When it comes to performing a number of copy, move, delete or rename file operations, Windows Explorer is severely lacking as a file manager if there’s at least a reasonable amount to do. In some ways Explorer seems to have got less useful in more recent Windows versions and a lot of people prefer the way XP did things more than Vista or 7. If you are a ribbon toolbar fan, then Windows 8 at least starts to bring some of the usefulness back.
One of the areas where I find it useful to have a file manager is when looking at other users systems where certain files have to be backed up or moved off the machine completely, or simply sorting out their unorganized mess of files spread all over the place. Having to do this using Explorer alone can be quite time consuming and not a particularly efficient use of your time.
Personally I use Directory Opus on my desktop machine and it also has an add-on option to create a USB version which means I can use it in my USB toolkit. As fantastic as Opus is, it’s incredibly expensive to all but the most ardent file manager users. Thankfully, there are a number of free file manager utilities around that can make file operations far easier than any current version of Explorer. All of the tools listed below are completely free and portable meaning they can be copied onto USB stick and used on any system you require.
Although Free Commander hasn’t been updated for a while, it’s still a highly capable file manager. Offering a horizontal or vertical tabbed interface, built in archive handling, FTP client and a file viewer capable of showing hex, binary, text or image files. Most of the file operation buttons covering files and folders is also accessible via the toolbar.
A small thing I find quite useful on the toolbar is a shortcut menu that lists a large number of system folder shortcuts and a Control Panel menu for quick access. A number of other functions that really should be in Windows Explorer by default such as create/verify MD5 checksums, file splitting, file wiping, folder size calculation and a built in multi rename tool are all included. Free Commander is also a valuable tool to have around after a virus infection that has hidden your files because it shows hidden and system files and folders by default.
Free Commander is getting quite old now, but the developer is working on a newer version currently called Free Commander XE which is still in beta. Go to the XE version webpage to have a look and see what the finished program will have to offer.
Free Commander is free for private AND professional use and works on Windows XP, Vista and 7
This program is absolutely packed with features which you very rarely find on other free file managers. In addition to all the standard functions you find in other decent file managers, Master Commander hosts a number of extra’s like a hex/binary/text editor with syntax highlighting, file encryption and decryption using AES 128/256, a file comparison tool, folder synchronize and a file modified time/date and attribute editor.
If that wasn’t more than enough, you can also create image ISO’s, download files from the internet and there’s even a tool to burn CD’s or DVD’s. Oh, I almost forgot, there’s also a basic process viewer and killer as well.
If you’re looking for a free and portable file manager, you really have to at least give Master Commander a look. Just make sure to change the background colour from the horrible Windows 95 blue/green which is default when you start the program.
One drawback is it requires .NET Framework v3.5 but the wealth of functions make up for the minor negative. Works on Windows XP, 2003, Vista and 7
Multi Commander goes for a traditional dual pane commander layout with tabs and a number of text based shortcut buttons at the bottom of the window. The program is very configurable though, and several functions such as buttons, menus, shortcuts and the look and feel can be changed to your liking.
Included are a number of the more common useful options like FTP and archive viewing, a picture viewer with light editing functions, text/binary and hex viewing and MP3 tag editing. This file manager has its own set of highly useful features over and above a lot of other file managers. You can view and edit file permissions including taking ownership of files and also the registry can be viewed and edited as if browsing through files and folders. Two things that could be valuable to administrators and advanced users, but something that needs to be used with care.
Multi Commander also has a scripting engine allowing the creation of custom scripts inside the program to automate tasks. This is a bit like Master Commander in the shear amount of features and tools that are included which are often not present in free software of this type. Not a surprise then that this software used to be shareware and sell for $30.
Multi Commander works on Windows XP, 2003, Vista, 2008 and Windows 7.
Nexus File is certainly the most visually striking file manager listed here but if it’s not to your taste can be edited to look friendlier on the eyes. While it certainly isn’t as full of features as some other file managers listed here, Nexus is a very snappy program and does all the basic and common tasks quickly and easily.
FTP, archive support, advanced renaming, checksum calculation, split and join are all included as you might expect. There are a few extra functions thrown in such as a simple temporary files and temp internet files cleaner and a folder comparison tool.
Nexus File is an attractive tool for heavy keyboard users because just about every function in the program has an associated keyboard shortcut which of course, can be configured to suit your needs (by pressing F12).
Nexus Files works on Window XP or later.
Download Nexus File (Portable version is tiny white link below the orange button)
Q-Dir is certainly a program that is very well suited to users who often have several Explorer windows open at once with its quad view layout. There is easy access to a number of different layouts ranging from a single window right up to the full quad display complete with folder tree. Like Nexus File, this program is built to be fast and functional and isn’t loaded with features you might not want.
There are a few interesting things like a built in magnifier, the ability to create quick link favourites and quick access to a selection of system tools, but most of the options are related to how the program’s layout looks.
Q-Dir works on Windows 2000, 2003, 98, XP, Vista and Windows 7.
xplorer² Lite Edition Portable
The portable version of xplorer² Lite is not actually from the creator zabkat, but is repackaged as portable by smithtech with permission. This program is quite easy to use and resembles Windows XP’s Explorer in some ways so more casual users might get on with it a little better.
Sadly, a lot of the more advanced functions are disabled in the free version which does detract from its appeal somewhat (marked with a [P]), but there are enough left to get standard file operations done with ease. Many of the disabled options are related to the look and layout so if this doesn’t bother you, xplorer² Lite might have enough free features to do the jobs required of it.
xplorer² works on Windows 98, 2000, XP, Vista and 7
There are several other free and portable file managers around that are not included simply because I would have been writing for days to fit them all in! Nomad.NET, Cubic Explorer, Explorer++, WXCommander and Double Commander are all file manager type programs that also might be worth you looking at. Of course, if you use another free and portable file manager utility that you like, feel free to share it in the comments…