Thursday, April 7

file managers

One of the so called must-have applications for me, on any desktop machine, is a file manager. The problem with Linux having a much better terminal (or command line based) environment is that file managers haven't quite assumed the polish of their Windows counterparts. For years, I've been using this on Windows and before that, I used the venerable Norton Commander. So much so that I got the complaint that "whenever anyone sees your terminal from afar, it's coloured blue", a reference to the trademark blue/cyan background of the original Norton Commander.

Why are file managers so useful ? Well, the OFM page has the lowdown, but basically, for the person who takes some time to get used to the interface, it offers massive productivity gains in the mundane move, copy, preview, rename file tasks. Yes, even over terminals, an area where Unix power users/sysadmins are generally said to be the most productive. A single shortcut key, GUI based file selection instead of wildcards and complex manipulations of directory trees are some places where a file manager shines. The best (in fact, the most useful) OFMs are ones which are dual paned, they allow browsing two directories at the same time. Total Commander, which I use all the time in Windows, is of this category, as is the Norton Commander lookalike FAR.

On Linux ? Not much joy. Considering that I spend most of my time in a editor/IDE, browser, file manager and IM client (in that order) in Windows, it seemed rather awkward to live without a dual paned file manager when I moved to Linux. Unix machines already have a variety of file managers, from Rox-Filer to Konq to XFFM4. (No, I detest Nautilus). Unfortunately, dual paned file managers are (or so I thought) in short supply. I had to live with the imperfections of Midnight Commander, which only runs in the shell, and doesn't have a nice shiny GUI to play with.

Enter the contenders. I'd heard good things about Gnome Commander, but Ubuntu repositories didn't seem to have a working version, so I scratched it. My criteria for inclusion were dual panes, Gtk or Qt based, reasonably customizable and not entirely hideous looking. My next stop was gentoo (not to be confused with Gentoo Linux). Unfortunately, as the screenshot indicates, it isn't exactly going to win any eye candy awards. Nice, fast and functional, but falls down a bit in the looks department. That's probably the story of my life too; so not wanting to be reminded, I moved hastily onto the next contender.

From the absolutely fantastic KDE application suite, we have Krusader. Dual panes = check. Looks good = check. Customizable = hmm, so so. I confess Total Commander may have spoilt me a bit. Their latest stable (1.51) continually segfaulted when I tried to customize the starting directories (err.. ouch) but everything else seemed to work ok. Oh, except that it didn't remember my viewing preferences and gave me all the toolbars and widgets back when I restarted. Oh, well. But it does the job of file management reasonably well, so Krusader is a keeper. But, a drawback. I don't use KDE as my primary desktop. I personally dislike it's widgetyness, even with the most eyecandy like of themes. And I dislike the fact that I'll never see ports of these apps in Windows. Ok, so the last won't be true when Trolltech releases Qt 4 for Windows as GPL, but that's a while away.

So, onto the next contender, TuxCommander. Gtk2 based, good. Customizable = yes, it actually does allow good customizations. The plugin system isn't working that well, and it is less developed than Krusader (like, TuxCmd doesn't even HAVE options to disable toolbars and the like). So, we have two winners. Krusader is probably the file manager that is most usable at this stage, but TuxCmd isn't bad enough to toss into the bitbucket either.


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