Vista - Alternatives to Windows Vista Explorer
Not too keen on Vista's new Explorer? Iain Laskey suggests some alternatives for the frustrated
Windows Vista has a lot going for it. New security features, a slick new interface and enough versions to keep anyone confused. One thing that is proving rather unpopular in some quarters is the updated Vista Explorer. The different look and feel with its breadcrumb trail and all manner of options is proving to be a bit of a problem for some users who are finding it hard to convert despite its flexibility.
If you are one of these people, fear not, Vista Explorer isn't the only game in town with a number of third party alternatives being available. Here at Practical PC we've given a few of them a test drive to see how they shape up.
Directory Opus started life as on the Commodore Amiga before migrating over to Windows. The latest version 9 fully supports Windows Vista but also works fine with Windows 2000 and XP. The good news is it works very much like the traditional Explorer if that's what you want although you can then customise it in all sorts of useful ways to work just the way you want it.
As well as the basic functionality, Directory Opus also offers a raft of enhancements such as support for most common file formats allowing it to display such things as the full EXIF data hidden inside photos or display the contents of files without having to load the original programs that created them. Support for 3rd party libraries means the list of supported formats grows all the time.
The search function is beefed up compared to the Vista equivalent with the ability to find all photos taken at 100th of a second or MP3s with love in the title that are recorded at 160bps. Support for FTP is built in allowing easy access to sites.
One of Directory Opus's best features is that is is fully multitasking allowing you to carry out several operations at once without the delays although to be fair Vista Explorer is better than it's predecessors in this respect. We also liked the file compare and duplicate finder tools as well as the life saving undo that works on renames, deletes, moves and so on.
Directory Opus costs 85 AUD (Australian Dollars) or around £35 although a 30 day trial copy is available for download. You can find out more at the publisher's web site here.
Xplorer2 is rather cheaper at $29.95 or about £15. With support for Windows 95 thru Vista this looks very similar to Windows Explorer but again offers additional functionality including file previewing and in many cases editing either as ascii or hex, the latter being very useful for checking exactly what's in a file. Xplorer2 also has some interesting grouping and sorting options. Also novel was the scrap container. This is a virtual folder that allows you to collect files together from different locations and then perform operations on them. It might just be a play list for your MP3 player or it could be documents from a project spread over multiple locations. Scrap containers can be saved and accessed later as needed.
If you're often wondering where all the disk space goes, you'll appreciate the ability to view and export the statistics for entire directory hierarchies. People who deal with large numbers of similar files such as photographers will also find the mass renaming options useful.
Best of all, Xplorer2 is very lightweight being a mere 800Kb download. You can read more here and again, a demo is available as is a cut down free 'lite' version for home users.
Slightly less feature rich than some of the others here, Nico's Commander has been Vista ready since version 5.6. Another $29.95 (£15) program, it claims to be more like Norton's Commander a once popular file management tool. Nice touches include folder comparison, treating FTP sites as local drives (very useful, especially when tied with other software such as backup tools), better text file printing (2 pages of ASCII across landscape), one click PC shutdown and more.
The developer's web site has a range of interesting tools and utilities and is well worth checking out. Dutch readers will appreciate the fact that this tool has Dutch language support as well as English.
Total Commander costs $34 or EUR 28 and layout wise harks back to the Windows 3.1 era. Features wise we did feel it was on the face of it a rather unexciting offering the usual file facilities, FTP support and archive handling. On the plus side, it has a very broad language support including most European languages, Czech, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Hebrew, Greek, Afrikaans, Catalan, Turkish and Ukrainian. Anyone needing access to older data stashed away on a DOS PC may want to consider it for the built in parallel port transfer functionality. It also has the ability to open and view very large files, something Window's Notepad still struggles with.
What we did really like was the large number of add-ons available that allow Total Commander to access data from a wide variety of sources. These include POP3 mailboxes, Windows events logs and even ODBC or OLE DB database sources. It also has lister extensions for accessing DBF database files, Excel, AutoCAD and more.
Total Commander is an interesting program with some very niche facilities that could be really useful to some but bewildering to others. We liked it but then we're like that.
Find out more here.
XYplorer main claim to fame is that it requires no installation making it a great tool for anyone that likes to keep a set of handy software on a memory stick. We also liked the one time price of £15.50 (with USD and EUR equivalents) that guarantee you all future upgrades for free.
Feature wise, it packs a mighty punch. You can have multiple tabs open, each showing a different drive or folder making it easy to move files about. It also remembers your favourite folders and programs providing quick access via the catalog feature. A very powerful search tool should dig out the most shy of files hiding in the deepest recesses of your file system.
One excellent feature is the ability to drag a piece of text to a folder whereby XYplorer automatically creates a .txt file to hold it. A small thing but a great time saver. Also good is the ability to show the length of filenames to check for any that might be too long prior to burning to a CD or DVD.
Powerdesk Pro 6
Slightly more expensive is Powerdesk Pro 6 at $39 but it is well established and highly rated by its users although it's not officially Vista friendly just yet. On the plus side, a free version is available so it's well worth having a try to see if it works for you.
There's not much Powerdsk Pro doesn't do but notable features include file and folder synchronisation, space analysis and management tools, encryption (which is lacking on some Vista variants) and support for 32 different archive formats including ZIP, TAR and GZ plus the ability to create self extracting archives.
Those who like to keep everything organised will like the ability to add notes to any file along with colour coding for different types of file. Also useful is an option to add extra buttons to file open dialog boxes allowing file previews and the last 20 files opened.
The support of 150 different file formats is excellent as is the ability to batch convert between many of the image file formats.
The vast range of options does have a small downside in that Powerdesk Pro 6 can have a dizzying number of toolbars and icons unless you do a bit of manual tidying to cut down on the clutter.
If the Vista Explorer is making life hard for you, there are lots of third party options available. Depending on your needs, any of the above could suit but we did like the quirky Total Commander for its add-ons and Powerdesk Pro 6 and Directory Opus pack a punch for the feature fiends. XYplorer is great for carrying around whilst offering a good range of tools.
You can find out more about these and other options by checking out a useful comparison at Wikipedia which includes a number of free options but with most File Manager replacements offering lite or trial versions, our recommendation would be try a few and see what suits your way of working the most.