26 March 2008

File managers

Linux gives you a choice of about a million different file managers. They differ in how much they do, how they do it, whether they are text or graphic based, etc. I have been able to narrow things down from the available choices to three that make sense to me. Each have their pros and cons and are discussed below.

The standards for selection are that the manager be fully GUI based and it must behave well. Even though this whole deal is about being light and lean, I consider ncurses or otherwise not fully GUI managers just too primitive for most users—including myself.

The three finalists currently on the shortlist are Thunar, ROX-filer, and PCManFM. An honorable mention needs to go out to XFE. It has its heart in the right place, but I just couldn't get it to look right.

Thunar
Thunar is the file manager used in the Xfce desktop package. Although part of the Xfce desktop, there is nothing to keep you from using it under other window managers.

Pros:
* Looks good.
* Automounts removable media (this is huge).
* Talks to Firefox/Iceweasel's download window—meaning that "Open" and "Open containing folder" links in Firefox/Iceweasel's download window work as expected.

Cons:
* It's the biggest of the three and therefore takes a relatively long time to load.

ROX-filer
ROX has been around for a while and is part of a larger ROX-desktop initiative. It is actively developed and has a strong following. Many of the parts that make up the whole ROX-desktop world are also worth investigating, particularly the concept of "zero install"—which replaces the idea of installing software with the idea of requesting software execution.

Pros:
* Fastest of the three
* Built-in drag-and-drop desktop management (and more).
* Looks, while not as conventional as the other two, are good. You might even call it cute.

Cons:
* Locating and selecting files/directories using just the keyboard is frustrating (e.g., typing the name of a file does not select it).
* Doesn't talk to Firefox/Iceweasel
* No "sidebar"

PCManFM
If I remember correctly, PCManFM is developed as a side-project by a Taiwanese medial student. (And I whine because I never seem to have enough time ...) It's designed to be lightweight and useful.

Pros:
* Faster than Thunar (but not as fast as ROX).
* Has tabbed panes.
* Can manage the desktop (though support for this in the version I tried was not very good).

Cons:
* Development is slow
* Doesn't talk to Firefox/Iceweasel
* Some reports of stability issues

Of the three, I think ROX has the most balanced promise, and that is what I am trying to make go at the moment. However, the other two are still quite tempting—especially Thunar's automounting.

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