You spend a whole lot of time each day moving, copying, trashing, browsing, and otherwise fiddling with all the files stored on your PC, and you should have the most efficient power tools to get those jobs done. Windows Explorer and its weak army of file manipulation functions just doesn't cut the mustard for people with lots of data and only a little time, but several free utilities can help out. So today we present our top 10 free Windows file manipulation utilities for managing your important data.
Undelete files you accidentally trashed from your hard drive, USB drive, or camera's flash card with Restoration. Since deleting files from your PC doesn't actually delete the bits that make them up, undelete utilities like Restoration can scan "unused" disk space and cobble together fragments of files past. Truth be told, Restoration's pretty hit or miss—if your computer overwrites even a bit of the file, you're toast—but it should be your first stop the moment you realise you needed that file you just emptied out of the Recycle Bin. Run it from your thumb drive to make sure installation doesn't wipe out any of the file you want to resurrect.
Detect and delete duplicate files taking up space on your system with either DoubleKiller or Easy Duplicate Finder. Neither of these power tools is definitively better than the other, so we're including both—which scan your hard drive (or specific folders) and identify which files are exactly the same, so you can delete them to free up space for new! and different! files. Especially great for weeding out dupes from your MP3 or photo library.
Speed up big file copy jobs with TeraCopy, a simple utility that makes Windows default copy operation 10 times better. Never start a big file copy job, go to lunch, and come back to find it failed within the first minute: TeraCopy can pause and resume big file copy jobs, recover from errors, and estimate the time transferring all those gigabytes of music over the network will really take. Here's our original post on TeraCopy (great discussion there in the comments, with the TeraCopy developer chiming in.)
Compare and merge files with the open source WinMerge, which checks both file listings, and the contents of text files and office documents for differences—which you can merge back and forth across versions. Here's a full-blown tutorial on how to use WinMerge to resolve differences between files and folders.
Synchronise files between different computers using either FolderShare (over the internet) or SyncToy (on the local network.) With FolderShare, install the client on both your home and office PC (for example), set which folders should mirror each other, and bam—you've got easy-peasy file sync over the 'net between them. With SyncToy, set up folder libraries that sync their contents—either on the same PC or between computers on your home network (only one needs SyncToy installed.) Here's our writeup of the SyncToy 2.0 beta.
Clone any hard drive while you work on it with DriveImage XML, a hot imaging utility. A mirror image of your PC comes in handy when your system gets so gunked up it's slowed down, or when your hard drive crashes. So next time you wipe C: and install Windows from scratch and get everything perfect again? Make a mirror image of it for instant restoration with DriveImage XML.
Map your hard drive usage with WinDirStat, an open source utility that answers the question, "Where did all my free gigs go?" Scan any hard drive with WinDirStat, which creates a visual map (with boxes! and colours!) of your files, proportionate to their size. Figure out what's hogging up your hard drive and delete it to avoid or remedy that "low disk space" warning. Here's our full rundown on visualising your disk usage with WinDirStat.
Replace Windows Explorer with Xplorer², a file manager that adds scads of useful functionality to your file browsing experience. Browse several directories in a tabbed interface; bookmark folders and FTP destinations, split and merge files and use Xplorer²'s extensive keyboard shortcuts to get it all done in a flash. Here's our play-by-play on using Xplorer².
Automate your data backups with SyncBack freeware, an incredibly robust backup utility that backs up or synchronises data between your hard drive and an external drive or FTP server (for off-site backup.) Configure multiple profiles to run at times you schedule, and get email notifications if something goes wrong. Here's how to automatically back up your important data every night, week, and month with SyncBack.
Hide and secure entire folders or drives with the open source TrueCrypt utility, one of the best privacy and security tools out there for your, um, sensitive files. Encrypt an entire thumb drive or a whole set of folders with TrueCrypt, which uses the same encryption algorithm they use for Top Secret gov't documents, so believe me, it's fit to lock up your pr0n. Here's a full tutorial on how to encrypt your data with TrueCrypt.
For more free Windows goodies, check our our previous Top 10 Free Windows Downloads.
What are your favourite file-wrangling tools for Windows? What did we miss on this list? Tell us! You know, in the comments.