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Preamble

Greetings, this is second part of the File Managers review and is concerned with OS X File Managers.  I have to admit that my day to day computer at work runs Windows Xp/Vista but the computer I use at home is a Macbook Pro running OS X 10.5.  This kind of gives me an interesting comparison view between the Win and the Mac camps for all kinds of things from IDE’s to compression and yes, with File Managers.

So this is post is a gathering of what I consider to be the top file managers for OS X. As with previous posts, I will list 3 to 4 file managers for OS X that I think (just my humble opinion here) are the best in the free, open-source and commercial categories.

The slant on this is that I am constantly looking for a File Manager (or Finder alternative) that compares with the features I have found with Total Commander or Servant Salamander on Windows so that the transition back and forth is as painless as possible.  So far, I am not too thrilled – yet…

See Part 1 for my review of Windows File Managers. Here is what I rated the Windows File Managers on what I am going to rate the OS X File Managers on:

  • dual pane
  • multi-tabbed
  • icon overlay
  • built in compression and compression navigation
  • intuitive to use
  • simple to config
  • ftp
  • favorites
  • built-in viewers

Even so, it is going to be somewhat long but I do hope it will be of value.  Small note: I chose to go with a 1 to 5 star rating for the Tidbits based on my opinion of how useful any given feature might be.

Let me just state that these are my picks for file managers and are not influenced by any of the vendors/creators of the file managers that will be reviewed. Please take the time to leave comments and let me know what your favorites are and also give it to me straight when you have information that will clarify or correct this post.

Contents

ForkLift

Macintosh Explorer

XFolders

Other File Managers

Recommendation and Comments

OS X File Managers

ForkLift

Platform: OS X
Version: 1.6 (1.7 Beta is available here)
Type: Dual Pane, Multi-Tabbed
Price: $44.95 ($24.95 Student License)

In a few words: ForkLift is cool!  Since I started using a MacBook it is the closest thing to a Windows experience I have had with file management.  Hold the flame for a bit…I really love my MacBook but I have to use Windows for development so I like to have similar tools on both systems to keep up my productivity and ForkLift helps me achieve that on the Mac.  Let me run some negatives first then some positives.

On the not so fun experience side:

  • Slow loading – it seems to take forever to load – perhaps is just me but I can’t help feeling that this is somewhat of a resource gobbler.
  • The drag and drop is a real bummer – I can’t seem to make it work 100% of the time – just simply clicking on a file and trying to drag it to another folder turns into a multi-file/folder highlight – strange.
  • The Favorites section on the Sidebar does not reflect my Places in the Finder which is kind of a bummer.
  • Also there is no Shared section on the Sidebar which is also a bummer because the Finder shows my shared network drive so either I am missing something or it is not there.
  • It would be nice to see and Up arrow at the top of the file/folder listing in each pane but I sense that is my Total Commander experience (Norton Commander) showing where I am used to seeing two Dos/Windows dots to navigate back one folder level – the bread crumbs feature is more than sufficient if I can remember to use it!

On the ‘Cool‘ experience side:

  • Finally multiple tabs on dual panes (awesome!) which is about the most important thing to me – especially when I am working with multiple projects.  It is so tiring to keep navigating into a folder tree, back out, into another one, etc…
  • I really like the breadcrumbs feature in each pane, for each tab, that shows where you are in the folder hierarchy – very easy to navigate back.

To Continue, I really like this file manager and while it does seem slow in loading I can overlook that in favor of being productive in the areas that matter.  I do wish it had more that Zip compression integration since I do a lot with .Rar, .7z and other compressed files (compressing not navigating).  I do like the ability to navigate into compressed files but my favorite compression format (.7z) does not seem to be supported – perhaps in the next version.

There are a ton of other features such as Amazon S3 support, Ftp (all flavors), Growl support, and Bluetooth to mention a few.  I am not going to go into them all as I think the I covered the things I work with on a daily basis.  All in all, this is a very easy to powerful, easy to use File Manager and I certainly recommend it if you have the $ to spend as it seems well worth.  Additionally, I did notice on their website that a new version is coming out so that’s a good sign that development is ongoing and ForkLift is only going to keep getting better.

Tidbits:

  • Dual pane *****
  • Multi-tabbed *****
  • Icon overlay ****
  • Compression w/ navigation ***
  • Intuitive to use ****
  • Simple to config ****
  • Ftp *****
  • Favorites *****
  • Built-in viewers **

Macintosh Explorer

Platform: OS X
Version: 4.5
Type: Single Pane, Multi-Tabbed
Price: $15.95

When I was searching for OS X file managers I kept seeing references to Rage Explorer and Rage File Manager, etc.. but the download links went to a dead site (actually for sale) so I figured it was dead and buried but Rage Software is alive and well => either the search engines had the Macintosh Explorer misnamed or people were calling it the Rage Explorer – anyway, doesn’t really matter just clarifying.

This file manager is single pane and multi-tabbed with some very nice features.  I certainly was happy with the load speed as it seemed very quick and I also like that this is a very straighforward utility with some simple features that make it appealing to me.  Not the least is the small price tag which should make it affordable for just about anyone.

On the not so fun experience side:

  • Current Tabs not being saved at exit.  I did check the settings but the one setting, New Explorer window opensLast place visited (selection), did not affect the state of the Tabs as each time I startup Macintosh Explorer it starts in the current logged on user’s home folder – that’s a bummer since I often like to pick up where I left off (perhaps the full version does this?).
  • The concept of the File Shelf seems a bit odd – I guess you drag files there to easily access them but then there is the File Bank which seems to do a similar thing.  My problem is this:  I could find no detailed information on this using the Help search other than to have the menu items highlighted.  I must have missed something but given there are Favorites I am unsure about the duplication of features – someone explain this to me?
  • The other thing is the concept of ‘Flavors’  which are really view themes.  Why not call them themes to build on a very common user experience – that must my my Windows brain talking here…
  • BummerNO ability to compress files/folders and NO navigation INTO compressed files that I can see.  I double-clicked on a .zip file and it simply uncompressed the zip file in place just like the Finder does – that’s probably the one thing besides the Tab state not saving that makes this File Manager not so good for how I like to work with files.

On the ‘Cool‘ experience side:

  • This is actually a very nice file manager if you are ok with not having side by side panes.  I really like the Thumbnail view right in the file manager for my images – that is a very cool thing when I am searching hundreds of images looking for the right one and I can do it right in the file manager.  On that same vein, the Compact List view is very speedy – I often know the file I am looking for and what I want to do with it so anything more than a fast list is a waste sometimes.
  • I also like the good responsiveness of the drag and drop since drag and drop in the mac seems to work a bit differently for many applications in my Dock.
  • The UI is very clean and simple and I like that a lot.
  • I also really like the ability to get a list of the files in the current tab/folder view – sometimes that is very handy!

All in all, this is a pretty nice basic file manager but I just can’t see using it for my day to day when I am doing development or even working with files how I like to work with them.  I have come to really like Tab’s (with the state saved) and navigation into compressed files – these things really save me a ton of time.  I don’t want to have to remember where I was during my last session and try to open the same tab’s the next time I open my file manager.

Tidbits:

  • Dual pane 
  • Multi-tabbed *****
  • Icon overlay ****
  • Compression w/ navigation 
  • Intuitive to use **
  • Simple to config ****
  • Ftp *****
  • Favorites *****
  • Built-in viewers ***


XFolders

Platform: OS X
Version:  1.6
Type:  Dual Pane, NON-Tabbed
Price:  Freeware

So this is a very basic file manager.  Very basic with some features that are kind of interesting.

On the not so fun experience side:

  • There are NO tabs at all and that is a shame.  This reminds me very much of Norton Commander and Servant Salamander (Win) with dual panes but no tabs.
  • Compression of files and navigation WITHIN compressed files is almost non-existing except that you can decompress a compressed .zip file and that’s about it.
  • I don’t see a way to actually change the views in the panes from the detailed view to another view such a Icon, List, etc….
  • The image viewer works but the navigation to files with images is tedious as you have to re-pick the folder that may contain images, see what is shown in the viewer and then re-pick again as needed – too much work for a simple feature.  It would be nice if a thumbnail view was built in.

On the ‘Cool‘ experience side:

  • I think the breadcrumbs buttons above each pane are actually very cool since when you click on an ‘earlier’ sibling button the ‘latter’ sibling button stays.  ie.. in the image below if I click on Users in the left pane the tcodex breadcrumb button stays there so I kind of have multiple views providing I am on the same path hierarchy.  Changing the folder completely changes the breadcrumb buttons and it should.
  • I like the little double .. at the top of each pane – something I kind of am comfortable with to navigate back to the last previous sibling in the path hierarchy I am on.
  • I also like the NC type of buttons (Norton Commander) at the bottom – kind of nostalgic and something I am used to and seems to exist in a lot of modern file managers.
  • It is very nice to be able to pick up from where you left off within the file hierarchy the next day, etc and Xfolders saves the state and it seems to work.
  • Finally, I really like having the ability to go right to the Activity Monitor and right to the Console as well as a Terminal.  These Apple utilities are quite useful but I am embarrassed to say I was unaware of them but that’s kind of the fun of moving into a new OS – the learning of it…

I have to say that if this file manager had a few more features that it would be my favorite in terms of performance.  Just (ya, right, just..) add Tabs, Compression navigation and changeable views and it would be my favorite.  However, working in the real world, I have to say it won’t work for me.  Keep up the work though since this shows great promise and what is built was built nicely.

Tidbits:

  • Dual pane ****
  • Multi-tabbed 
  • Icon overlay ****
  • Compression w/ navigation 
  • Intuitive to use ****
  • Simple to config ****
  • Ftp 
  • Favorites (bookmarks) *****
  • Built-in viewers 


Other OS X File Managers you may wish to consider

I have tried muCommander a few times over the past few seasons but never really go the performance I was looking for.  This is very similar in look to Windows Total Commander which is very similar to Norton Commander.

muCommander – From the website: “muCommander is a lightweight, cross-platform file manager featuring a Norton Commander style interface and running on any operating system with Java support (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, *BSD, Solaris…).”

Platform: Cross-Platform
Type: Dual Pane, Java Based
Price: Free as in Open Source

Recommendation

I have to say, I really like my Macbook Pro for several reasons:  ease of use, reliability of the OS, nice UI and so on… It just plain works well and I like that.  What I am not liking so much is that many of the utilities that I have become used to in Windows (File Managers, Editors, etc) just don’t seem to have such strong counterparts in OS X and File Managers are no exception.  But, since I am committed to using my Macbook Pro I have to work with what is available or code my own (maybe if I clone myself I will have time!).  Given that little rant here is my recommendation:

Full Featured: There was never really an contest when it comes to features as ForkLift has them and the others don’t.  At least they don’t have ALL of the features of ForkLift.  So, if I rate just on features then ForkLift comes out ahead.

Functionality Featured: If I was looking for just basic functionality (say, if I wasn’t a programmer and had basic needs) then I would have to save the $50 and go with Xfolders just for pure speed and a nice covering of the basics.  In my mind, it would not be  stretch to say that given a few more features I listed earlier that Xfolders would be perfect for me on OS X.

In Closing

When it comes to my needs as a programmer I have to say that ForkLift gives you a great value though the cost is a bit high in my mind as compared to Total Commander on Windows which offers many of the same features for a cheaper price.

Thanks for reading this review and I hope you will comment to give your 2 cents about what file managers you use: on any OS.

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