The Best Alternative File Browser For Windows

The Best Alternative File Browser For Windows

Windows Explorer is hardly the perfect tool for advanced file management, and Windows users have a ton of alternatives available. The decision is a difficult one, but if we had to recommend one file browser, we’d pick Xplorer2 for Windows.



Platform: Windows Price: $US30, free lite version available Download Page



  • Customisable, tabbed, dual-pane interface (or single if you prefer)
  • Tons of hotkeys that let you perform file operations with one keystroke
  • Instant file previews
  • Ability to replace Windows Explorer as your default file manager
  • View extended metadata on many different types of files
  • Create bookmarks for specific folders and jump to them with a keyboard shortcut
  • A “mini-scrap” pane to which you can drag files from different places for batch operations
  • Execute DOS commands and scripts on groups of files right form the Xplorer2 interface
  • Advanced file operations, like split, merge, shred, create junctions, and more
  • Export folder listings to a document
  • Assign specific view modes to certain folders (pro only)
  • Compare and synchronise two folders (certain features pro only)
  • Advanced search through any type of file and its metadata, even those contained in ZIP folders (pro only)
  • Search the content of files, like the text in documents and PDFs (pro only)


Xplorer2 shines in its great interface and high amount of configurability. You can tweak the interface to fit whatever you want, whether that’s a vertical or horizontal 3-pane view with a tree, or a simpler view like Windows Explorer. You can customise all of your hotkeys for super fast file browsing, as well as change every corner of the toolbars and interface to fit your needs. Xplorer2 also has better file management and searching capabilities than Windows Explorer, which makes it perfect for sifting through your hard drive. Best of all, you can completely replace Windows Explorer with Xplorer2, so when you head to My Computer or double-click on a folder on your desktop, it opens up Xplorer2 instead of Windows Explorer.



One of Xplorer2’s biggest downsides is that it uses Windows Explorer’s built-in file operations. This isn’t inherently bad, but it is a serious disadvantage when compared to other advanced file browsers, that use their own file operations with things like error-resume. Also, some of its best features are disabled in the free version, which again isn’t inherently bad, but if you’re looking to get it all for free, you’ll have to look elsewhere.



There is a lot of competition in this space. The most obvious competitors are Total Commander and the programs based off it, like Unreal Commander. While these are the most powerful options around, the interface is pretty horrible, and not something you would want to use on a regular basis for regular browsing. It also can’t replace Windows Explorer in your system, which is a big downside.

Directory Opus rivals Xplorer2 in features, boasting things like global hotkeys, a standalone viewer, and a wicked FTP system, but it comes at the very high price of $85. This is far more than most home users would like to spend on a file manager, so we couldn’t bring ourselves to call it the “best” in this directory, though it is well deserving of your use if you’re willing to throw down the cash.

If you’re looking for something free, you’ll definitely want to check out CubicExplorer, which has a great, simple, configurable interface, Nomad.NET, which stresses powerful file operations, and FreeCommander. None of them are quite as powerful as the paid options, but they’re valid competition for the low price of $0.

There are tons of others out there, like XYplorer, NexusFile, Q-Dir, and more, and it’d be impossible to address every one, but the above few stand above the rest in our eyes. Just like the category of best music player, this one is a very close battle and is very dependent on personal preferences. Xplorer2 isn’t going to be the best for everybody, and many of you are probably very loyal to a different file browser. However, we think that for someone just delving into the world of advanced file managers, Xplorer2 is the most likely to suit their needs, both in power, ease of use, and price. If you’ve got your own favourite, share it with us in the comments.

Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories, each week with a different focus.


  • Best Alternative File Browser: Directory Opus.

    Yes, it is a bit more expensive, but for the money you get heaps more features and a way better integration with Windows OS, including Windows 7 unique features such as NTFS Links and Elevated Permissions.

    Also, it’s a Brisbane-based company so you’re supporting your local market… 🙂

    NB: I have no interests with the Directory Opus guys, I’m using it for 3y now and can’t see myself working without it.

    • I’ve actually used it too, and it does indeed rock, however it can be a bloody nightmare to set up the way you want! there’s actually too many options, and you can easily get bogged down getting it ‘just so’! Plus it is, bloody exy! I think most people, particularly those that aren’t into customisation will just want something that does the job, no mussin no fussin, ‘Xplorer2′ does that, as indeed Windows Explorer does, add the simple ‘Side by Side.vbs’ script, it too will rock… #]

      • Actually, they completely redesigned the user experience in version 10 (latest) of the product and now its out of the box configuration is extremely user friendly. I’m using it on the HTPC and even the missus finds it easy to use.

        • Oh, cool, it kind of needed it though, don’t you think? But I think I’ll stick with Windows Explorer using ‘Windows Double Explorer’ addon though,.. I’ve mentioned it below, it’s pretty damn good for a freebie. #]

    • I tried them all, the free ones, the paid ones and nothing came close to Directory Opus. Directory Opus is 1000 times better than Xplorer2. If you install Directory Opus, you will immediately find Xplorer2 to be limited and annoying. You can usually always find a free/open source alternative, but in this case, you cannot. I have been a happy user for 2 years and yes the price was a little painful but worth it.

      • Just downloaded the latest version to test, it is a very powerful piece of kit, and for pros it would be the bees knees, however I still prefer Windows Explorer with the ‘WDE’ addon! It simply opens two Explorers side by side in the same frame, and I get easy access to the favourites!

  • I’ve been using Xplorer2 Pro for a while, and it’s great, but I agree, Directory Opus is really quite good. I’ve been trialing it for 30 days (has 60 day trial) and I’ve found DOpus to be really fantastic.

    I can’t decide which one I like more though.

    DOpus is REALLY quick for doing file operations, like copying stacks of small files over the network, it uses its own copy method, not the Explorer one. and it has a nicer layout when you have the auto-preview enabled.

    It also looks great.

    Xplorer2 is good if you don’t want to fork out the $90. Also, I found I needed to run an AutoHotkey script to ensure that Win+E always runs X2, for some reason the key binding didn’t always give me x2.

    I think I’m going to switch to DOpus when my trial runs out, or at least run it at work and run x2 at home.

    The Directory Opus license allows you run it on one desktop and one laptop which is nice – where the Xplorer2 licence is for one PC only; so you need to buy two licenses, which ends up being two thirds of the DOpus price anyway. X2 does offer a “lifetime” license though.

    Sadly for me, I have three x2 licenses and will be buying the DOpus license as well.

    • X2 only offer a “lifetime” license if you cough up another $30, though, so that’s a $60 purchase. (I know, as I just got told I has to pay another $30 to upgrade to v2 (after upgrading, which really annoyed me). I’ve rolled back to v1.88, but will now be giving DO another look.)

      • I just received some feedback from Nikos about x2; I mentioned to him the things I wasn’t happy with (copying relied on WinExplorer, and the QuickView preview had to be the same orientation as the file panes).

        All the things I mentioned have been fixed in version 2.0 which was released just a few weeks ago!:

        From: Nikos Bozinis
        RE: xplorer2 uninstall

        Hello and thank you for your feedback

        Xplorer2 can do both these things, now in version 2.0, see

        also robust copy was available for many years:

        Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.

        Kind Regards
        Nikos Bozinis

        Thanks, Nikos – and awesome work on the very cool new interface, it’s genius – and it’s getting reinstalled at work tomorrow 🙂

  • There’s one thing they all forget, that’s a favourites panel! Windows Explorer is actually a brilliant Explorer except for the inability to open two working panels. I’ve actually tried most of the programs you listed Whitson, and I believe ‘Xplorer2’ does have a somewhat crippled favourites panel as an option, and it is an excellent alternative! Here’s an easy way to get Windows Explorer to do everything you want, it’s called ‘SideBySide.vbs’ it’s just a simple little .vbs script that allows you to put two instances of Explorer side by side with the click of an icon! This way you get the chocolatey goodness of the Favourites panel on both sides! get it here “” have fun #]

    • I just found an even better way to get Windows Explorer in dual pane! It’s called ‘Windows Double Explorer’ and it simply opens up two instances of Windows Explorer in one instance! Seems to work well too, even shows the Favourites as ‘WE’ does in single instance! Find it here “” #]

  • Will have to check these out … I actually find Windows Explorer to be adequate but you never know what you’re missing out on ’till you try something else.

    Right now I’ve replaced Win7’s standard file copy/paste/move with “TeraCopy”; plus I now use “Everything” for searching – it finds pretty much any file, pretty much instantly.

    Also fun to use (although perhaps not powerful as such) is SpaceSniffer.

  • The Best Alternative File Browser For Windows is Directory Opus (as the comments here will verify). Yet you “couldn’t bring ourselves to call it the “best” in this directory” because of its cost. Either it is the best or it isn’t. Cost should not alter the softwares ranking. Just as some people are prepared to “throw down the cash” to purchase an Audi instead of a Suzuki, they are also willing to do the same for software. As a computer user for many years (I’m talking Amstrad and Commodore here) I have noticed a distinct maturing of users in their attitude to software purchases. They no longer expect everything “to be free”. In the old days it was considered a capital offence to pay for sotware, but no longer.
    And, this is strictly a personal thing without prejudice, but I much prefer the “old style” of comarison – – rather than you choosing your free (or almost)favourite.

    • We haven’t stopped doing Hive Five comparisons — App Directory is an additional means of identifying useful apps, but certainly not the only way it happens around here!

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