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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 jackwallen.com.