If you're any sort of power user, you've bumped up against the limitations of your operating system's default file manager on countless occasions. The fact is, for advanced file browsing and manipulation, sometimes the default applications—like Windows Explorer or Mac OS X Finder—just don't cut it. Today we're looking at your choice of the five best alternative file managers.
Xplorer2 (Windows, Freeware/Shareware)
Xplorer2 offers a dual-paned interface (plus file tree) with support for tabbed file browsing, bookmarks, FTP access, advanced file filtering, and a robust set of keyboard shortcuts. Xplorer2 comes in both freeware and shareware versions ($US30 for Xplorer2 Pro). There's even a portable version of Xplorer2 Lite (the free version) available, so you can drop it on your thumb drive and take this powerful file manager with you wherever you go. For a more detailed rundown, check out how you can replace Windows Explorer with Xplorer2.
FreeCommander (Windows, Freeware)
FreeCommander boasts many of the same features as the rest, but it also stands out because it's the only app we're featuring that's entirely free. That means you'll still see features like dual-paned file browsing, seamless ZIP and other archive support, tabbed interface, built-in file viewer and FTP, and all the rest of the goods that make these apps stand out above and beyond Windows Explorer, and you're never stuck with a limited version. It also boasts a huge collection of hotkeys for the keyboard junkie. (Original post)
XYplorer (Windows, Shareware)
XYPlorer is a completely portable file manager with most of the same bells and whistles as the rest. The major difference is that XYPlorer doesn't offer a dual-pane interface; instead its tabbed interface allows you to drag and drop files from your current window to any tab, giving it similar functionality to dual-pane. It's a keyboard lover's dream, complete with user-defined shortcuts for nearly any task you want to perform with your file manager. It also supports previewing virtually any filetype, including most popular image, audio, and video formats (even FLV files you downloaded from YouTube). XYPlorer is available as a free 30-day trial version, costs $US30 for a licence.
Total Commander (Windows, Shareware)
Total Commander features side-by-side file-browsing panes, enchanced file search, built-in FTP, archive management, and file comparing tools. Previously known as Windows Commander, this application stands out for its extensibility, boasting a sizable list of add-ons. Total Commander is available as a month-long demo and costs $US38 after that. If you've got a PocketPC, you can get the Total Commander goods for free with previously mentioned Total Commander Pocket.
Directory Opus (Windows, Shareware)
Directory Opus, aka DOpus, is a shareware file manager. Like the rest, DOpus boasts dual-pane browsing along with several other views, tabbed windows, integrated archive support, and built-in FTP. Its preview pane stood out in my trial, including full support for viewing photos and even editing your MP3 metadata. Directory Opus is shareware, costs $US85 for a single licence. You've got a 60-day trial to decide if it's worth the extra cash.
Our top five spots all went to Windows apps, but honorable mention goes to Path Finder, a Mac OS X-only replacement for Finder.
If we left out a favourite must-have feature of your file manager or you just want to sing its praises, let's hear about it in the comments.