The best file managers give you access to a more powerful way to manage folders and files on your PC than the default Windows File Explorer.
Windows has changed dramatically over the past few years, but File Explorer (formerly known as Windows Explorer) has remained largely untouched, and frankly could use some improvement.
Transferring files and folders between locations is a tedious process that often involves opening two Explorer windows and moving icons between them. Once you have started transferring a large amount of files, there is no way to pause and restart the process, you cannot create a new folder without digging into a menu and forgetting about the batch rename – this does not happen.
This can be particularly problematic in the modern age of document management and online storage, when managing multiple files across multiple accounts needs to be managed much more simply and easily.
We’ve rounded up the best alternatives to File Explorer, which will make managing your files faster, easier, and more intuitive. Most of these third-party file managers can be configured to replace Explorer as the default application, although we recommend that you test them thoroughly first.
So here are the best file managers currently available.
Total commander (formerly File Commander) has been around for 25 years and its developer lives by the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s not flashy and uses a classic design with two vertical panels, but each update introduces modern additions like support for cloud storage services and native Windows 10 features.
Total Commander is a great choice for transferring large volumes of files thanks to its background process manager, which allows you to check progress, pause and resume transfers, and set a speed limit.
Its interface is clean for quick navigation, it offers customizable keyboard shortcuts and a built-in file archiving tool to create and extract archives in all the most common formats.
Total Commander is also expandable via plugins. Optional features include the ability to sort images by size, search for text strings in PDF files, and edit music metadata without opening any other apps.
Total Commander is distributed as shareware; you can try it for free and share the exe with others, but after 30 days you are prompted to buy a license for € 37 (around US $ 45, £ 30, AU $ 55). The payment process is a bit unusual and it may take a few days to receive your key, but the wait is well worth it.
Like Total Commander, Opus Directory is as a premium file manager – and it shows, and comes very close to second in this list. It has an attractive icon-driven interface that is busier than that of Total Commander, but can be minimized using the various customization options. This is where Directory Opus really shines – just about every aspect of how it works can be tweaked and adjusted to meet your needs.
It’s also extremely fast, using multi-threading for faster processing and allowing you to queue and manage operations. There are various useful features, such as opening to multiple panes and tabbed browsing, as well as filtering or quickly sorting your files and folders.
There are two versions of Directory Opus, Light and Pro. Both make it much easier to manage your files, but Pro is worth the extra expense with the ability to override File Explorer – for everything, or just for specific folders.
Directory Opus Pro is not only a file manager, it also serves as an FTP client and file compression tool. Its interface is a customizable interface than its cheaper counterpart, it offers built-in metadata editing, and it can save complex search terms as macros for future use. You can try both versions for free for 30 days.
Another premium file manager, Xplorer² comes in two versions, a General Purpose Professional Edition and a more powerful Ultimate Edition, and you can try either option for free for 21 days.
Of all the file managers we tested, Xplorer² is the most modern. Choose from a ribbon-style interface or a more traditional menu bar.
It is packed with unusual features that you didn’t realize you needed, including the ability to select multiple files at once without the risk of accidentally deselecting them by clicking elsewhere (Sticky Selecting), an option to quickly identify files in. double and color-encoding so you can identify files and directories at a glance.
The default layout of Xplorer² is a pair of horizontal panes with a traditional Explorer-style tree along the left. This is open to some customization, and there are tabs to keep things organized, but vertical panels seem like a more logical choice when you want to transfer files.
The Ultimate version of Xplorer² is a more business oriented tool, with portable / network deployment and priority support. For home users, the Professional Edition will do the trick.
Q-Dir (aka Quad Explorer) is a small, lightweight file manager that, as the name suggests, gives you up to four panes of files to play with at once. It’s also free.
It’s a simple premise executed without extraneous clutter, although Q-Dir’s navigation icons look absolutely tiny on a high-res display. It sounds like a minor baffle, but it’s a major drawback and the developer seems to be aware of it; there is a link to a screen magnifier at the top right.
There is support for tabbed browsing, as well as a bookmark feature for frequently used files and folders. Unfortunately, while there are keyboard shortcuts for common tasks, there’s no way to customize them or add new ones to speed up your workflow.
Q-Dir comes in handy if you just want a more convenient alternative to File Explorer and don’t often need to transfer huge amounts of data, but anyone else will be better served by the tools. premium listed above.
If you’re happy with the basics of Windows Explorer but are fed up with having multiple instances open at once, check out Clover.
Unlike the other tools here, which are fully self-contained file managers, Clover is a neat little app that just adds web browser-style tabs to the file explorer. It’s a small change, but it makes a real difference.
Clover also adds a handy bookmark bar for your most frequently viewed files and folders. It’s more convenient than Windows’ own quick access links because it doesn’t require scrolling or mixing your bookmarks with other directories. To tag a folder, just drag it into the space under the tab titles.
Although the Clover site and the software itself are available in English, the installer is in Japanese. It is quite simple for English speakers to follow; just click on the green buttons.
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