In the days of DOS, I used a program called Norton Commander as my main file management tool. As you may recall, its interface consisted of two vertical panes that displayed two file lists. Each pane had its own navigation features, so it was very easy to display two separate directories in one interface. This configuration made it a snap to copy and move files from one directory or drive to another.

Ever since Windows appeared, I’ve been searching for an easy-to-use file management tool that provided me with a similar feature—the ability to view two folders within a single window. Of course, there are literally hundreds of third-party file management tools out there that provide this type of interface, but many of them go way overboard in the feature department, which makes learning to use them a major undertaking. Furthermore, none of the tools I’ve investigated has really come close to providing the simplicity that was the heart of Norton Commander.

FolderBox is a file management tool that comes close by providing just the right mix of file management features. And, best of all, FolderBox is actually a shell extension that allows it to integrate itself right into Windows Explorer, as shown in Figure A. This means that you don’t have to spend a lot of time learning how to use a whole new file management program. In this article, I’ll introduce you to FolderBox and show you how easy it is to configure and use FolderBox as a file management tool.

Figure A
FolderBox is integrated into Windows Explorer, a factor that makes the file management tool very easy to use.

Taking a quick tour
Once you download and install FolderBox, you’ll discover that it’s a breeze to access. To do so, open Windows Explorer and pull down the View menu, open the Explorer Bar submenu, and select the FolderBox item. When you do, you’ll see the FolderBox panel appear, as shown earlier in Figure A.

If the FolderBox panel is too big or too small, you can easily resize it by positioning your pointer over the horizontal panel divider and dragging up or down. To close the FolderBox panel and return Windows Explorer to normal view, just click the close button in the upper-left corner of the FolderBox panel.

Just a right-click away

You can also open a specific folder in FolderBox via the right-click menu. To do so, just right-click on a folder and select the Display In FolderBox command from the context menu. When you do so, that folder will instantly appear in the FolderBox panel. 

Once you open FolderBox, you can immediately begin performing file management operations. Of course, the most common operation you’ll perform will be to copy or move files between different folders. To do so, you can simply use standard drag and drop techniques.

As you study the FolderBox toolbar, you’ll see that it has a lot of standard Windows Explorer display and navigational features, such as a Views button, an Address bar, back and forward buttons, as well as an Up One Level button. You’ll also find several other very handy buttons.

There are two buttons that allow you to synchronize the display of the FolderBox panel in Windows Explorer and vice versa. There’s also a handy New Folder button and a Browse button that brings up a standard browse dialog box. The Home button will instantly return the FolderBox display to the initial folder specified by the FolderBox tab (more on this in a moment). The Lock button is used to activate BAxBEx Software’s encryption product, CryptoMite. If you don’t have CryptoMite installed on the system, clicking this button will display a promotional message.

If you right-click the background inside the FolderBox panel, you’ll see a context menu that provides you with options for quickly creating a new folder or a new file of any file type. You can also choose to select all files or synchronize the FolderBox display with Windows Explorer. At the bottom of the FolderBox panel, you’ll see two tabs labeled FolderBox 1 and FolderBox 2. These are basically shortcuts that allow you to quickly switch between folders. Initially, these two tabs are configured to switch between the two most recently accessed folders. However, you can configure these and three additional tabs to point to the folders you access most often.

Configuring FolderBox
FolderBox provides you with several ways to configure how this program works. To do so, click the button just to the left of the Address bar. When you do, you’ll see the FolderBox Options dialog box with the Folder Boxes tab in the foreground, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
You can specify up to five custom folder boxes.

You’ll use the controls on the Folder Boxes tab to configure your five FolderBox shortcuts. To do so, select FolderBox from the Properties dropdown, and select the Enabled check box in the General panel. You can then give your FolderBox a name and select the initial directory. You can even specify a file filter if you want.

If you select the Options tab, you can alter a couple of the extension’s basic features, as shown in Figure C. By default, the Display In FolderBox right-click menu option is enabled as I described earlier. However, the option may be disabled.

Figure C
The Options tab allows you to configure several basic features of the FolderBox extension.

The Save\Restore Visibility setting lets you choose how you want FolderBox to behave each time you launch Windows Explorer. By default, the extension is configured to remember whether or not it was active when you shut down Windows Explorer. This means that if you have FolderBox enabled and you close Windows Explorer, the next time you launch Windows Explorer, FolderBox will be enabled. If FolderBox is disabled when you close Windows Explorer, it will be disabled the next time you launch Windows Explorer. While BAxBEx includes a warning that this feature may not work on some machines, I didn’t have any problems on my test systems, which included Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.

If you’ve configured your system to use Windows’ single-click feature as opposed to having to double-click to open items, you can configure FolderBox to behave similarly. Just select the check box in the Click Items As Follows panel. While you’ll choose a default language during the installation procedure, you can change it with the Language drop-down menu. On the Toolbar Settings tab, as shown in Figure D, you can choose which items you want to appear on the FolderBox toolbar. The About tab simply contains information about FolderBox as well as registration information.

Figure D
You can specify which button you want to have on the toolbar.

Getting a copy of FolderBox
To download a copy of FolderBox, just visit the BAxBEx Software site. For a preview, check out the FolderBox online demo. FolderBox is compatible with Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP, but requires that you have Internet Explorer 5.x or above installed on your system. FolderBox is free for personal and home use. However, if you use FolderBox in a corporate environment, BAxBEx Software asks that you purchase a license for $15. Doing so upgrades the product to FolderBox Pro, which bumps up the number of FolderBox tabs from a maximum of five to 10 and adds a toggle button to Windows Explorer’s toolbar that allows you to turn FolderBox on and off without having to go to the View menu. Registration also gives you free e-mail support.