Whatever your desktop environment of choice, it likely came with its own file manager. Some have one pane, some have two panes, some work in Gnome, others in KDE, and they all have different options. If the default doesn’t work for you, how do you find the best replacement? How do you know if it will work in your favorite desktop environment? In this guide we’ll cover many of the most popular file managers for Linux and include the details to help you decide which one is right for you.
Note: Some file managers are intended for a specific desktop environment while others are meant to be independent. If an item is noted as a KDE file manager, for example, that does not necessarily mean it ONLY works in KDE, just that KDE is the intended environment. All listed programs were tested in Ubuntu 10.04’s Gnome and all except Nautilus Elementary are available in the standard Ubuntu repositories.
Most of us will be familiar with Nautilus, the default file manager for Gnome (and Ubuntu). It comes with tabbed browsing and allows external scripts to improve its functionality. In addition, there have also been a few projects over the years attempting to enhance or simplify Nautilus. Currently, the top contender is Nautilus Elementary. It’s a version of Nautilus patched for simplicity, not a standalone package, so it has a somewhat unusual installation routine. To try out Nautilus Elementary, open a terminal and enter:
Nautilus Elementary is useful in that it adds a zoom slider, a breadcrumb navigation and an extra folder pane to the already useful Nautilus.
Note: At the moment, the breadcrumb navigation only works for certain themes. A quick fix is to download this file and extracts it to your Home folder. Restart your Nautilus (with the command “nautilus -q”).
One of the many so-called Commander-style file managers, EmelFM2 runs with two independent panes and a series of command buttons between them for operations like Copy and Move. This style is also known as a Orthodox File Manager, and is very common among console and GUI file managers. EmelFM2 also includes a plugin system and built-in command line feature.
Originally part of the XFCE desktop environment, Thunar has made its way on to other desktops because of its speed and simplicity. In many ways it is similar to the standard Nautilus but with a smaller footprint and faster start. Thunar includes features like a plugin system and bulk renamer.
Like Thunar, PCManFM was written as part of a desktop environment, but has since found its way on to other desktops because of its speed and usefulness. In this case, it was the LXDE desktop environment. Like all LXDE apps, PCManFM is very small and fast. Interesting features include tabs, internet bookmarks, and multithreading.
Gnome Commander is another orthodox file manager like EmelFM, however it’s much closer to the original Norton Commander, right down to the intense blue background. Gnome Commander includes file compression, remote filesystem connections, and Python scripting support.
The Rox Desktop is a very interesting piece of software which deserves an article of its own (in the very near future). One critical piece of that suite is Rox Filer. It doesn’t look like much but it works with the rest of the Rox Desktop to mimic the near-magical drag and drop capabilities of RISC OS. The interface is extremely clean because it relies heavily on context menus to perform normal tasks. Rox Filer can be used in other desktop environments but it may lack some of the magic.
Not to be left out, KDE has long had its own orthodox file manager. Krusader sports a mount manager, remote filesystem tools, and archive handling and a heck of a lot more. It’s an extremely feature-rich and fully configurable file manager for KDE, and well worth checking out.
As with all things Linux, there are far more options than we could possibly cover here. If you’ve got a favorite file manager that we neglected to mention, let us know in the comments.