and includes the standard features of a file manager and then some. You will also find Network transparency, undo, batch renaming, split views, dockable panels, built-in encryption, zoom drag bar, and much more. Dolphin will never offer the number of features included with Konqueror, which is precisely why the KDE team made the switch. Dolphin focuses on file management and file management alone. Konqueror focuses on everything — file management, browsing, document viewing. The KDE developers thought it best to simplify the task of file management. This was a good call on their part, especially for the new user. As a file manager, Konqueror was just too much.

3: Gnome Commander

Gnome Commander is the GTK+ version of the venerable Midnight Commander file manager. Gnome Commander is a split-pane file manager that offers all of the features of Midnight Commander with the added convenience of a GUI interface. Along with the GUI interface comes the ease of network transparency. With Gnome Commander, you can connect to a remote server with Samba, FTP, Windows Share, WebDAV, Secure WebDAV, and SSH. Gnome Commander also offers Root Mode, keyboard shortcuts, batch renaming, built-in search, help documentation, translations, drag and drop, directory synchronization, and a plug-in system. If you are a fan of Midnight Commander but want something a little less cumbersome than ncurses,  Gnome Commander is what you need.

4: Konqueror

In the right hands, Konqueror is the Mac Daddy of file managers. Even though KDE has gone in a different direction by adopting Dolphin as its file manager, you can still use Konqueror as your primary file manager. Konqueror features all aspects of file management as well as using the KIO plug-ins to extend its feature set to include many types of protocols, such as ZIP, tar, smb, ed2k, HTTP, and FTP. With Konqueror, you can browse audio/video CDs and rip them with drag and drop. Konqueror can act as your local file manager or as a remote file manager. It enjoys a universal viewer, which enables you to view nearly any type of file from within one window. With KDE 4, you will notice Dolphin is the default file manager and Konqueror is the default Web browser. This does not mean you’re locked into this behavior. You can use Konqueror as your file manager and use another browser, say Firefox, as your Web browser.

5: Krusader

Krusader is another KDE file manager. It will be right at home on your desktop if you’re familiar with Midnight Commander or Gnome Commander. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you need to know those file managers. Krusader has a very shallow learning curve (as a good file manager should.) Krusader offers a twin view GUI with an added command line entry area at the bottom of the window.  Krusader places the focus on the keyboard so you can work efficiently without having to use your mouse. Krusader offers remote synchronization, advanced search, popup panel (serves as a “third hand”), folder history, multiple panel types (view panel, disk usage panel, tree panel, preview panel, etc.), keybindings, and much more.

6: Midnight Commander

Midnight Commander was the first real file manager for the Linux operating system and is a clone of the old DOS Norton Commander file manager. Midnight Commander is an ncurses application, so it runs within a terminal window. Midnight Commander includes native support for archives, rpm and deb files, ability to connect to a remote server, embedded editor with syntax highlighting, issue commands against marked files, and more. Although Midnight Commander is an outstanding file manager and is about as versatile as they come, it has a fairly steep learning curve for what should be a simple task. But when you need a file manager on a headless server, it is worth the time and effort it takes to learn Midnight Commander.

7: Nautilus

Nautilus is the default file manager for the GNOME desktop. It’s one of the most feature-rich of all the graphical file managers to date. Not only does it include the standard features found in modern file managers and an outstanding, well-designed GUI, it offers the ability to extend its usefulness with Nautilus extensions and scripts. You can search with your Add/Remove Software utility (use the search string “nautilus”) and come up with a number of prebuilt extensions you can add to Nautilus. Some of these extensions include:

  • Nautilus Actions — Add your own menu entries using a simple configuration dialog.
  • Naultilus SVN — Add subversion functionality to your file manager.
  • Nautilus-CD — Add CD burning to Nautilus.
  • Nautilus-Dropbox — Add dropbox support to Nautilus.

Nautilus uses spatial navigation (no navigation bar), so navigating through the hierarchy isn’t as simple as you would think. There is no back, forward, or home button. Instead, when you double-click on a file or directory (from within a Nautilus window), a new window will open. This way, the parent window will always be open.

8: PCMan

PCMan is one of the faster and more lightweight of the window managers. It distinguishes itself from other file managers with one feature: tabbed windows. Like everyone’s favorite browser, you can open up multiple tabs and even move files between them. You can also open a terminal to the current working directory or as the root user. PCMan offers built-in volume management, file search, drag and drop, fast startup time, bookmarks support, support for non-UTF-8 encoded filenames, standards compliancy, and an easy to use interface (GTK+ 2).

9: Thunar

Thunar is the default file manager for the Xfce 4 desktop and also ships with the latest Enlightenment (E17). It’s incredibly lightweight, fast, and reliable. Thunar was created with the idea of extensibility in mind , so it was built with the thunarx framework. This allows you to add features like advanced properties, archives, media tags, batch rename, thumbnails, and customizable actions. You can switch the Location Selector between Pathbar and Toolbar style. You can also create customized actions within Thunar, which enables you to create new menu entries that serve specific purposes (such as a right-click menu for printing or renaming).

10: Xfe

Xfe is a simple, lightweight file manager similar to MS-Explorer or Commander. Anyone who appreciates making use of older systems or using a desktop with a minimal footprint will enjoy Xfe. Xfe offers integrated text editor, integrated text, deb, rpm, and image viewer, drag and drop between Xfe and desktop, right mouse popup menus, optional trash can, bookmarks, up to 18 languages, and much more. Xfe requires only the Fox library, so it can run on any Linux/UNIX desktop.

Your choice

Have you made your pick yet? Out of the 10 file managers above, you will certainly find one that fits your needs. Or do you favor some other file manager? If so, what is it and why did you choose it? Let all your fellow TechRepublic members know.