Let’s face it: for advanced file manipulation, Windows File Explorer stinks. But like Firefox is a must-have replacement for Internet Explorer, a file manager called Xplorer2 blows Windows Explorer out of the water for anyone who browses multiple folders, copies, pastes, moves and searches the PC filesystem frequently.
Using Xplorer2’s tabbed, dual pane interface, keyboard shortcuts and killer advanced features, you’re in total control of your PC’s files. Let’s take a look.
Download and install Xplorer2
The "lite" version of Xplorer2 has a few features disabled, but it’s far from limited; it’s free for personal or academic use. A license for the pro version costs a reasonable $30, and there’s a full 30-day trial to check out pro features. For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to the free Xplorer Lite (where locked "pro" features are denoted by a "[P]" in the menus.)
Download Xplorer2 Lite from here and launch it. The self-contained program is even thumb drive-friendly.
Triple threat interface
First thing you’ll notice off the bat is that Xplorer2 displays file listings from two folders at once in one window. This makes a lot of sense, since a lot of the time you’re copy or moving files between folders. Also, in the far left pane, there’s an easy-to-navigate directory tree of your computer, as shown (click to enlarge).
To quickly switch between the two open folder panes, hit the Tab key. The active pane will have a white background, the inactive will be in beige. To turn on or off the directory tree pane, from the View menu, check or uncheck "Show Tree."
If the dual pane view wasn’t enough, you can also open up sets of folders you work with frequently in tabs. From the File menu, choose "New Tab" or simply hit Ctrl+Ins to open a new tab. Move between tabs with your keyboard with Ctrl+Shift+Left/Right arrow.
You can even rename a tab for easy visual reference. Just right-click on it and choose rename.
Bookmark folders and files
Much like Firefox, in Xplorer2 you can bookmark folders and assign keywords to open them quickly. To add a folder you frequent to your bookmarks, from the Bookmarks menu choose "Add Current." To organize your bookmarks, hit the "Organize" Bookmarks menu item, which will bring up something like this:
To bookmark a file, add its name to the end of the bookmark path. Then, when the bookmark is chosen, the folder will open with that particular file selected. (For instance, when I hit my "todo" bookmark, todo.txt is selected and I can hit Enter to open it.)
The eagle-eyed will notice an FTP server in my bookmarks, pictured above. You can open folders on a remote server via FTP in Xplorer2, which makes copying files back and forth from your web or home server inside the tabbed interface a snap.
Security alert: Xplorer2 only supports plain FTP (not encrypted), and you’re required to put your password in the bookmark itself. The format is ftp://you:firstname.lastname@example.org. This isn’t the most secure way to FTP, so proceed with caution.
Filter your files
Xplorer2 makes it dead easy to work with sets of files. You can use a filter to select all the files that start with G or end in .png. Simply type your filter into Xplorer2’s address bar (like "*.txt") or from the Mark menu, choose "Select Group." From there you can copy, move or otherwise manipulate the set of files.
Xplorer2 has a very extensive set of mature keyboard shortcuts. First, it’s got incremental search and select for a directory listing. Just type the first few letters of a file or folder name and Xplorer2 will instantly move down and select it in the list. Hold down the shift key to do incremental search by file extension (like Shift+tx will take you to the first .txt file in the list.)
To copy files between open folders, use F5. To navigate to a particular drive letter, use Ctrl+Shift+Letter (like Ctrl+Shift+C) to go the drive’s root.
Lifehacker reader Ludwig summarized his favorite Xplorer2 keyboard shortcuts in a grid that makes a nice cheat sheet.
Split and merge files
If you’ve got a multi-gigabyte file – like a video or disk image – you want to transport on a series of smaller capacity CD-R’s or thumb drives, Xplorer2 can split the file into small parts and reassemble them later. To do so, from the Actions menu choose "Split" and select the file part sizes. To put the file back together, select all the parts (make sure they’re sorted by name so they’re in the right join order!) and from the Actions menu, choose Join.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what Xplorer2 can do here, so if you’re looking for ways to streamline common file manipulation actions you have to do on a regular basis, be sure to give the Xplorer2 manual a look-see, which is available as a separate download.