Alternative Linux file managers

Sunflower: The Clone

Much like XFE, Sunflower's lean design also makes it useful for older hardware, but without appearing jaded. The graphical interface is oriented on the well-known Norton Commander of the DOS era, both functionally and in terms of the window structure. Only Fedora and OpenMandriva have Sunflower in their repositories. Because the Sunflower project has binary packages of the latest version of the file manager for an exceptionally large number of Linux distributions, you should get the latest version 0.3 of the software from the project homepage [2].

After a fast-paced start, a two-pane interface appears, supplemented with a menubar at the top and a command line at the bottom of the screen. Unlike XFE, Sunflower has no toolbar, and an overview of the predefined function keys, as in Norton Commander or Midnight Commander, is also missing.

To compensate for this, the tab structure of the software lets you open multiple Windows simultaneously and even move them within the hierarchy. For example, you can click on an icon in either the left or right pane to enable a terminal that appears in its own tab. Pressing the Tab key lets you toggle quickly between the two display areas (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Simply click on the terminal prompt icon to open a terminal in the current directory.

Sunflower is somewhat less consistent in terms of controls than XFE; you need to unlock some functions in a dialog. Selecting Edit | Preferences takes you to the options, which are clearly divided into groups. You will find the most important options in the Item List (Hidden files | Show hidden files) group and the Plugins group (Archive Support, Basic rename options, and Basic find file options entries).

These options directly influence the capabilities of the individual files and folders. Like XFE, Sunflower relies on third-party programs for many editing functions. Therefore, you will want to choose a powerful editor for text files in the drop-down box of the Edit section under the View & Edit group of the Preferences dialog (Figure 5). You can even choose LibreOffice as your default editor, which is particularly useful if you often view and edit files in ODF format.

Figure 5: Sunflower also offers many options for flexibly customizing the file manager to your own needs.

Sunflower supplements the file-specific context menu, which can be opened by right-clicking the respective file, to reflect the enabled options. However, the tool only modifies the display of folder and file hierarchies in the main window after you press Save in the Preferences dialog.

Vifm: The Spartan

As the unusual name suggests, Vifm [3] is a program for users who often work with the venerable editor Vi or its slightly more convenient counterpart, Vim. Vifm, with an ncurses interface, is accordingly the most spartan tool. Its keyboard shortcuts are similar to those used in the editor and therefore allow for very quick navigation in large sets of data.

Vifm is in the software repositories of almost every major distribution. Also, the project provides the file manager on its website as a source package and in the form of prebuilt binary packages for various distributions, all licensed under GPLv2. The setup process does not create a launcher in the application menu, so you launch it from a terminal window.

Vifm also uses a two-pane view mode and can be controlled with the keyboard alone (Figure 6). For beginners who are not so knowledgeable of the operation and configuration of the Vi editor, Vifm provides fairly detailed documentation [4], along with a guide to all the keyboard shortcuts.

Figure 6: The console-based Vifm is visually austere, but you can navigate efficiently with just the keyboard.

The file manager offers the usual functions, an option for renaming multiple files in one step, and freely definable keyboard shortcuts. An undo/redo function lets you roll back commands you accidentally executed or run them again if needed. Using external programs, the file manager also lets you look at files of various formats, without having to change to the respective application.

Much like graphical file managers, Vifm easily adjusts to your needs: You can use the program in a single pane, adjust the display columns to suit your own needs, and define the colors within the framework of the ncurses interface. Extensive search and filter options round out the offerings.

For efficient navigation of a very large number of files, Vifm offers a bookmark feature that lets you quickly jump to selected files in nested folder hierarchies. Finally, it offers a command-line option that lets users execute shell commands from within the file manager, which makes changing to a second terminal tab unnecessary in many cases.

Double Commander

Double Commander [5], which comes out of Russia and is licensed under GPLv2, offers a feature set without equal. The program, written in Object Pascal, comes in 32- and 64-bit flavors as well as in various packages for Gtk2- and Qt4-based interfaces. Additionally, the cross-platform application will launch on various BSD derivatives.

The program, which has been under development since 2007, can be found in the repositories of all major distributions. However, if you prefer to have the latest version, you can pick up a binary for various distributions from the project web site. You will also find portable binaries for distributions that do not support RPM or DEB.

In some cases the installation routine does not put a launcher in the menu; however, you call ./doublecmd in the terminal after you install the software or, if you are using the portable version, ./doublecmd.sh. The extremely quick file manager launches into a two-pane view, like most programs for managing files, but it is anything but ordinary with its huge number of controls (Figure 7).

Figure 7: The Russia-born Double Commander offers a very extensive user interface.

In addition to the obligatory menu bar and a button bar for fast access to important functions, you will also see a bar displaying the drives on the system, which lets you click to change from one drive to another. Double Commander can also handle network drives mounted via SMB/CIFS and FTP, so they also appear in the view. Another line above the list view shows the active drive.

On the right side of the panels are some buttons that change the view. At the bottom of the program window a bar with function key assignments give you access to menu items at the push of a button or with a keyboard command.

Using the Show | Tree View Panel menu, you can switch to a tree view that Double Commander displays on the left in the program window while simultaneously reducing the size of the two main panels. This view significantly speeds up navigation in large folder hierarchies.

In the list view of mass storage content, the program displays the permissions for each file with different color highlighting; the two panes can thus become very colorful at times. Along with the main editing functions, Double Commander also supports tabs and right-click context menus for files.

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