What is a file manager?
Do you know what a file manager is? it is very likely that you do not as it is a thing that is very taken for granted due to them coming preinstalled on almost every system. Nothing (usually) stops you from installing another one if there is one you like better. The main point is what a file manager actually does. It is a program that allows you to browse, copy, move, delete, create and see information about files using some form of interface. It also is used to launch files or launch editors in order to edit files and often also allows you to preview them or at least launch a program that previews them.
You have probably noticed at least once when you got a new Android phone and it was very annoying to browse files suddenly since all the UI changed and it is now way harder to find your files. That is that the file manager changed to another one. You can however just search “file manager” on the play store and find a better one that is not so bulky. I for example found one once that allowed you to share files through http directly from the file manager that I had on my old phone.
In this article however we are going to focus on desktop systems mostly like Windows and Desktop Linux and ones like that. Below you should be able to see a picture of Windows explorer named
explorer.exe which shows a silly test drawing I made in the preview window and various other files shown like you can see all the folders you are able to browse on the side pane, a top pane that shows some file operations and the main window that shows a few pictures and videos and you can see what kind of files they are due to how they preview with the film like ones being video.
- Windows Explorer
- XnView Classic
- XnView MP
- Midnight Commander
This is good as a reference point as we need one in order to demonstrate the differences between them and how different graphical user interfaces can be across systems. If you wonder why the file manager is so dark in this picture it is due to Windows 10 in this case has dark mode enabled. A very typical thing that a file manager is also able to do is to be launched from the command line such as
explorer will launch it and
explorer . will launch explorer in the current directory as a dot refers to the current directory. Below is an example command how you can launch explorer and make it select a certain file inside the folder.
There is however quite a few file managers and not just explorer that can be used on Windows. Above we have a picture of Xnview which is both a file manager and a picture viewer with a large amount of features. I used to use this program for many years back on Windows XP as the file manager there was not exactly my favorite.
The picture previewed here might seem absurd but is is a shark girl avatar in a trans themed world where the pill is a HRT pill.
Another note is that compared to Windows Explorer it has a file tree where you can see subdirectories and such and scroll between them unlike in windows explorer where you see that one folder you are in at the moment.
XnView also came out with a new version called XnView MP and started to call the old one classic. As you can see the UI feels even more cluttered but that is probably configurable. They do however seem to have the issue of not being able to use dark mode which is a huge downside.
Here is Midnight Commander which is a really interesting one. It is essentially an open source clone of the old Norton Commander and for Linux instead of DOS. I remember back in the day I used Norton Commander and I used it to transfer files between computers through the parallel port which is a feature it had. As you see it is a command line application that is navigated mostly through the keyboard even tho mouse can be used if you have something like Putty. You have a bunch of keys like F1 to F10 to do various operations, you swap between tabs with the tab button and navigate with the arrow keys.
Here is an even more simple one called Ytree which does not have much features at all. You just press enter to navigate between upper folder view, lower folder view and inner folder view. It has a bunch of commands for things such as hex edit just like Midnight commander but you cannot do much else in it.
Here is Caja which is a good example of one of the file managers that can come preinstalled on Linux such as an Ubuntu version or something similar that is graphic. It has some good features like being able to connect to Windows file sharing servers. As Linux does not inherently have any file manager this is something that the distributer installers in a distribution.
Here is pcmanfb-qt which came preinstalled in Ubuntu and it is quite simple looking but does what it is supposed to do.
Nautilus here looks very simplistic and I have not heard much about it except for the nautilus-dropbox extension for it that I do not think I have tried.
A file manager is an essential part of every operating system. You can install which ones fits you best. There are probably way more fancy ones out there with way more features. The ones listed here is either freeware like xnview or open source like the others except Windows Explorer of course. When it comes to programs like this there can generally be a large amount of improvements that come in the future when it comes to GUI development. Some really fancy applications come with a built in file browser that has most of the features of a file manager too.
Which file manager do you use and why?