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It's snowing thick and fast this April's Sunday; two days ago we were out in T-shirts enjoying the sunshine. London weather is unpredictable and inconsistent. xplorer˛ handling of folders on the other hand is dependable and consistent, every day of the year <g>

Windows shell uses an extended concept of a "folder" that goes beyond the old filesystem directories where you organize your documents and pictures on your hard disk. Many other sources of hierarchical content can be handled as folders. A single archive file (*.ZIP) can be thought of as a small filesystem in itself, and windows provides the plumbing to emulate it as a normal filesystem folder. Same goes for remote folders like FTP and webfolders.

xplorer˛ taps into this shell functionality and allows you to work with virtual folders just like any normal folder on your hard disk. A zip archive has an icon that looks folderlike, and when you enter it you can see the compressed files and subfolders it contains. You can copy, paste and launch programs straight from within an archive. The majority of xplorer˛ commands work in zipfolders and FTP — that's consistency.

Many of you have a separate program to deal with compressed archives like the free 7-zip that handles more formats (7z, GZIP, TAR, RAR, ARJ, LZH etc) and may be better dealing with really large files. That's true and some people don't want xplorer˛ getting in the way and opening ZIP archives as folders. There is a way to disable zipfolder handling so that xplorer˛ uses your external program when you double click on a ZIP file, but you would be missing out on:

  • Viewing flexibility. Can you see thumbnails in winzip? I didn't think so. All the view modes supported for normal folders are available in zipfolders, including grouping (View | Arrange by menu) and thumbnails. You can also use visual filters to manage which files you see.
  • Search in archives. All the hilighting functionality is available, e.g. search for text in files within the archive. Tools | Find files menu command also works with stock column criteria — just remember to tick archive content box in the search dialog.
  • Comparing. In dual pane mode, you can compare archive with normal folders using <F9> command. Using the $Z command token you can execute commands like windiff to hilight text file changes.

That's why I like xplorer˛ browsing within zipfolders, you get extras that no archive or FTP program can offer. If you need your external archive program, right click on the ZIP file and pick open from the context menu. For a quick tour of the possibilities see today's demo on zipfolders

Addendum: A new shell component is available that offers browsing similar to zipfolders for a range of compressed archives like 7Z, RAR, TAR, JAR as well as ISO image files (requires windows Vista or later). For more information see here

Some of the previewing capabilities within virtual folders will not work for large files. The default limit is 512 KB protecting you from long delays extracting and downloading content. If you want to see thumbnails and text previews for bigger files within archives you must increase the item in FTP/zip extraction byte size limit from Tools | Options.

Now I'm off to build a snowman before the heatwave arrives!

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