LINUX PICKS AND PANS

Thunar and Rox Filer: Mighty File Managers With a Difference

The file manager utility more than any other system app on anycomputing platform is the workhorse of daily computing tasks. Linuxusers have numerous file managers as choices. Depending on the distro, usually one or two default apps are preinstalled — but thesemight not be the best options.

Thunar and Rox Filer offer flexibility and features not found in othertypical Linux file managing systems.

Thunar is designed for the Xfce Desktop Environment, but it works natively on the Gnome Desktop as well. Its right-click menu access provides options specific to thelocation within the directory. This reduces the need to use the drop-down menu system. Rox is a desktop environment like Gnome, KDE andXfce, but its Rox Filer app integrates easily into other desktopsystems for managing file tasks.

As I mentioned in my review of Atol’s dual-panel file manager, having two integratedscreens in view simultaneously can be very useful. Riding herd onfiles residing on a hard drive and an external drive, for instance,needs special synchronizing tools built in. However, many file-viewing and maintenance tasks do not need two-panel features. A solid,speedy file manager in a single pane gets the job done.

My first experience with Thunar came when I started using Ubuntu. Ineeded something a mite more powerful than the resident Gnome Commander. Thunar quickly surfaced as mytop choice. Rox Filer is theresident file managing environment in Puppy Linux.Thunar Basics

Thunar file manager

Thunar file manager
(click image to enlarge)

Describing any Linux app as a counterpart for a Windows program can bea kiss of death, but that is what first attracted me to Thunar. When Imigrated to Linux, Windows XP was my comfort zone. So Linux apps thatgave me the look and feel of Windows made the transition easier. Allfile managers do not work the same way. Thunar worked like what Iknew.

Thunar’s interface shows the Linux file structure in the extreme leftof the file manager window. An option in the View menu lets you selecta tree display or shortcuts display. Each is accessible with ahot-key. Similarly, the path location can be displayed in pathbar ortoolbar style. Thunar also has a Send To option to create a Desk link,other drive, Bluetooth device or email client.

Highlighting a location or directory displays the contents in theright side of the window. This is where Thunar’s convenience is mostevident. Right click on a file to open the specific options. Forinstance, a text file, audio file or graphic file presents a list ofopen with apps. Other options include Cut, Copy, Delete, Rename andProperties. You can click on the full action command or press theunderlined key.

Your Way

Thunar has configuration options that give users the ability to havethe file manager display their way. Select Edit/Preferences to setoptions for default view, icon view and date format. You can also setthe side pane choices with display sizes.

One configuration feature I have not found in most other file managersis the behavior preference. You can control navigation by activating adisplay action with a single click or double click. A cool option withthe single click is the slider that sets the delay time before an itemgets selected when the mouse pointer is paused over it.

Including multiple files in the same directory is fast. Just hold downthe Control key while you hover the mouse pointer over the desiredfile. I have the slider set to almost no wait time, so I canliterally sweep the pointer over files and keep moving. The intendedfiles are instantly highlighted.

Even More

Another setting not typical of other file managers is the advancedpreferences, which offer options for folder permissions and volumemanagement. Taken together, Thunar’s file manager preferences pack apowerhouse of options that make the app extremely easy to set up.

Thunar has additional features that place it ahead of other Linux filemanagers. Take, for instance, the Bulk Renamer feature. This allowsusers to easily rename multiple files instantly using criteriaavailable in renamer plugins. For example, the Audio Tags renamergenerates new file names based on the tags present in audio files.

Thunar’s Extensions Framework is an easy way to extend this filemanager’s basic ability to integrate even complex tasks. This extension framework is very limited in the currentversion 1.0 series, but developers plan to include a more powerfulplugin interface in the version 2.0 series. This will allow users toadjust nearly every aspect of the file manager.

One more option is the User Customizable Actions plugin accessiblefrom the Edit/Configure Custom Actions drop-down menu. This featureoffers an easy way to extend the file and folder context menus withcustom actions.

Rockin’ With Rox

Rox Filer

Rox Filer
(click image to enlarge)

Rox, which stands for “RISC OS on X,” is a desktop environment thatreflects its developers’ goal to bring some of the popular featuresfrom the RISC OS to Linux. Rox places heavy use on drag-and-drop useractions. The concept behind the Rox file manager interface revolvesaround the traditional Unix view that everything is a file. Rox isbased on a design that uses several small programs together instead ofcreating one integrated app.

It runs on Linux, Unix and Mac OS X. It runs on platforms that can runGTK applications. You do not need to install the full Rox desktopenvironment. The standalone core component is ROX-Filer. This is apowerful graphical file manager.

Its look and feel is considerably different from traditionalWindows-style and basic Linux file managers. At first, I did not likeit — but I loved the Puppy Linux distro of which Rox is an integralpart. More than learning to tolerate it, I actually came to like using it.

Using Rox

Once you get beyond the strange look and feel, Rox takes on a rhymeand reason of it own. For example, the interface lacks traditionalFile, Edit, View drop-down menus. Instead, it uses a green up arrowfor changing to the parent directory, a Monopoly game-style house iconto change to the home directory, an arrow and globe for the bookmarksmenu, and several other similar command icons for sorting,hiding/showing files and rescanning directory contents.

I’ve grown to love the flexibility of the bookmarks feature. Rox filertracks visited locations everywhere in the file structure. Much like aWeb browser history list, it lets me scroll through file locations I usedrecently and return to them instantly. I can also make any location abookmark for instant return.

All of the menu power is held under the right-click mouse button.Whether the pointer activates a folder or a file within a folder,right clicking opens options for Display, Next Click actions, Selectoptions, New and Window choices. It is within these unfolding windowsthat you open shell and terminal windows, create new or blankdirectories, or drag files to create customizable menu items.

Roxing Around

The home icon opens a display of the file structure embedded on thehard drive. Clicking on an external drive icon or USB drive icon fromthe desktop opens another Rox window that displays the files at thatlocation. I open several Rox windows and then drag files from onewindow to another.

This gives me a quick and simple way to sync files between the harddrive and an external storage source. Rox asks if I want to create arelative or absolute link or just copy or move the file. Once Irespond, the action is completed in a flash.

Changing icons, creating permissions and setting run actions can be ahassle in some Linux distros. Rox soothes that pain. Its right-clickmenu options put the solution just a mouse click away.

Final Thoughts

Thunar and Rox Filer are as different as security settings for Windowsand Linux — but both file managers offer solutions not found in otherLinux file apps.

So far I’ve been content to use Thunar with Ubuntu and Rox with PuppyLinux. My next rainy day project will be to put both apps on both distros.

Of course, I may have conniptions over which one to use. Whileuniquely different, both are very flexible and powerful.

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