Selecting a File Manager

A file manager is actually an optional component of a desktop environment. If you don't much like the idea of manipulating files with a mouse, you can use an xterm and text-mode commands, such as those described in Chapter 5, "Doing Real Work in Text Mode." Most true desktop environments do include file managers, though, and Linux provides plenty of choices. File managers can provide several different types of views of directories and ways of shifting those views:

Multiwindow Views In this approach, the file manager displays icons or text representing files in a window, and when you select a subdirectory, the file manager opens another window on that directory. You can then drag files from one window to another to operate on them.

Single-Window Views Another design is to open one window and replace its contents with another directory's contents when you select the second directory. This approach requires that you open a second file manager window to move files between widely separated directories, although you can usually move files to subdirectories by dragging them into a folder in the primary window.

Dual-Pane Views Some file managers implement a two-window or two-pane view, with one window or pane showing one directory and the other showing another directory, to simplify moving files between directories. This approach is similar to that used by many FTP clients, and it is sometimes referred to as the Norton Commander style, after a popular DOS file manager from years gone by. This view style usually displays textual representations of files, not icons.

Triple-Pane Views A variant on the dual-pane view is the triple-pane view, in which opening a directory in one pane causes it to be displayed in the next one, and so on. This view style was used by NeXT's file manager, and Apple's Mac OS X can also produce this display style, so users of these environments may like this approach.

Explorer-Style Views Some file managers support a tree-like view in one pane and an expanded view of a selected directory in another pane. The Konqueror window in Figure 6.2 uses this approach, which is often referred to as an Explorer design, after the Windows Explorer file browser from Wndows 95 and NT.

Some file managers support several of these view types. For instance, Konqueror uses Explorer-style views by default; however, you can shut off the tree view, reverting it to a single-window system. You can also select options to turn Konqueror into a multiwindow file manager.

Table 6.1 summarizes some of the major features of several popular Linux file managers. Some of these headings require explanation. The Desktop Icons column describes whether the file manager supports placing icons on the desktop. The drag-and-drop operations summarized in Table 6.1 work between windows or panes of a file manager, but drag-and-drop between the file manager and other applications may or may not work. The Object Oriented column reports whether the file manager supports taking actions based on the type of a file, such as launching an associated program based on the file type. The Multiple Execution column describes whether you can associate more than one application with a single file type (say, selectable from a menu by right-clicking a file).

Table 6.1: Major Features of Popular Linux File Managers

File Manager

Display Styles

Desktop Icons

Drag-and-Drop

Object Oriented

Multiple Execution

DFM

Multiwindow

ü

ü

u

FileRunner

Dual-pane

ü

u

Gentoo

Dual-pane

u

ü

Konqueror

Multiwindow, single-window,

Explorer

ü

ü

u

ü

Nautilus

Multiwindow, single-window

Ü

Ü

u

Ü

Northern Captain

Dual-pane

Ü

ROX

Single-window

Ü

Ü

u

TkDesk

Single-window, triple-pane2

JU

Ü

u

Ü

Xfm

Single-window

Ü

Xplore

Explorer-style

Ü

u

Ü

^TkDesk supports an application bar similar to the ones created by AfterStep or Window Maker.

®Xfm supports a dedicated application-launching window.

Of course, file managers are complex programs, and a table can't convey all the important information about these programs. Additional details include:

DFM The Desktop File Manager (DFM; http://www.kaisersite.de/dfm/) uses GTK+ and is modeled after OS/2's Workplace Shell (WPS), although DFM doesn't implement all of WPS's features.

FileRunner This program, whose website is http://www.cd.chalmers.se/~hch/filerunner.html, is unusual in that it includes a built-in FTP client.

Gentoo This program is inspired in part by an Amiga program, Directory Opus 4. You can learn more at http://www.obsession.se/gentoo/.

Konqueror This file manager is part of KDE, and it is best used from within that environment. It's described in more detail in the earlier section, "Using Konqueror for File Management."

Nautilus This file manager is part of GNOME, and it is best used from within that environment. It's described in more detail in the earlier section, "Using Nautilus for File Management."

Northern Captain This program also goes by the nameX/VC, and in many ways it's the closest to an X-enabled clone of Norton Commander that's available. The Northern Captain website is http://www.xnc.dubna.su.

ROX Its developers bill ROX as a desktop environment, and there are indeed ROX components that fill many of the desktop environment software components; but ROX relies on a window manager you obtain elsewhere, so I classify it as a file manager. You can learn more at http://rox.sourceforge.net.

TkDesk This program, headquartered at http://tkdesk.sourceforge.net, is a fairly well-established Linux file manager. Because of its application bar, it fits well with window managers that provide limited or awkward program-launch tools.

Xfm This file manager is old and uses old widget sets, so it seems decidedly crude compared to modern programs based on Qt- or GTK+. Nonetheless, it can be a good choice if you need a minimal file manager. You can learn more at

http://www.musikwissenschaft.uni-mainz.de/~ag/xfm/xfm.html.

Xplore This Motif-based program includes a few unusual features, such as a pane that displays the stdout output of programs it launches.

Its home page is

http://www.musikwissenschaft.uni-mainz.de/~ag/xplore/.

As with window managers, your best bet for determining what file manager is best for you is to try several. Most of the file managers described here come with most Linux distributions, so you should have several on your installation media.

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