Best Free File Manager

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Introduction

A File Manager provides a convienient way for the end users to work with file systems and perform various operations on files and folders such as create, edit, rename, copy, delete, modify file attributes, compare folders etc. While Windows Explorer provides a fair amount of simple file management activities, a dedicated file manager helps you to keep things unsophisticated and gives you various tools out of the box to manage a large number of files at  a time. File managers gives you faster and easier management of files and folders on your PC.

The various special features that I'm looking forward to in a file manager are Dual panes, Tabbed interface, Bookmarks, History, Archive handling, Advanced File Search, MultiRename, Folder Size Enumeration, Folder Compare & Synchronize, FTP support, File viewer, File sorting, File splitter, Filtered view, Keyboard shortcuts, Easy access to system folders and more.

 

Discussion

So here's the top 5 products that I found after months of testing, that combines the best of interface, features and customizability among all the file managers out there. Since these top 5 products include most of these features mentioned in the introduction, I won't go in detail about them in each review.


FreeCommander XE Rating 10 of 10

   By: Marek Jasinski

FreeCommander XE is the top pick for this year. FCXE has an elegant and user friendly UI. With a 2 pane interface and shortcuts available along the vertical and horizontal toolbars, there’s a lot to love here. The file manager provides one touch access to most of the system directories, desktop items, start menu and control panel items. Different layout as well as column profiles can be configured and individually saved.

FreeCommander by default makes use of Windows explorer for file operations, and the same can be done using built-in facilities too. FCXE boasts a huge feature set and a few are to come along the way, like FTP client, File Splitting and Content plugins (.wdx). File searching function is extremely powerful, you can even search within the archives too. It also provides a plain view for files and folders, where instead of the files being nested inside different folders they are all shown in a single view.

The customizability provided by FCXE is immense. Starting from the toolbar, nearly every button and bar can be customized according to your wish. There’s also immense keyboard customization support where shortcuts can be provided for each and every function. You could backup and restore all the customized settings at will. It also includes a desktop snapshot feature.

InterfaceRating 10 of 10

FeaturesRating 9 of 10

CustomizationRating 10 of 10


Unreal Commander Rating 10 of 10

   By: Max Diesel

If any file manager comes close to the look and feel of Total Commander (TC), it’s Unreal Commander. There’s the usual 3 different view styles:- List, Details and Thumbnails. There’s a powerful filter system to filter the items that you want to view. Panels can be arranged horizontally or vertically and a quick view panel is available. UC packs multiple visual styles with different color categories for files as well as fonts for interface elements. Themes and button bars can be downloaded/configured as well since it supports TC extensions. The file manager also also supports background pictures.

Selection can be made in Norton Commander mode or Windows standard mode. Various settings that have been made are saved on exit. Quick searches can be done for files from the main window. The built-in FTP client is really powerful, data ports can be protected using SSL/TLS and connection can be made anonymously. With background picture support you could skin the file manager according to your tastes. 

Although Universal Viewer is being used as internal viewer for various files, this can be customized to include any viewer that you find suitable. Same is the case with file editor. Just like Total Commander, you can configure Lister plugins (.WLX), Packer plugins (.WCX) and Content plugins (.WDX). Settings that have made can be stored as different ini files for Main settings, Visual styles, FTP connections etc or to the registry.

Note: Unreal Commander is donationware, meaning a nag screen will pop up (only once during each system restart) to donate for the product if you like. Also you’ll have to register the product with a free license key. 

InterfaceRating 9 of 10

FeaturesRating 10 of 10

CustomizationRating 10 of 10


NOMAD.NET Rating 9 of 10

   By: Eugene Sichkar

Nomad.Net is the successor to Nomad and this time completely re-written in .Net programming language. This file manager has a simplified and clean interface. The tabs unlike other managers are not panel based and hence provides ample space. You may use tree view like Windows explorer, and the layouts can be customized for future use. The breadcrumb folder toolstrip let’s you view a wealth of information.

The file manager gives importance to multithreading, so lengthy file operations can make good use of multi-core CPU’s. The file manager also houses a powerful search engine with complex search rules as well as a strong filtering system. A unique feature is the ability to customize individual folders view and options and make it to remember them. You may also lock the folders to prevent changing it. Nomad.Net not only allows you to bookmark your favourite folders, but even your FTP sites and searches. The program has a wipe function and allows to clean free spaces.

Nomad has extensive toolbar customization capabilities along with keyboard mapping support for almost every function. Although the file manager allows full internal support for a long list of archive types, it also supports WCX plugins to view, create and edit archives. 

InterfaceRating 10 of 10

FeaturesRating 8 of 10

CustomizationRating 8 of 10


MultiCommander Rating 9 of 10

   By: Mathias Svensson

A great file manager for power users is MultiCommander. You could control the look and feel of MultiCommander on startup, and choose between Commander Styled, which is optimized for keyboard or Windows explorer Styled compatibility. In addition you could choose from multiple look’ n’feel profiles for mouse, keyboard, color and overall settings. Various tips are provided during launch to ease you into the functionalities of the file manager. You’re greeted with unique button panel at the lower portion of the file manager for various functions that makes it all the more convenient to use.

MultiCommander has a vast array of features in it’s arsenal. The multi-view feature let’s you browse folders on one panel and the contents are immediately available on the other. You could configure viewers, editors, launchers to use for different file types. Various plugins are available that expands the file system, file operations such as auto-sort, auto-unpack and support application extensions expands the file manger with various new tools. Also for the ultimate geeks, you could tweak the read/write strategies used and also set to keep broken/unfinished files. Accessing windows registry right within the manager and quick access to Control Panel is a pretty neat feature. Moreover certain useful Audio, Video and Picture tools are also available.

The file manager is a powerhouse of customizability enhancing the file navigation experience. The multi-update feature automatically updates MultiCommander to the latest version so it saves you the trouble of manual updation. The buttons available on the panel can be configured to execute various external programs, activate functions inside MultiCommand, call scripts etc.

InterfaceRating 7 of 10

FeaturesRating 8 of 10

CustomizationRating 9 of 10


Master Commander Rating 9 of 10

   By: Andrzej Stefanczyk      

Master Commander will please all average users. There are no extensive customization options, the program is simple and straight forward but powerful enough. A tabbed interface with optional tree view is provided for each of the 2 panels. A useful history and bookmark manager is provided to manage tasks and files with ease and keyboard shortcuts for most basic file operations is visible at the bottom.

Out of the box, Master Commander packs in the most features than any other. A text editor with syntax highlighting most programming languages as well as a hex editor for modifying files is provided. Among the features rarely seen in any other file managers include, support for creating ISO images as well as verify & sign digital signatures for files. It also packs in a CD-DVD burner, process manager and a download manager. One feature that’s certainly missing is clickable crumbbars.

Customizability is not the strong point of Master Commander. For instance, the toolbar cannot be customized and there aren’t any keyboard shortctuts that could be defined. Although, the font and color for text and background elements are available to play with according to users wishes. You could also define background images for the list view. This is a no frills, simple yet advanced get-go file manager for daily use. 

InterfaceRating 9 of 10

FeaturesRating 10 of 10

CustomizationRating 6 of 10


More File Managers

Although the best are listed above, it doesn't hurt to know more options out there, if you aren't satisfied with the any of the above. 

Nexus File Rating 8 of 10

  • Modern interface - Probably the most modern and sytlish interface that I've seen. 
  • Work Folder - If you set a folder as an work folder. you can go to that folder with shortcut key right away. Also copy/move/extract files/folders to an work folder with only two step keyboard shortcut.
  • Innovative Folder Tree - The hierarchial represeting let's you see all the sub-contents at a glance. 
  • Colors - You can customize colors for file listings and folder free. Different colors for various file types lets you to easily distinguish files at a glance.

Home | Download | Portable | Release Notes | FAQ | Forum

wxCommander Rating 8 of 10

  • Advanced Built-in text editor - One of the best text editors I've seen, with syntax highlighting. 
  • Shortcut menus for USB flash drives - Makes starting applications very easy right from your USB drive.
  • Portable - No installation or uninstallation required. 
  • Linux styled interface may not please everyone. 

Home | Download | Release Notes | Plugins | Contact

xplorer2lite Rating 7 of 10

  • Multifunctional address bar - Specifying folder names and visual filters and for running windows applications.
  • Autocompletion - Paths and other frequently typed information.
  • Dockable Thumbnail bar - To preview images, html and office applications.
  • No hotkey cusomization and uses windows search. 
  • Free version limited. See feature comparison

Home | Download | Support | FAQ

Better Explorer Rating 6 of 10

  • Ribbon sytled tabbed explorer for Win 7 & 8
  • Drive usage analysis chart
  • Conditional selecting - filtering, searching, selecting. 
  • Is just an enhancement to the Windows 8 explorer

Home | Download | Release Notes


R.I.P File Managers

These file managers were once great, but are no longer developed. They continue to work on latest versions of Windows, but won't be featured in the main review.


Not Recommended

These file managers were tested but falls short in features and overall usability. They are either too simple or too restricted in features for daily use. 

 

Other File Managers to be reviewed:

These File Mangers were brought up in the user comments section. I'm currently reviewing them or have finished reviewing and waiting to be listed in the main article during the next review update. Please be patient. 

 

Notes

File managers that were written as 32-bit applications will generally work on 64-bit Windows, but functionality will be limited in two ways:

  • Shell extensions (i.e., file context menu entries) of 64 bit applications won't appear in a 32 bit file manager.
  • 32-bit file managers will not be able to access the "system32" directory of a 64 bit Windows installation, they will be deflected to the "sysWOW64" directory instead.
  • 32-bit programs have not full access to the control panel.
 

Changelog

Dec 27 2013
More file managers added
Dec 23 2013 Major Update to the article (New top pick)

 

Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 

Quick Selection Guide

FreeCommander XE

5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Great interface, Searching inside archives, Plain/structureless view, Extensive toolbar and keyboard shortcuts, Quick starter workspace, Backup & Restore, Desktop screenshot.
Missing certain features that are yet to be added: FTP client, Layout, Content plugins, File splitting.
2014.0.650
5.5 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.

Unreal Commander

5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Universal viewer, Exact Total Commander clone, Powerful File splitter and FTP client, Support for WLX, WCX, WDX plugins, Password keeper.
Requires registration with free license key, confusing interface icons
2.02.994
6.7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

MultiCommander

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Different look n feel setups, Button panels, Extensive customization options, Powerful file operations, Mapping file keys, Language editor.
Best for power users, Less powerful viewer.
4.2
7.8 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.

Nomad.NET

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Clean interface, Powerful search function, Workspace support, Extensive toolbar customization, Packer with encryption support.
Probably not in development anymore, No Multirename or history support.
3.05b
3.3 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.

Master Commander

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Best suited for beginners, Huge feature set: Digital signature, Create ISO, Convert codepages, Download & process manager
No extensive customization capabilities, Less powerful features.
1.2.787.1
4.6 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
 
 

Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor George.J. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.

 

Tags

file manager, windows explorer, file explorer, free software, freeware.

 

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Average: 4 (84 votes)

Comments

I just tested your two top picks: Unreal Commander and FreeCommander XE and they don't even come close to the power of Xplorer2lite.

I've used it for years and it is by far the best file manager I've ever tested (and I've tested dozens).

This article needs more rigor.

xyplorer2lite is a restrictive freeware, many features are only available in the pro version. I've reviewed it in this article. 

Have you tried XYPlorerFree ?
If you give that a try, I will update my Xplorer2lite, and give it a fresh look at

Rob

January 2014 seems like a long time ago. Can we get this entire article updated? You guys do good work and I'd be very interested in an update on all available free file managers. :) And your link above for the category editor, George, does not work. He must have backed out.

PS. I don't like the little "New Article" popups in the lower right corner when I visit the site. No big deal, just irritating.

"... Konvertor is a fast and reliable two-panel, multi-tabs file manager for Windows. It has an intuitive interface, offers viewers for all popular file formats as well as uncommon and very rare ones ..." (now free): http://www.konvertor.net/index.html

I tried Freecommander XE. While its first impression was good, browsing the network is unbearably slow. There are more people on their forum complaining about it. Unreal Commander is faster browsing the network, but for some files it just took about a minute before a network copy action was started (for very small .docx files).

Network browsing does not seems to be the strength of free file managers :(

I just needed simple, resource light file manager with tabbed interface and bookmarks toolbar for favorite folders (like in internet browsers). For my needs Explorer++ was exactly what I needed. It worked great in Windows XP, but on newer Windows OS versions bookmarks toolbar doesn't show bookmarked folders. It's a known bug reported about a year ago and still not solved.

So, I tried several programs suggested here that are still updated. Finally I decided for XYplorerFree. It has attractive interface which is also very, very customizable (can add/remove all toolbar commands). Has both tabbed interface and dual pane (you can also open multiple tabs in each pane). It doesn't have bookmarked folders toolbar which I would like, but there is toolbar icon that opens bookmarked folders as a drop down menu. Everything considered XYplorerFree gets my vote.

I probably have been the biggest 'singer of praises' for that program.
If I were sent to Mars, and could only take one file manager, that would be the one
(If I were sent to Hell, they would give me Windows Explorer)

It is remarkable that it is free, as all of the multitude of features are included in the free version (Except Search)
(If I were sent to Hell, I bet they would make me use Windows Search)

Rob

The Master Commander website now comes up with something in Polish. Looks as though it could be finished?

You can still get the last version.
Here is the website (not in English)
[Details removed as per site rules. Links to English language sites only]

I gave up on free Explorer++ (and I had made two donations) after 3 years where navigation pane bug (reported by many to the developer) was never fixed. Navigation pane did not refresh when folder or files renamed, moved or deleted. I finally opted for .... a commercial file manager, that works.
- except its file-contents find is soooo sloooww and complex to setup each search.

I would like to replace another commercial files manager called "Windows Explorer" by Microsoft (also a commercial enterprise) with a file manager that I can ...
1. select a file or folder and add it to a favorites list on the file-manager UI, just like we could with commercial Windows XP. Default "Favourites" folder on commercial Windows Explorer is, for me absolutely useless, especially if I am at the bottom of the tree and have to scroll to the top to find default 'Favorites" folder

2. find file contents (anywhere in any drive NTSF/FAT32) without having to tweak settings to search in system folders , because Windows Explorer does not search an entire drive, without tweaking and then indexing slows PC performance considerably.
Free "Everything" finds absolutely anything, but it is not always convenient to open 'Everything" to do a file search

3. each drive displayed on the file manager UI to simply jump to different drives without having to collapse the navigation tree to find the drive.
With 6 drives on a PC selecting another drive (in WinExp) is antiquated.

Thank you :)
... just removed my tongue from cheek !

Have you tried XYPlorerFree ?
www.xyplorer.com/free.php
Everyone should try it, as it is brilliant
Try out your other needs to see if it can handle them.
The Search is brilliant, and does not pre-index
That is the only feature disabled in the free version.

Rob

Thanks crombierob for your suggestion "XYPlorerFree"
The features list at http://www.xyplorer.com/features.php ... is a little overwhelming with a lot of in-house jargon, but I found the screen shots promising.

As a dinosaur from the last Ice age I find picture graphics very annoying (I am an AutoCad addin & Excel addin developer) -- I like simplicity (less bloat and more screen real estate).

I will give XYPlorerFree a trial and join the forum to clear up my critical needs that are only available in the PRO version ... regx searches, search for JPG file editable properties, content searches are crucial, and the big one "drives bar". The screen shots do not show a drives bar.
Hopefully my trial and XYP forum will clear up my concerns.

What I do LIKE is XYPs (promise of) portability ...
- I detest my registry being filled with "guff"
- if XYP is truly portable ... I am in ... makes image restoration so much easier.

When I have played with XYP for a while I will feed back here

yes truly portable.
I have dozens of copies in their own folders, for different categories of use by me.
I am 'a bit of an old woman' so I avoid running more than one of them at a time
I am a VB6 programmer, and I avoid dependencies (things that need installing), like the plague.
I don't use the Registry (use Settings.ini instead)
His program is written with VB6, and has no dependencies (no need to install). And I note he too has a Settings.ini in the Data sub folder.
Most of my programs do not need installing, but I am awed by the fact that he has achieved the same goal, with such a feature rich program.

Win8 file manager can't search for files reliably, it misses files all the time. I want a file manager that DOES NOT USE the win8 file explorer.

The above file managers are alternatives to the Windows file manager. The top 5 uses their own explorer.

Thanks, that's what I wanted to know, it wasn't obvious to me.

I'm looking for a file manager that could sort .torrents by their tracker addresses in the column section. Normally torrent clients have this feature, but they require adding .torrents which I don't want to. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Not sure about this, why don't you try adding Torrent_wdx plugin provided by Total Commander on FreeCommander or Unreal Commander?

It is a very helpful plugin, of course not for sorting, but for searching .torrents by their trackers. Thank you very much indeed.

Thanks
But what about multi windows in ET?
Regards

I'm very surprised that the really best windows file manager is not in this list...

2 panels is a very very poor display ....

I (webmaster) use at least 80 different workspaces with each 8 panels

So try ACBrowser free edition that is really the best windows file manager in the world at this moment for me
http://www.konradp.com/products/acbplus/free_index.htm

But if you know a file manager able to manage more than 2 panels ... and 8 or 10 if you know... tell me because I'm very interested....

Have you ever tried a Tabbed File Manager ?
If not see my comments about XYPlorerFree below

Thank you for the reply
When I discovered this discussion I've tested XY but perhaps am I wrong but I do not find the way to manage more than 2 panes....

And all my workspaces have 8/12 panes...
Do XY is able to display the same?

Look
http://www.servimg.com/view/10007441/3783

Anyone aware of a file manager that supports reading from and writing to MTP devices?

I can't use "Windows Explorer" it fails to copy the data and gets stuck at "calculating time".

XYPlorerFree used to have it.
It is high on his list of things to do -
http://www.xyplorer.com/xyfc/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=6139

In that thread eil says this
the only workaround is to switch your devices in "usb-mode"

Or perhaps find an earlier version of XYPlorerFree

Rob

Do any of these other than MultiCommander have right-click file selection? Been using MultiCommander, and once you get used to using this feature, it's hard to go back to traditional selection methods. The only reason I ask is I'm having issues with MC seeing external/flash drives sometimes, even though Windows file explorer shows them.

Unreal Commander by default has right-click file selection. You can set other file managers to have right-click file selection. For instance in FreeCommander XE, go to Settings->Select items(on left-side bar)->NC-Mode(tab)->Tick the checkbox 'Select items in NC Mode'->Select with right mouse button. About MultiCommander problem, why don't you try refreshing the pane (F5), after you insert a flash drive.

Thank you for the reply. I'll check out those mentioned. I have tried refreshing MC, but no luck. It might be an issue with the Beta version. I'll have to install the last stable, and see if it resolves the issue.

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