Using Total Commander

Although I'm not very keen on Shareware, Total Commander is the file manager for windows and for me, nothing comes even close to it. It has many useful features, both basic and advanced, to make your life so much easier. It's extensible, too: there are plugins for file undeletion, accessing ext2, ext3 and reiser partitions, opening bz2, rpm, iso, icl, msi files, fulltext searching in PDFs, accessing your POP3/SMTP server, Symbian telephone or iRiver flash player, etc. And it can be copied to your USB stick, so you can carry it around with you.

Even without a single addon, it is by far the most useful file manager I ever used. It has internal zip/gzip archive support, advanced renaming options for multiple files, file/directory comparison, different views and filters, FTP support, great search capabilities, two-paned interface with tabs, history and configurable bookmarks.

Actually, configurable bookmarks are perhaps the most valuable, and yet the most underrated feature of this tool. While you can just add locations you frequently visit (by clicking on the "Add current dir" option in the dropdown list), you can add some really useful actions there as well, while keeping everything neatly organized, hierarchically. This can be done by clicking on the "Configure" option at the bottom of the dropdown list in a simple and convenient interface.

While adding directory locations and organizing the menu are pretty obvious tasks, adding actions is not as straightforward (still, it is quite easy). You can add any kind of action that you'd do in a shell - for an example, you can make a quick file list text file with this action:

cmd.exe /c "dir /b /oG > listing.txt"

Of course, that would list all the files in the current working directory - the one that's open in your active TC pane. Hint: you may want to consider installing Unix utils somewhere in your path for even more power. For an example, you could generate a track list for audio CD cover from your mp3 folder with an action command like this:

cmd /c "dir /B /oG *.mp3 | sed s/\.mp3\b//i | gawk "{print NR \") \" $0}" > list.txt"

As of v5.51, you can also choose one of Total Commander's internal commands from the dropdown combobox - e.g. cm_OpenDesktop to switch to the Desktop folder. Even more useful internal commands (at least, the ones I use all the time) include:

Puts name(s) of selected file(s) without path information on the clipboard - my girlfriend uses this all the time to make Photoshop audio CD covers. This works on directories as well.
Puts full path(s) of selected file(s) on the clipboard. This also works on directories.
Quickly calculate the total size of one or more selected directories.
Selects files with the same extension as the one that's currently selected.

Now, I could just install about a dozen (or more) other tools instead and do all the stuff I do with TC, but it's so great having all that in just one tool - it keeps my workflow uninterrupted, my desktop/quicklaunch/start menu uncluttered and my fragile spiritual balance undisturbed.

Of course, there are downsides: TC is a Windows-only tool (although it has been ported to Windows CE/Pocket PC). Also, it is a Shareware program, which means that you can test it for a period of 30 days. After testing the program, you are expected to either order the full version, or delete the program from your harddisk. Ouch.

There are few freeware alternatives - one of the most usable ones I tried is FreeCommander. Unfortunately, it has a much more limited set of builtin features and no plugin support - though it still beats the hell out of Explorer.

In the free world, many people - including me - feel that mc (Midnight Commander) is still the best file manager there is. However, a relatively recent project looks quite promising: GNOME Commander reached version 1.2.3 (stable), with plugin support announced to be introduced in version 1.3.