You Should Replace Windows 11’s File Explorer With This App

You Should Replace Windows 11’s File Explorer With This App

The File Explorer in Windows 11 has been having a rough time. The initial redesign from Windows 10 displaced familiar features and the right-click menu was truncated, as were the options in the ribbons menu.

A couple of updates later, things have improved somewhat, and Windows 11 finally added tab support in File Explorer. But if you’re annoyed by the lack of consistency in File Explorer, there’s a free, open-source, community-supported alternative that’s a lot more customizable. It’s simply called the Files app.

How to download the Files app for free

You can buy the Files app from the official Microsoft Store for $US8, but it’s also available completely free of cost from the developer’s website, though it’s a bit hidden: After opening the link, click the Classic installer button at the bottom of the page to start the free download.

But before you do that, I suggest you create a backup of your computer and all your important files just to be safe, given this is an app with permissions to directly edit all files on your computer.

The Files app wins with its design

Credit: Khamosh Pathak

There’s no shortage of File Explorer alternatives (XYPlorer being a popular choice), and this was the case even before Windows 11. But none of them feature as modern or polished a design as the Files app. It takes its cues from Microsoft’s Fluent design system, and looks even better on Windows 11 than Microsoft’s own File Explorer, which feels like a cheaply re-skinned version of the Windows 10 File Explorer.

This emphasis on design continues with its customization options, of which there are plenty. You can choose from a couple of default themes, or have fun choosing color and transparency effects that work for you. And the dark mode is divine.

Credit: Khamosh Pathak

If you’re looking for a form factor closer to macOS, you can switch to the Column view. Like Finder on Mac, this app also has a quick preview feature that allows you to peek into photos and PDFs by pressing the Space bar (doing this in the File Explorer requires a third-party app.)

My favorite part though, is the fact that you can make the icons and previews extra, extra large, so you can see what’s in an image, or a PDF without even going through the quick look menu —something that’s just not possible with the native File Explorer app.

The Files app is a great file manager

The intuitive UI in Files app also translates to the functionality. The tabbed browsing is fast and easy to navigate, and it has Dual Pane support (you can add a pane to a tab from the Menu button). This feature splits every single window into two. The second pane shows quick shortcuts, and allows you to browse to any folder. From there, simply drag and drop files, rearrange, or edit however you like.

The dual-pane layout makes transferring files a breeze, and you won’t need to worry about window management either. The Details button is yet another nice touch. The sidebar can show a preview, and details of the selected file.

Credit: Khamosh Pathak

As mentioned above, the Column view is another useful way to navigate deeper into a complex folder structure without losing context, as you can see the parent folder to the left.

Another macOS Finder feature that works well in the Files app is Tagging support. Tags can be created from the sidebar, and multiple tags can be assigned to an single file. When you open a tag from the sidebar, it will show all the files related to the tag. This is a great way to pool in files from different folders, without actually moving them.

Credit: Khamosh Pathak

The Files app works with OneDrive and Google Drive by default, you can see all the files stored in your cloud storage account, and it can preview and unzip files. You can add support for other services like iCloud Drive and Dropbox.

Added functionality comes at a cost

From the Advanced settings, you can make the Files app your default file management app if you like. It can be used to open folders from Search, and even when downloading files. (Because of a Windows limitation, it can’t be used when you’re uploading files in the browser, but it can be the default file manager all everywhere else.)

But the question is, should you use Files as the default app? That will depend on your computer. The Files app is modern, and feature-rich, but it can also be a drag on your resources. It’s slow to boot up the first time, and it can be really slow when you’re batch-renaming files. But if you have a fast enough desktop PC, you won’t feel the pinch.

Overall, its intuitive design, added navigation features, and the fact that it’s available for free (competitive apps in the space usually cost $US25), makes it well worth trying out—and a lot better than the Windows 11 standard.

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