Best Free Windows Explorer Add-ons

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Introduction

This article reviews extensions and add-ons to the File Explorer in Windows, also known as Windows Explorer in earlier versions of Windows. The add-ons provide some of the desirable features found in commercial file managers or Explorer replacements. For example, dual-panes, tabs, favorite folder access, etc., while retaining the speed and familiarity of Windows.

For more info on file managers that are recommended as an alternative to File Explorer of Windows, see Best Free File Manager.

Strictly speaking, an Explorer add-on is any program that enhances the taskbar, start menu, desktop, context menu, toolbars, file management system or any other aspect of Windows involving explorer.exe. However, this article will focus mainly on add-ons to the file management system, especially add-ons that help users access their file system. Thus, it will generally exclude Program Launchers and Right-Click Context Menu Extensions, although there is some overlap.

Be aware that these add-ons only fully support certain versions of Windows only. Running them in unsupported versions of Windows may only get partial or non of the features to work properly.

Index

 

Multifunctional Add-ons

QTTabBar  

Adds tabs and a wide range of features to File Explorer to help users explore files and folders more quickly.


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free
Powerful, extensive, customizable, transforms Explorer
Difficult to discover and activate all of its features, documentation needs improvement.
Read full review...

StExBar  

Adds a toolbar offering what Microsoft forgot to implement in the Explorer.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Adds a toolbar to Explorer where advanced users can add and program additional buttons.
Really only useful for advanced users, others will get more functionality from QTTabBar.
Read full review...

DMEXBar  

Adds additional toolbars to Windows Explorer that provide a variety of new file management functions.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free
Adds additional toolbars to Windows Explorer that provide a variety of new file management functions.
Not very customizable, a little difficult to operate, some functions were not very useful, others useful ones were not included, not compatible with Windows 7.
Read full review...

Fast Access Add-ons

FileBox eXtender  

Get quick access to favorite and recent folders from buttons added to Explorer and dialog boxes.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Open source)
Adds buttons to Explorer and dialog boxes that provide quick access to favorite & recent folders, adds useful "On top" and "Roll up" buttons to all windows.
No longer in development, dialog/explorer window settings did not work consistently in recent versions of Windows.
Read full review...

Direct Folders  

Get quick and customizable access to favorite and recent folders from a menu in Explorer and dialog boxes.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Limited features)
Effectively gives you access to a configurable Favorites menu in Explorer and in Open/Save/Browse dialogs; claims to work in ALL versions of Windows.
Crashed once, dialog/explorer window settings did not work consistently.
Read full review...

FlashFolder  

Get quick access to favorite and recent folders from a toolbar added to dialog boxes.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Open source)
Adds a toolbar that provides access to favorite and recent folders, effectively sets dialog box sizes and view modes.
Limited to only dialog boxes, does not work in Vista and newer versions of Windows.
Read full review...

Folder View  

Effectively adds favorite folders to Explorer's toolbar and context menu.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
Adds some useful buttons and cascading menus to Explorer's toolbar and context menu, to a tray icon, and to Open/Save dialogs.
Only partially functional in Vista and newer versions of Windows; does not provide direct access to files.
Read full review...

Other Add-ons

FolderBox  

A small program that adds another Explorer window within the standard Explorer window to make file management easier.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Adds a configurable Favorites menu to the context menu of Explorer and Dialogs.
Not customizable.
Read full review...

Related Products and Links

Cascading Folder Menus

These programs are useful for Windows XP or older versions to explore directory structure with cascading/fly-out menus, of which basic functions are mostly provided in newer Windows systems.

  • Explorer Breadcrumbs adds an Explorer toolbar that mimic's the address bar in Vista. But it was actually more useful because it included features missing from Vista: an "Up" button and the ability to explore the directory structure with cascading (fly-out) menus.
  • Folder Guide adds a configurable Favorites menu to the context menu of Explorer and Dialogs, but with no other options and additional features.

Explorer Visual/Style Enhancements

  • Folder Size (not for Vista) adds a new column to the Details view in Windows Explorer. The new column shows not only the size of files, but also the size of folders. It keeps track of which folders you view, and scans them in the background so you can see the complete size of all files within the folder.
  • ExplorerView gives you the ability to turn off the way Explorer attempts to auto-detect the contents of a folder in Vista.
  • TweakXPlorer is a portable program that allows you to skin or customize the look of Windows Explorer.
  • Rainbow Folders allows you to change the color of any folder icon.

Tooltip & Thumbnail Enhancements

These programs enhance the windows that pop-up when you hover the mouse over a file in Explorer.  There are also some good reviews at Freewaregenius.com and a detailed tutorial describing alternatives.

  • InfoTag Magic displays extra data stored in the tag fields of MP3, WMA, APE and Ogg Vorbis files in a tooltip window when mouse pointer is hovered over a file in Windows Explorer. Also it provides a quick preview for plain text files, shortcuts properties and version information of executable files.
  • MediaInfo supplies technical and tag information about a video or audio file. The installer is bundled with adware OpenCandy, but you can opt for a zipped package without the installer.
  • GSpot identifies the codec required to play an AVI file and supplies other information as well.
  • ThumbView enables image thumbnails and tooltips in MS-Windows Explorer for filetypes that are not natively supported. It started with PCX, TGA, DDS and PNG images, but now ThumbView supports an amazing 19 image types - directly inside any Explorer window
  • AudioShell allows you to view and edit ID3 metadata tags directly in Windows Explorer by displaying audio file tag info on mouse-over, adding tabs to properties window, adding audio-related columns in Explorer's details view.

XP "Places Bar" Editors

The "Places Bar" is on the left side of Open/Save/Browse dialog boxes in Windows XP.  It shows a list of buttons that you can click to open common folders, like the Desktop, My Documents, etc.  You can use the free programs below to customize the Places Bar, or you can try doing it manually: "How to edit the Places bar in Windows XP".

Launching Folders & Programs

If you want to launch folders from the right-click context menu, folder locations can be added using many of the context menu extensions found here: Best Free Right-Click Context Menu Extensions.

If you want to launch programs as well as folders, check out Best Free Program Launchers: Best Free Program Launcher.

Here are some other useful tutorials:

 

Editor

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Comments

Another wonderful source of free apps, that add much to your Windows experience is Sordum company site, where the most close to the topic is Easy Context Menu app - http://www.sordum.org

I thought it's impossible to talk about Explorer extensions without mentioning of FileMenu Tools - http://www.lopesoft.com/index.php/en/download/filemenu-tools

A nice application that deserves to be added to the "Fast Folder Access Extensions" paragraph, is FoldersPopup (http://code.jeanlalonde.ca/folderspopup/). A nice portable and actively developed application written in AutoHotKey by Jean Lalonde who's very responsive to any questions/remarks/bugs you may have.
(The current version is 2.2, but v3 is in development)

I installed QTTabBar version 262 which is working on W/8.1. I also have Classic Shell, and so far no problems. By default it opens up new windows in tabs. To get to QTTB Options, I click on View>Options and then hit QT Button Bar and then hit the gear icon.

FolderSize got a new version with experimental support for Vista and later.

http://foldersize.sourceforge.net/

I think this must be the longest article page on Gizmos- Sometimes too much info is not helpful.
I installed QTTAbbar and almost gave up on it till I finally realized how to access the options area so i could delete and change groups and access other features. The article here might do better by just pointing out the main points and telling quickly how to use the program otherwise one can get lost in all the feature details. i.e. QTTabBar has many additional settings you can tweak from the Options pane. To do this, right-click an empty part of the tab bar, and select Options.

But, now that I've found the options I totally love QTTabbar. BTW, It is compatible with Win 7.